Draped over a string of volcanic cones and washed by the waters of two harbours, Auckland has been blessed by interesting geography. The city's craggy coastline contains dozens of bays and beaches, but its the open waters that beckon to sailors. Yachts crowd its marinas, earning Auckland the moniker: City of Sails.
Add to this maritime scene a mild climate. a robust economy, and all the attractions of a major city, and it is little wonder that almost one-third of all New Zealanders have chosen to live here. Though political power officially resides in Wellington, the city of Auckland is the engine that drives the economy. It is here that industry is expanded, education is supported, and wealth is created.
Experience New Zealand’s finest with our helpful guide to the top 11 things to do in Auckland.
Climb the Auckland Bridge
For amazing views of the city and harbour, take the exhilarating climb over the Auckland Harbour Bridge along its maintenance paths. Guides are available to share the secrets of the bridge.
Built in 1959, within a decade of its completion, the bridge could not handle the increasing traffic to the North Shore. In 1969 extra lanes were added, thanks to the box girder clip-ons manufactured by a Japanese company: hence the nickname Nippon Clip-ons.
The climb is fairly easy if you are even moderately fit and takes around two hours. If you find the climb rather tame, you can boost the adrenalin with a bungee jump off the bridge. Book the climb and jump through A. J. Hackett.
Cruise Through the Tamaki Drive
This scenic waterfront drive through some of Auckland’s prime real estate shows the City of Sails at Its best. The sandy beaches and calm bays of Rangitoto Island teem with beachgoers in summer. When the sun shines and the wind blows, Waitemata Harbour is alive with sailboats, kayakers, windsurfers, bicyclists, and anglers flock to its beaches.
From the city centre, take Quay Street, which runs in front of the ferry building, and head east. Tamaki Drive crosses Hobson Bay before reaching exclusive Orakei. One street back from Tamaki Drive, Paratei Drive displays some of New Zealand’s most expensive homes.
Orakei is also home to Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium. If you can go to one aquarium in New Zealand, this is it.
From the Olympics to the America's Cup, New Zealand has earned a reputation for being the home of the world's best sailors. The sheltered harbours and bays dotted with picturesque islands offer fine sailing, making it one of the most exhilarating things to do in Auckland.
If you've always wanted to experience this exciting sport, sailing operators offer cruises with a skipper and crew, ranging from sightseeing trips with afternoon tea to weeklong ocean voyages on maxi-yachts. Alternately, you can charter a vessel to sail yourself.
Premier destinations are Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, the Bay of Islands, and the Marlborough Sounds, though you can also set sail from Nelson, Akaroa near Christchurch, and even Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu.
The Pride of Auckland offers a variety of sailing trips and dinner cruises. SailNZ at Viaduct Basin offers a hands-on experience sailing on an America's Cup yacht. For serious yachties, Gulfwind offers courses from two-day beginner lessons to longer crew and skipper classes. For something different, Arawai offers weekend cruises in the summer months from the Maritime Museum on a rigged Maori waka catamaran.
Understand Auckland Better Through its Markets
Auckland has plenty of interesting markets. On the western edge of the central business district, Victoria Park Market occupies the premises of what was once the city’s garbage processor. Though small, the market is worth a browse for bric-a-brac.
Nearby, close to the docks, Auckland Fish Market has a great selection of freshly caught fish, lunch-time seafood cafés, and seafood cooking lessons. The wide range of classes offered here includes “Seafood BBQ”, “Sushi and Tempura”, and “Mediterranean Seafood.” Classes typically last a couple of hours.
Auckland's claim as the big city of the South Pacific is evident every Saturday morning at the Otara Market. Though not exclusively Polynesian, the Pacific Island influence is strong here and Pacific arts and crafts are a good buy at Auckland’s biggest street market.
Visit the Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland Art Gallery has a diverse collection of Western art from Renaissance and Dutch painting to cubism, with 18th and 19th-century English painting well represented.
The Maori portraits by Auckland-born Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer are a high point of the museum. The collection includes Goldie's 1898 "The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand," a controversial painting that promoted the myth of a single great fleet landing.
The museum has undergone serious renovations. An impressive modern addition to the original 1887 French renaissance building now showcases more of the collection.
Shop at K Road
Queen Street ends at K Road, short for Karangahape Road, which winds along the ridge above the city centre. Always worth a wander, K Road's Shops are a combination of shopping center and fashion outlet. Commuter trains run there from the Britomart centre downtown.
