Exploring Auckland in Three Days
We picked Auckland to be our base during our time on the northern island. Everybody connects with the destinations they visit differently. Since I read that Auckland is the biggest and the most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand, I imagined it to be a concrete jungle that never sleeps. Instead, the Auckland that welcomed me seemed to embrace the art of slow living and exuded an old world charm. For me, it was a cross between San Francisco (a modern city with steep slopes) and a bit of New Orleans (charming colonial architecture). While I’d encourage everyone to get out of the cities and explore the great outdoors of New Zealand, it was nice getting to know The City of Sails as well, which is home to three harbors and sits in the shadow of several volcanoes. Here’re a few recommendations on how to plan your trip to Auckland based on my experience, as well as a list of places to see and things to do.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO AUCKLAND
We visited in the middle of November which is the end of spring so it was still quite chilly, especially after the sun set. I used my cardigan and light jacket the whole time. Weather can also be quite unpredictable (the infamous saying “four seasons in one day” is true), so pack some layers. December to February is an official summer, and make sure that you bring the sunscreen. The sun Down Under is really strong. Winters can get quite cold, so bring your coat, scarf and gloves. No matter what time of the year you decide to visit, make sure you bring comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking to be done.
TRANSPORTATION IN AUCKLAND
Getting from the airport to the city center was quite easy. We caught SkyBus bus ($34 NZD return trip) and arrived to CBD in about 45 minutes. When it comes to exploring the city, there are trains and buses which are pretty easy to use although the public transport system is not as comprehensive as you’d expect (or I’m just too pampered in Japan). If you are planning to get around on public transport, you can plan your journey from A to B by using the New Zealand Journey Planner. We used Uber for the entire trip which was affordable and convenient. And of course you can rent a car. Just remember that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. Here’s more info on public transport in Auckland.
WHERE TO STAY IN AUCKLAND
Opinions might differ on this, but I found the location of our Airbnb – next to Ponsonby Road – very convenient. Auckland CBD area was also central and close to lots of restaurants and shops.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN AUCKLAND
Hike Up Mt. Eden: Ok, we didn’t quite hike it per se. It was more like asking Uber driver to drop us off as high as he could and we just had to walk up one slope from there. But more enthusiastic people do hike up, and we saw some doing it with weights! Mount Eden is Auckland’s highest mountain, but easily climbable in an hour or less. Getting to the top is totally worth is as you get a great view of Auckland city and its skyline, as well as surrounding suburbia. The coolest thing is that it is a dormant volcano and you can see the crater within the summit cone, some 50 meters deep, completely covered in grass.
Stroll Along Viaduct Harbor: Viaduct Harbor is a hub for features more than 30 watering holes and eateries, plus a marina, a museum and several hotels. Its harbor is brimming with yachts and yacht culture. The Westhaven marina is a great place to explore and admire yachts of all types. I also recommend strolling from Philips Corner by Princes Wharf past the Downtown Ferry Terminal to Britomart, which is a cool complex with yet another set of boutiques, bars and restaurants.
Explore Sky Tower: The Sky Tower is New Zealand’s tallest tower which not only offers great view of the city, but can be a great entertainment destination as it houses a casino, revolving Orbit restaurant, celebrity chef Peter Gordon’s restaurant, The Sugar Club, and the Sky Lounge. If you are seeking for some adrenaline pump, you might like to do the sky walk or sky jump to have a bit of fun.
Visit Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki: art enthusiasts should not miss the Auckland Art Gallery located in the southwest corner of Albert Park. The gallery features an ever-changing exhibitions of both local and international artists including more than 16,000 historic, modern and contemporary art pieces, the oldest of which was created between the 10th and 12th centuries. Besides remarkable collection, the museum’s architecture is also worth seeing.
Wander around Parnel: this affluent neighborhood will make you feel like you stepped back in time. The architecture is beautiful and adds a colonial charm to the area, which is seeded with numerous cafes, galleries, and boutiques for a pleasant pastime any time of the day.
