New Zealand’s largest city offers beautiful year-round weather, pristine sandy beaches, and a whole glut of amazing things to see and do.
Set around two large harbours, the city’s coastal setting is augmented by lush rainforest and endless hiking trails. But there’s no shortage of man-made attractions here either, including several prominent cultural venues, acclaimed annual festivals and buzzing nightlife spots. Needless to say, Auckland is a city whose appeal is quickly apparent to anyone who visits. Here are 20 of the most unique things to see and do.
Delve into the past at an Auckland museum
Housed in one of the country’s finest heritage buildings, Auckland Museum is one of New Zealand’s most important museums and war memorials. Constructed in the 1920s in the neo-classicist style, the museum sits on a grassed plinth (the remains of a dormant volcano) in a large public park and is widely considered to be a cultural and spiritual touchstone for the many races that inhabit the nation. Visitors can enjoy an incredible collection of exhibits and displays including many priceless Māori treasures such as weapons, clothing, coins and medals.
Parnell, Auckland 1010 / Fri-Mon 9am-5pm Tues-Thurs 10am-5pm
Alternatively, if you’re keen to learn about New Zealand’s rich maritime history, then the New Zealand Maritime Museum will satisfy your curiosity. Telling the stories of the nation, from the first Polynesians to arrive, to the discovery and settlement of New Zealand by Europeans, through to its present-day yachting endeavours and the inspirational story of Sir Peter Blake, visitors will be amazed at the attention to detail. There’s also the chance to take part in interactive activities including trying your hand at yacht design, relaxing in a Kiwi style bach, and battening down the hatches in a rocking cabin.
Quay Stree, Viaduct Harbour / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Admire Auckland from up high
One of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the Sky Tower offers more than a mere viewing platform. It also houses a casino complex at its base, as well as an array of amenities ranging from the relaxing to the adrenaline-thumping. The bulbous floors just below the antenna section of the tower have multiple restaurants, including New Zealand’s only revolving eatery. But the truly intrepid can take part in a “SkyJump” which involves diving off the observation deck, and hurtling 192 metres down before being revived by a dangling rope.
Victoria Street West / Mon-Sun 9am-10pm
Attend a top-class festival
One of the longest-standing cultural festivals in Auckland, Pasifika Festival attracts around 60,000 visitors every year, including over 220 performing groups and more than 200 stalls selling food and crafts. The festival was launched in the early 1990s with the intention of bringing together different Pacific communities, churches, and cultures. The festival is split into distinct South Pacific island/nations, each with its own ‘village’ complete with performance stage for dance, music workshops and theatre, as well as a market area.
Western Springs / March each year
If you’re a photography fan and happen to be visiting the Auckland region in late May, then you’re in luck because the city plays host to an acclaimed photography festival. Featuring over 100 events and exhibitions across a wide range of venues, the Auckland Festival of Photography brings together a diverse mix of photographers, curators and students – ranging from amateur to professional – who use the event to showcase their talents. The result is a visual extravaganza that is guaranteed to captivate all who visit.
All across Auckland
Visit a charming neighbourhood
Venture beyond Auckland’s central district and you’ll soon find yourself in one of the city’s desirable neighbourhoods, many of which ooze character and charm. One of the most pleasant is Ponsonby, where pretty residential streets combine with stylish boutiques, independent bookshops, small galleries, and trendy cafes to make it a hip hangout as well as a favourite with families. Come nightfall, catch a live music gig at one of the neighbourhood bars or dance late into the night as top DJs spin their decks.
A 9-minute drive east from Ponsonby through the Auckland suburbs brings you to the equally charming neighbourhood of Parnell. Similarly dotted with upscale boutiques, trendy galleries and French bistros, Parnell is also a popular starting point for walks and cycle rides, with several footpaths and bike trails leading across the expansive parklands of Auckland Domain. Other local attractions include Parnell Baths, a bayside complex with a huge salt water pool.
Set sail around Auckland
The waters surrounding Auckland are a delight to explore and visitors can do so by joining a wide range of organised sailing charters. Among them is the Harbour Sailing Experience, a 1.5-hour yacht cruise complete with live on-board commentary and light refreshments. Setting sail mid-afternoon from Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, you’ll embark on your sightseeing tour, gliding past the Auckland Bridge, Westhaven Marina, the charming suburb of Devonport, and the city skyline before returning to the starting point. During the trip, there’ll also be a chance to help the crew sail the vessel.
Head to the beach
From the golden, sandy beaches of the North, to the wild stretches of black sand of the west coast, Auckland is blessed with plenty of coastal treasures. Among the most popular is Anchor Bay Beach, located within Tawharanui Regional Park, where visitors can enjoy a range of activities, from reclining on the sand to snorkelling, hiking or picnicking. It’s also a prime spot for wildlife spotting, with farm animals regularly seen grazing in the fields overlooking the beach, as well as native birds perched in trees or fluttering through the sky.
Another great Auckland beach is Takapuna Beach, set within a buzzing beachside destination just 10 minutes from central Auckland. Combining a relaxed coastal atmosphere complete with lounge chairs and hammocks, with designer shopping, a thriving hospitality scene, Sunday markets and live shows, the area becomes extremely busy during peak season. Visitors can enjoy the stunning views out across to the Hauraki Gulf and iconic Rangitoto Island, while the historic ‘lava’ trail along the beach foreshore is the entry point for paddle boarding and kayaking.
