Set around two large harbours, the city of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and main transport hub. With beautiful year-round weather, pristine sandy beaches, lush rainforest and endless hiking trails, it is more than anything else a place where people come to be outdoors and enjoy the delights of one of the world’s great natural playgrounds.
With most of its attractions to be found in the great outdoors, Auckland is a city whose appal is transparent to anyone who visits. But it also has a lesser known side, with a number of places worth checking out that may not be instantly visible to the eye – and may not have made it into the guide books, either. Here are 20 of the most unique things to see and do in Auckland.
1. Take a fine wine tour
Auckland is blessed to be located in one of New Zealand’s most verdant wine regions. Visitors to the city can learn all about the region’s rich wine-making heritage, as well as sample some of the local produce, and stunning scenery on an organised wine tour. Hosted by renowned wine writer and experienced tour guide, Phil Parker, his Fine Wine Tours can take in a variety of places and themes, including an ancient volcanic cone, rugged coastline, Waiheke Island, wine and cheese combo tours and visits to boutique wineries in Kumeu. Groups are kept small – usually no more than 6 people – to ensure a personalised experience, and free pick up from your hotel or cruise ship are also provided.
2. Zombie Survival Challenge
Whether you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day or are simply seeking a quirky experience that you won’t find in the guide books, Zombie Survival Challenge fits the bill. A truly immersive experience, their Auckland operation takes guests through a choice of zombie survival courses, including an outdoor wilderness route and a stage show at their city premises. An experienced team of zombie performers, complete with special effects and make-up, put all of their efforts into scaring the wits out of you – all in the name of fun. In short, you won’t find a more unique activity anywhere in Auckland.
3. Auckland Festival of Photography
If you happen to be visiting the Auckland region in late May, then you’re in luck because the city plays host to an acclaimed festival that celebrates the long-standing art of photography. Featuring over 100 events and exhibition s across a wide range of venues, the festival 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.
LOCATION All across Auckland DATES 31 May-22 June 2018
4. Hop on an Aucky Walky 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 and at ground level. Top-rated Aucky Walky Tours runs 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 miss). Among the highlights of its Hello Auckland tour are stylish back lanes, the city’s 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. Do this on your first day in town as you’ll get loads of useful advice for your Auckland stay.
Travelling is often associated with a renewal of the mind, but it can also be an opportunity to change your physical self to. Visitors to Auckland who have always liked the idea of anatomical decoration have the perfect excuse to take the plunge thanks to BodyFX, a company that specialises in make-up, special effects, body art and face painting. As well as a retail store, there are also photography and production studios helmed by multi-award winning artists who will help transform your look in the exact way you desire.
LOCATION 607 New North Road, Morningside HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-5pm
6. Float Culture
Welcoming anyone who wants to experience the benefits of sensory deprivation, Float Culture may not be your ordinary tourist attraction, but its popularity is beyond doubt. Located in the Auckland suburb of Grafton, its facility houses several flotation pods that are filled with salt water solution heated to skin temperature. Once you’re settled in, the experience is unlike any other, with users reporting it almost impossible to tell which parts of your body are in or out of the water. The sense of weightless is said to have huge physical and psychological benefits – even for those who consider themselves perfectly healthy.
LOCATION 12 Water Street, Grafton HOURS Sat-Sun 8am-10pm; Mon-Fri 9am-10pm
7. Power to the Pedal
If you like the idea of a cycling tour of the city except for the inevitable weary legs, then Power to the Pedal might just have the perfect solution for you. The company runs electric bike tours in Auckland – a perfect city to navigate on two wheels thanks to its award-winning cycleway network – that invite you to explore the city in a fun, refreshing and energetic way, but without putting too much strain on your limbs. Several different tours are available, each taking in different parts of the city and its surroundings, or if you prefer you can simply hire a bike and take off on your own. Whatever you choose, your legs will thank you!
8. Sky Tower
One of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the Sky Tower offers far 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 has multiple restaurants, including New Zealand’s only revolving eatery. But the truly adventurous 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. Not one for the faint hearted!
