Ever step off a plane in a new country and think, “That’s it?!” That’s how I felt about Auckland, New Zealand at first. It’s not a city that jumps out at you with its awesome-ness the way Melbourne, Vancouver, or Toronto do. Auckland can be a slow-burn, but she did grow on me.
I was determined to find Auckland boring; but with each day, each mini-adventure, each day-trip, I came to appreciate the city more. It isn’t the world’s most exciting city, but looking back at the number of places to visit in Auckland, I’ll definitely re-visit.
Let’s go to the beach, beach.
If you want to get some time on the sand, but can’t make the trip out to Piha Beach, head to Devonport. The ferry only takes 12 minutes from the Auckland Ferry Terminal, and even though it feels like a remote holiday island, you can even drive there (but good luck finding parking). Gorgeous, well-kept baches and houses line the streets with colourful gardens. Grab some fish and chips and head over to Cheltenham beach. Swim in the shadow of Ranigtoto Island. The calm water was warm in mid-summer, and there was no rip current for us.
Please note I am by no means a tide expert, always check conditions before you swim.
Fight the seagulls for your chips and have fun body surfing.
Cost: $12 NZD for a return trip
How to Get There: Fullers Ferry
Hike up a volcano.
Auckland feels like it’s all uphill walking. Might as well get on top of one of those hills. Mt. Eden is a pretty tame way to introduce yourself to hiking in New Zealand. I recommend walking up for sunset or sunrise if you’re extra keen. Check out the sunset, and watch the city light up at night. You can even get your fitness on and join the handful up people willingly jogging uphill. I was not one of those people.
Please note: don’t go into Mt. Eden crater, it is considered sacred. Don’t be that guy.
Hike up a BIGGER volcano
Rangitoto is my favourite feature of Auckland. Its always there. Looming. Rangitoto is ‘extinct’ but it still looks threatening. So why not hike up it? See the full details here.
Ps. people also jog up Rangitoto. Running up large hills seems to be the thing to do in Auckland.
Go to the movies – for free
If you’re a broke backpacker, or just want to do what the locals do, head to Silo Park on Friday nights in the summer. There’s some sweet night markets with clothes, crafts, and food. When the sun goes down, a massive projector plays a movie up on one of the concrete silos for everyone to watch. Get there early, it will be busy. Remember, the movie projects onto a round surface, so don’t sit too off to the sides or you’ll miss the edges of the film.
(P.S., don’t bring your own booze, the security guards will ask you to leave.)
Get a craft beer, or many
One of my favourite things to do in a new country is to try their beer! From the mass-produced (Tui), to the craft-brews, it is a great way to taste some culture and history. If you want to try some awesome smaller brews, head to No. 1 Queen Street, Cafe and Bar. Perfect on a hot day, it gets the breeze off the ocean, has some shade, and food trucks (yay tacos!). It’s just a little pop-up on the sidewalk, we actually walked past it a bunch of times before realising it was a bar.
They run a homebrew swap, so if you know anyone who makes their own suds, share a few and try someone else’s!
Cost: Your mileage may vary (but craft beers aren’t on the cheap side)
Score a cheap ride/meal at the Skytower
The Skytower seems like the biggest tourist trap of them all, and it kind of is. However, I love big tower lookouts like this, probably because I grew up with the CN Tower always on the horizon. The Skytower gives you the best possible view of the city, the surrounding hills, the harbour, and Rangitoto. It actually really helped me get my bearings in the city. Bonus, the food is great and the restaurant rotates!
Pro tip: Go up the tower for lunch or brunch. The ticket alone is $28 NZD. But, if you go up for a meal at Orbit 360° Dining and spend $30, then the cost of your ticket is waived. If you’re trying to save all your money, maybe skip this altogether and head up Mt. Eden instead, but if not – you either just spent 30 dollars to go up the Skytower and $2 NZD on a meal, or vice versa.