Join a city walking tour
There are few better ways to get under the skin of a new city than by traversing its streets on foot, exposing yourself to its sights, scents and sounds in the open air. Top-rated Aucky Walky Tours run small or private group walking tours of central Auckland, inviting you to discover its legends and landmarks, as well as its Maori history, local cuisine and hidden spots that the big groups often miss. Guests will discover stylish back lanes, an award-winning art gallery, serene parks and a ride uptown on the locals’ bus. Expect to walk for up to 2.5 hours and 3-4 km in total on this leisurely tour with rest stops along the way.
Catch some live theatre
Auckland has a vibrant theatre scene and at its heart is The Civic, which stages a diverse programme of live shows and other events throughout the year. The first purpose-built cinema for ‘talkies’ in the country when it was built in 1929, the theatre remains a much-loved Auckland landmark and entertainment venue. Boasting an ‘atmospheric cinema’ architecture style, its unique soft-top ceiling design floats above the auditorium, creating an eye-catching stars and clouds effect designed to replicate the Southern Hemisphere night sky.
Corner of Queen Street &, 269-287 Wellesley Street West
Marvel at an array of marine life
A perennial favourite for family days out, Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium showcases over 30 live animal exhibits across an assortment of spectacular habitat displays. Situated on the waterfront on Okahu Bay, some of the main highlights include an underwater viewing tunnel where great sand tiger sharks and giant stingrays swim past, a display of the rarely seen spiny sea dragons, and the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony exhibit. Visitors can also touch a starfish or two at the Rockpool, and learn about the aquarium’s turtle rehabilitation program.
Discover a dormant volcano
At almost 650 feet high, Maungawhau is a long-dormant volcano and the highest natural point in the Auckland region. But that’s not its only claim to fame — the stone observation platform at its peak was built with the help of a royal elephant. In the late 19th century, the mountain was quarried to build homes, prisons and other structures including the platform. The elephant’s owner, the Duke of Edinburgh, had brought him to Auckland during his 1870s tour of the Royal Navy and offered his services hauling heavy basalt up the mountainside. Today, the mountaintop platform remains one of Auckland’s most popular tourist sites for its beautiful views of the region.
Take the pink path
Hundreds and thousands of cycle journeys have been made over Auckland’s Lightpath Cycleway since its opening in 2015, assuring its position as Auckland’s favourite cycling destination. But it’s not just the scenic vistas that draw people here; it’s also the distinctive pink colour of the path, along with the artwork dotted along it and the lights that illuminate it at night. Kids in particular seem to enjoy its quirky appeal, so if you’re looking for some outdoor fun with the family, this could be for you.
Immerse yourself in Maori culture
Auckland is a truly modern city, but its long history and traditions are still celebrated at various cultural venues and events. One of the best ways to learn about its rich heritage is to join a guided Maori Cultural Experience Tour. The half-day tour takes you on a potted journey through Auckland’s indigenous culture, taking in notable landmarks and places of interest including Bastion Point, the site of Maori protests against intrusion onto their land by European settlers, and the volcanic vistas of One Tree Hill, which has significance as a Maori memorial site. All the while, your guide will help you understand Maori history, even teaching you some Maori sayings and traditional Maori games and instruments.
Spend a day at the zoo
Another sure-fire winner for families visiting the city is Auckland Zoo, which is home to the largest collection of wildlife in New Zealand. Set amid 17 hectares of lush parkland and just minutes from the city centre, the zoo features everything from elephants, rhinos and giraffes to lions and red pandas, as well as exotic birds, reptiles and fish. It also plays an important role in breeding, research and recovery programmes for threatened wildlife, with a portion of all ticket sales going toward local and international field-based projects.
Motions Road / Mon-Sun 9.30am-4.30pm
Explore Auckland after dark
Auckland is beautiful at all times of day, but there’s something uniquely magical about exploring it after nightfall. One of the best ways to do so is by joining a Panoramic Auckland Night Tour, which takes you on a 3-hour odyssey around the illuminated city as part of a small group. Highlights include soaking up sunset views from the top of a mountain and exploring the bustling Britomart and Viaduct Harbor areas with your guide, getting personalised recommendations for bustling bars and restaurants to visit after your tour finishes.
Stroll around a historic botanical garden
One of the jewels in Auckland’s crown, the picturesque Domain Wintergardens is a haven for horticulture fans. A historic treasure and a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, it was designed in the early 1900s in the style of the famous English partnership of Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jeckyll. The tranquil site is a delight to wander around, featuring rare and spectacular plants in an ever-changing display that can be seen in each of the two barrel-vaulted Victorian style glass houses which face out on to an extensive courtyard and sunken pool.
Wintergarden Road, Parnell / Mon-Sun 9am-4.30pm
Reach for the stars
An acclaimed institution in the field of scientific education, Adler Planetarium invites visitors to journey through the vast universe – from the depths of powerful black holes to the heights of Voyager 1. Packed full of immersive attractions, including theatre shows and special exhibitions, it also hosts regular lectures and other events designed to enhance our understanding of, and foster a passion for, stars, planets, and constellations. Visitors can also enjoy the grounds, complete with outdoor sculptures and stunning terrace views.