Auckland is oftentimes overlooked for Wellington, its “cooler” neighbor to the south, but the capital of New Zealand is packed with activities for all types of travelers. Whether you want to seek adventure by bungee jumping off the Sky Tower, get a workout on a hike up a volcano, or simply stroll through museums and galleries, Auckland has you covered.
Visit the Sky Tower for 360-Degree Views
It seems that every major city needs some sort of monolithic landmark, like the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. Auckland’s edition is the Sky Tower, a 1,076-foot structure with an observation deck, a restaurant, and a café at the top. The bravest visitors can walk around the outside while attached to a safety rope—or they can bungee off the side. For the less adventurous, there’s the SKYCITY entertainment complex below, which is home to dozens of restaurants, a theater, and a casino.
Go Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
New Zealand is known for its wines, and there are dozens of wineries and vineyards across Auckland. Some of the best are on Waiheke Island, which is just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. While you could easily fill a day or two with hiking, relaxing at the beach, visiting artists’ studios, or exploring the World War II historic sites, we suggest making the most of a short trip with a visit to the island’s wineries, like Stonyridge, Man O’ War Vineyards, and Goldie Estate, among others.
Hike Up a Volcano on Rangitoto Island
Rising up out of the water in the Hauraki Gulf is the looming Rangitoto Island, a 3.4-mile-wide shield volcano—one of 48 volcanoes in the Auckland area. Take a 25-minute ferry ride from Auckland to get to the island, then choose from the many activities available there. For those who want to spend the most time on the water, we recommend sea kayaking, but for those who want to explore the land, either hike or ride a quad bike up to the summit of the volcano. Check out the lava tubes on your way up.
Go Museum Hopping
Auckland is filled with museums to suit all interests, and you’ll need a few days to see them all. Some of the highlights include the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which is dedicated to telling the story of New Zealand, from its people to its geography; the New Zealand Maritime Museum; the Museum of Transport and Technology; and the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.
Get Your Thrills at Rainbow's End
Rainbow's End is New Zealand’s largest theme park, offering everything from thrill rides to family entertainment zones. The bravest visitors can conquer Stratosfear, a swinging, rotating ride that flips riders upside-down. (It’s one of only in the world.) And visitors looking for a less adrenaline-inducing experience can visit Kidz Kingdom, which has equally fun but less hair-raising attractions.
Take the Kids to the Zoo or the Aquarium
Wildlife lovers should head to the Auckland Zoo and the SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, two particularly family-friendly institutions. The 42-acre zoo is home to 135 species of animals from both New Zealand and across the world—including kiwi birds. It participates in Operation Nest Egg (O.N.E.), which is helping to grow the population of wild kiwi birds. The aquarium has all manner of aquatic animals, from penguins to turtles to sharks. It participates in a breeding program for Tuatara, an endemic reptile that is highly regarded in Maori culture.
Climb One Tree Hill and Mount Eden
Though the most dramatic mountain ranges in New Zealand are on the South Island, Auckland is quite hilly, thanks to its volcanic landscape. Some of the best views of the city and the surrounding landscape are from atop One Tree Hill, a 597-foot peak with a monument dedicated to the Maori people, and Mount Eden (Maungawhau), the highest spot in Auckland at 643 feet, with a crater that is a sacred place for the Maori.
Bungee Jump Off Auckland Harbour Bridge
Forget a simple bridge walk—you can actually bungee jump off Auckland Harbor Bridge. (Although yes, there’s a bridge walk, too.) Daring visitors can leap off the bridge and dunk their heads in the water below at the end of their 131-foot drop. The activity is available for anyone ages 10 and up who weigh at least 77 pounds, but no more than 330. Spectators who are guests of the bungee-jumpers can also watch from the platform for a small fee.
Take a Scenic Walk Through an Urban Park
Auckland is quite a green city once you get outside the CBD, so take advantage of its many parks and stroll through them. Auckland Domain is the city’s oldest park, covering 185 acres in the suburb of Grafton, and it’s home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Cornwall Park is the largest in the city at 425 acres and is home to livestock like sheep and cattle. For a seaside park with great views, visit Shakespear Regional Park, which abuts the Hauraki Gulf with beaches and cliffs.
Go Café Hopping (and Shopping) in Ponsonby
Every city in the world has a neighborhood that’s often called “the Brooklyn” of that city. In Auckland, that’s Ponsonby. New Zealand takes its coffee culture seriously, and Ponsonby is full of hip cafés that are perfect for sipping, reading, people-watching—you name it. After you’ve caffeinated, peruse the boutiques that line Ponsonby Road.