Cost: $28-30 NZD
Get lost in a forest
When the heat of the city is too much, and the waterfront clogged with people, head to the forest in the middle of the city. Auckland Domain is beautiful for hikes, runs, or in my case – getting lost trying to find the museum. I swear, at one point there was a fork in the road with all 3 paths saying they led to the same place. Maybe I’m just incompetent (actually, I know I am).
Most surprising is how noisy Auckland Domain was. All the typical city sounds fade away, but the insects make a crazy racket. Fortunately, there are no sand flies.
Get lost in the past
Hit up the Auckland Museum and War Memorial. Just do it.
I always try to act like I’m not that into museums.
And then I spend 7 hours in one and only leave when it closes. The Auckland Museum and War Memorial is a great way to kill some time when the weather is poor. The exhibits about Maori and other Pacific Island cultures is expansive. For an extra fee, you can even watch a hakka!
If checking out the gorgeous carvings and cultural artefacts doesn’t suit you, the volcano exhibit is reason enough to go. Ever wonder why Auckland seems like it’s entirely made of hills? That’s because it’s a volcanic field. Fortunately, a dormant one. But pop in the volcano simulator to see what it would be like if they weren’t. Its pretty unsettling. You’ll be side-eyeing Rangitoto for the rest of your stay.
The War Memorial itself is quite arresting. I thought it was just the exterior, but there is quite a large tribute to the fallen inside as well.
Cost: $25 NZD. The incredibly kind ticket agent let us in for free because we were on a Working Holiday Visa and considered “locals”, so we felt it was right to still contribute a donation to enter.
Walk across the country
That isn’t a hyperbole. You can walk 16km, from the East coast to the West coast in a day. The start point of the Coast to Coast Walkway is down on the Viaduct Harbour, and ends in Onehunga. Unfortunately, the buses were on strike on the one day we had planned to do this, so we had to give it a miss. But how cool is walking from one side of the country to the other? I’ll definitely be attempting it again on our return to Auckland.
Have the best ice cream of your life
Giapo. The name gives me goosebumps now. I walked past this little place SO many times, but never really looked at what it was. This is the best ice cream I have ever had. And I like to think I know my desserts. You can sample as much you want, but definitely get a full cone. The garnishes make the ice cream even better (you can get an ice cream cone with a donut on it). Try the afghan cookie edition, coated in chocolate and cornflakes. There isn’t much to the establishment, just one tiny, sweaty room with no seats, and a renegade seagull always trying to get in. Chances are there will be a lineup in the evening, so make sure you follow the in/out-door rules.
Cost: $8-27 NZD – but so, so worth it.
Taste some wine before you ride a zipline
Visiting Waiheke Island was my favourite thing to do in Auckland. You can make a great day-trip out of it, or do one better and stay forever. Wines, vines, ziplines (and a brewery!), beautiful beaches and fantastic island vibes. What more could you possibly want as a city break? For all the details, check out the full blog post.
Head to the Zoo
I’m a huge zoo nerd. I love them, (well, the good ones that focus on conservation). One of my favourite things to do in Auckland was a day trip to the zoo. I like that they are improving/expanding their current exhibits instead of trying to cram a wider variety of animals in there. The Auckland Zoo also gets big bonus points for being quite involved in creating pest-free refuges for New Zealand’s vulnerable native wildlife. Check out my post for more photos and all the essential information!
Cost: $28NZD, but look for discounts on BookMe
Get a coffee
I’m not much of a coffee-drinker, I’m pretty much only there for the steamed milk. Canadian coffee is usually of the drip variety and it just doesn’t do it for me (and its rare someone can make a proper barista brew) at home. The southern hemisphere is a totally different story. Much like the Aussies, New Zealanders take their coffee pretty seriously, and it shows. They have me hooked. One day I’ll try all the cafes in Auckland, and it will be glorious.
Iced coffees are my gateway-drug. Put enough ice cream and whipped cream on anything and I’ll find it delicious. I’d like to thank Remedy for being right beside our hostel, I’ve graduated to no-sugar lattes now!
Cost: $5-ish NZD
Have you visited the city? What were your favourite things to do in Auckland? Or what are you looking forward to when you visit? Let me know in the comments!
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