East of Newmarket, Remuera is arguably Auckland’s most prestigious suburb. The boutiques and specialty shops along Remuera Road offer unique and beautiful products.
K Road ends at Ponsonby Road, one of Auckland’s most popular restaurant and café strips. The historic suburb of Ponsonby threw off the slum tag back in the 1970s when students and artists moved in. Over the years, it has been reclaimed. Restored Victorian villas and beautiful older homes line the streets of this prestigious neighborhood.
Explore Auckland CBD
The Auckland central business district is a story of two cities. The traditional heart of the city is Queen Street, running from the ferry terminal up the hill to Karangahape Road. Dubbed the Golden Mile, Queen Street's once-grand banks and finance houses have closed, but many of the buildings they once occupied are undergoing renovation and are becoming retail establishments.
The old part of the city has other interesting pockets and quirky shops, particularly on the side streets, such as High Street.
Wander Around Auckland’s Waterfronts
The waterfronts proudly showcase the new face of Auckland. The City of Sails owes its rejuvenation to yachting; the Auckland waterfront underwent huge redevelopment after New Zealand won the prestigious America's Cup race in 1995. Amid national jubilation, plans were hatched to remodel the city before defending the cup in 2000.
Viaduct Basin, the waterfront west of the downtown ferry terminal, once housed the competing superyachts and has now been transformed into a restaurant and nightlife hub, the city's liveliest.
Fashionable new apartments continue to spread farther west into the old dock and market areas. A pedestrian/cycling bridge connects Viaduct Basin to Wynyard Quarter. A waterfront redevelopment was completed for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Outdoor waterfront cafés, a children's playground, the Auckland Fish Market, and a tourist tram loop have all been added as a part Auckland’s update.
Go Back in Time at the Auckland Museum
Perched on top of a hill, the Auckland Museum is a major city attraction. Although Wellington’s Te Papa Museum in its impressive modern space is lauded as the country’s best, it seems almost empty in comparison to this wonderful museum crammed with artifacts. The Auckland Museum seems content in its lovely new home, the Auckland War Memorial Museum building.
Maori treasures, the Auckland 1866 streetscape, and exhibits from the Pacific are just some of the highlights of the extensive displays. Maori cultural performances featuring song, dance, and storytelling are definitely worth attending.
Embark on a Day Trip to a Nearby Island
Beyond Waitemata Harbour, more than 50 islands dot the sheltered waters of the Hauraki Gulf. You can reach the main islands by ferry from central Auckland and make an interesting day or overnight trip.
Rangitoto Island, visible from many parts of Auckland, is the youngest of the islands, born out of a major volcanic eruption some 600 years ago. This symmetrical volcano rises 853 feet (260 m) from the sea, resembling a flattened Mount Fuji.
From the Auckland Ferry Building, the journey takes less than an hour. From the island's wharf, a one-hour walk leads to the top of the mountain for expansive views of Auckland and the gulf, as well as down into the forested crater. The ferry company also runs trolley tours of the island. Allow at least three hours, including a side trip to the lava caves through which lava once flowed.
Though the island is forested with pohutukawa trees, volcanic scoria, or rock, covers the ground. So don’t forget to take good footwear!
Waiheke Island has long been popular for city dwellers and visitors. Most of the population lives on the west end of the island. The east half of the island is rural and picturesque. A haven for artists and craftspeople, galleries abound. Several tours run around the island, or you can rent bicycles, scooters, or cars from the Matiatia ferry wharf.
With hundreds of bays, consistent northeast sea breezes, and plenty of shores, Auckland is famed for its windsurfing. If you’re an adventure freak, you must include it in your list of things to do in Auckland.
Ask longboard sailors and Olympic medalists Bruce and Barbara Kendall, who make Auckland their home. You can stop by any shop for information on where to go, lessons, and equipment. Watersports South Pacific in the city's north at Takapuna is a good place to start.
Further north, Flying Forwards at Big Manly Beach, Whangaparaoa, rents beginner and pro equipment. The more sheltered beaches make it a great place to learn.
Auckland’s treasures barely fit into standard travel itineraries. Even if you just have a few days to explore, Auckland has something to offer all tourists.
From nightlife and dining to gorgeous beaches and volcano hikes, Auckland has many surprises. New Zealand’s largest city can hold its own when compared to other destinations. Don’t over look it!