Explore Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
For a more wild park experience, head out to Waitakere Ranges, a 39,500-acre region comprising rainforests, hills, waterfalls, and black-sand beaches, just a 40-minute drive from Auckland’s city center. There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails throughout the park, though as of July 2019, a number of routes are closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease among the trees. The park is popular with surfers, as conditions are prime on a number of the beaches.
Take a Day Trip to Hobbiton
Every Lord of the Rings fan should make a pilgrimage to Hobbiton, located in Matamata, about a two-hour drive from Auckland. See the Shire come to life before your very eyes, with all of the sets from the Hobbit films still perfectly intact. (The set was built in the same exact spot as the original set used in the Lord of the Rings films, which was dismantled as part of the production’s “leave no trace” policy.) While there, enjoy a pint at the Green Dragon. If you don’t have your own car, a number of tour operators offer bus trips from Auckland to the site.
Dine On Global Cuisine
As the largest city in New Zealand, there’s great diversity in population, which has translated into great diversity in dining options, too. You can find everything from French fine dining to Malaysian street food to Maori specialties in the city. While in town, take a chance on a new type of cuisine—you never know what you might like.
Sail on an America’s Cup Yacht
Given that New Zealand is an island nation, it’s no surprise that sailing is a part of the culture. Auckland itself is even known as the City of Sails. From the city center, you can hitch a ride on a former America’s Cup yacht, which once raced in the world’s most prestigious regatta. While the ride is a hands-on experience—the crew does need your help to hoist the sails—you don’t need any background to participate. Simply follow directions and hang on tight as you navigate Waitemata Harbour.
If you want to see the stars, you’ve got two options: head outside the city to the Dark Sky Sanctuary on Great Barrier Island (Aotea), or head indoors to the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium. To get to Great Barrier Island from Auckland, you’ll need to take a 4-5 hour ferry ride or a 30-minute flight, but the payoff is worth it. If you arrive before the stars come out, enjoy the beaches or a scenic hike. If you’d like to stay in Auckland proper to see the stars, visit the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium, where you can see exhibitions about the cosmos and planetarium shows.
Hit the Beach
Auckland is surrounded by 18,000 miles of coastline, which means there are many incredible beaches, from stretches of volcanic black sand to white-sand shores that look as if they’re straight out of the Caribbean. Just outside the city center, you can find spots like Manly Beach, known for its windsurfing, and Mission Bay, which has a beachfront promenade lined with restaurants.
Learn How to Surf
Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, New Zealand’s waves are great for all. There are a number of surf towns and beaches within a short drive from Auckland. Piha is a black-sand beach just 45 minutes from the city center, and it’s one of the most popular surf spots on the North Island. Beginners might want to try their hand at Omaha Beach, known for its gentle surf. If you’re looking to take a longer trip, head south to Raglan, a bohemian-chic surf town with great eats and boutiques.
See the Famous Glowworm Caves
New Zealand is famous for its glowworm caves, one of which, Waitomo, is a three-hour drive from Auckland. Though it’s a bit of a trek to get out there (tour operators offer day-long tours from Auckland), the experience is worth it. For the more adventurous, the way to see the glowworms is by blackwater rafting—that is, donning a wetsuit, a headlamp, and an inflatable tube before jumping into the frigid waters inside a pitch-black cave. It might be chilly, but there’s nothing quite like lying on your back, floating along under the glowing “sky.” For those who’d prefer to stay dry, walking and boat tours are available, too.
If you’re a fan of wildlife, but not of zoos, head out to Rotoroa Island to observe animals in their natural habitat. The island is a sanctuary for a number of indigenous creatures, from Takahē to kiwi birds (though, you should note that they’re nocturnal and very elusive). While on the island, don’t miss the 20th-century heritage buildings and temporary art exhibitions. Rotoroa Island is a 75-minute ferry ride from Auckland, so it’s great for a day trip. There’s also Go Tiritiri Matangi Island, another sanctuary, which is also just 75 minutes away from Auckland by ferry.
Visit Quaint Villages for a Quieter Afternoon
New Zealand is known for action-packed adventures, but you can slow it down by visiting its charming towns. Near Auckland are a number of great villages. Matakana, just 45 minutes north of the city, is known for its fresh food (don’t miss the farmers market), local wines, and great shopping. Or you can take a 12-minute ferry ride to head to Devonport, home to the Navy Museum at Torpedo Bay and a bustling arts-and-crafts scene.