Luxury Shop Along Queen Street: those looking for upscale stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton can head to Queen Street. You’ll also find movie and performing arts theaters, government buildings and restaurants.
Browse La Cigale French Market: held every Saturday from 8 am to 1:30 pm and Sunday from 9 am to 1:30 pm, La Cigale is a gourmet hub and offers a slice of France in the heart of Auckland. It has been voted Auckland’s Best Food Market by Metro Magazine for the last 8 years, and is inspired by the wonderful food markets found in France. You’ll find an amazing selection of top quality products from both New Zealand artisan producers and growers as well as overseas imports. You can enjoy some of the savory dishes and freshly baked treats at the communal tables.
Hit the Beaches: Auckland’s most famous beaches include Mission Bay, which is close to downtown Auckland, the North Shore’s Takapuna Beach and in the east Maraetai and Omana Regional Park. Mission Bay is the trendiest, most central beach in Auckland. Lined with a boardwalk as well as a great selection of cafes and restaurants, it is a great place to have a bite to eat before taking a walk or relaxing on the beach.
Night out in Ponsonby: if you are looking for a fine dining and nightlife scene, this is the place. Have dinner in one of the awesome restaurants and then go for a drink in one of the bars. Honestly, I didn’t notice particularly wild nightlife in Auckland, but then I only spent three days there, so I’m no expert.
DAY TRIPS FROM AUCKLAND
Ferry Ride to Devenport: if I had to compare Devonport to some other place I’ve seen, it’d be Martha’s Vineyard. Located within a 5-minute ferry ride from the Downtown Ferry Terminal, it exudes a small town charm and a laid-back style of living. You can wander its quaint streets past colonial architecture, admire a perfect view of the Auckland skyline (quite cloudy on the day we visited), relax on their beach or dine in one of its great restaurants. It’s also the site of a naval base. On every first Sunday of the month the neighborhood hosts its monthly Devonport Craft & Fine Food Market, so it might be a great time to visit.
Waiheke Island: if you have any time to spare at all, then a ferry ride to Waiheke Island is a must. We spent a fabulous day sampling some of New Zealand’s finest blends paired with fine food. The island offers spectacular views of the bay and is a perfect spot to get away from the clamor of the city. Waiheke Island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. It has earned an international reputation as a gourmet destination, featuring a wide array of restaurants, cafes and wineries that thrive alongside a vibrant arts scene. Read more about trip to Waiheke Island here.
Tour of Hobbiton: I cannot even tell you how much fun we had wandering through this magical village and knocking on hobbits’ doors. You can read my detailed account of our visit here.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves: we also got a chance to visit the world-famous natural wonder, which is situated about 120 miles south of Auckland. We took a boat ride through Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of glowworms illuminate the cave ceiling. These bright, tiny creatures can only be found in New Zealand. I seriously urge you to include this on your list, if you have time.
Rotorua: sadly, we didn’t get a chance to do it this time, but another place absolutely worth visit is Rotorua renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley, in particular, is worth seeing. There are bubbling mud pools and the 30m-tall Pohutu Geyser, which erupts many times daily. Rotorua is also home to a living Maori village and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, with traditional wood carving and weaving schools. A perfect place to immerse in the local culture and learn more about history of New Zealand natives.
Hike at Waitakere Range: while we were trotting the Hobbiton, our parents went on a tou of Waitakere and came back quite impressed. Tucked along the North Island’s west coast about 20 miles away from downtown Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges are basically a huge natural reserve of nature walks and hikes which will take you to scenic lookouts, waterfalls, coastal walkways and many other wonders. Everything from hiking and biking to bird-watching and strolling along the park’s black-sand beaches can be enjoyed here. Must-see landscapes in this sprawling parkland include Piha and Whatipu beaches and Fairy Falls and Cascade Kauri waterfalls.
This pretty much sums up our trip to Auckland. Have you been? What did you like the most, or would add to this list? Please share your tips in the comments. Thank you!