LOCATION Victoria Street West HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-10pm
9. Redwoods Treehouse
Commissioned as part of a marketing campaign by the Yellow Pages In 2008, The Redwoods Treehouse is a truly unique venue. The striking pod-shaped structure built ten metres high in a redwood tree near Warkworth, north of Auckland, it is accessible only via an elevated treetop walkway. But what is its purpose, I hear you ask? Sadly, it’s not open for casual visitors but is instead available for hire as a private venue for corporate events, work parties, product launches, intimate weddings and other celebrations.
LOCATION 1415 State Highway 1, Warkworth
10. Waikumete Cemetery
A graveyard may be a rather maudlin location for a recommended place to visit, but for anyone keen to pay their respects to one of New Zealand’s greatest modern tragedies can do so at Waikumete Cemetery. The site is home to 16 caskets containing the unidentified bodies from a 1979 plane crash involving an Air New Zealand flight that killed all 257 people on board. The recovery mission was only able to identify 213 of the victims and the remaining 44 now rest in peace at Waikumete, where a memorial has also been crated bearing the names of each of these lost souls.
LOCATION 4128 Great North Road, Glen Eden HOURS Mon-Sun 7.30am-8.30pm
At almost 650 feet high, this long-dormant volcano is 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.
12. Kayaking at Goat Island
Located around an hour’s drive north of Auckland, Goat Island is home to some of New Zealand’s most beautiful reefs, abundant with a huge variety of marine life. One popular way of exploring the reserve is aboard a kayak, allowing you to enjoy the breath-taking scenery as you navigate near the island’s rocky edges. One or two-hour kayak hires are available from a handful of companies in the area, and tutorials are offered for beginners.
13. New Zealand Maritime Museum
If you’re keen to delve under New Zealand’s skin and discover its rich history, then this fabulous museum will satisfy your very 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 success and the inspirational story of Sir Peter Blake, you’ll be amazed at the attention to detail. You can also 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.
LOCATION Quay Stree, Viaduct Harbour HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
14. Bird watching on Tiritiri Matangi Island
New Zealand is a nature lover’s paradise and nowhere more so than Tiri Tiri Matangi island, located 30km northeast of Auckland. Easily accessible by ferry from Auckland Harbor, the island is home to a truly stunning population of birds, which has been allowed to flourish thanks to the eradication of all predators here. As a result visitors can expect to see all manner of exotic, indigenous New Zealand birds, including Little Penguins, parrots and the fantastically noisy Tuis.
15. Swashbucklers Bar
Overlooking the picturesque Westhaven Marina, this is a great place to come for a down-to-earth pint with a view of the water and, if you’re lucky, a spectacular sunset over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. But more than its peaceful atmosphere and pretty vistas, Swashbucklers has also been cooking up some of the freshest seafood in the city for around 25 years, making it one of Auckland’s most acclaimed, no-frills dining destinations. The furnishings are minimal and old school, adding to the casual ambience. In short, this is Auckland chill at its best.
LOCATION 23B Westhaven Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 11am-11pm
16. Piggy Stardust
Auckland doesn’t have a huge street art scene, but one trend that has taken off in a big way here are paintings on utility boxes. There are a handful of artists who dedicate themselves to this particular genre of urban art, one of whom paints them with animals. He also gives his work quirky names like Awkward Seal and Student Kitten, but perhaps the favourite among locals is Piggy Stardust. Situated in the affluent district of Mount Eden, it never fails to garner amused and admiring glances from everyone who passes.
17. The White Lady
The improbably long bus that sits alongside a boarded-up strip of downtown Commerce Street may not, at first glance, be a likely location for a hugely popular dining venue. And yet The White Lady is one of Auckland’s most iconic eateries, in business since 1948, making it one America’s oldest mobile food operation. Its stock in trade are its delicious burgers, and they are lapped up by the city’s late-night crowds. Don’t expect anywhere to sit down, though. But when the food’s this good, who cares?
LOCATION 18 Commerce Street HOURS Mon-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun Open 24 hours
18. 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.
19. Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Company
If you’re looking for a rooftop bar with a twist, you won’t find anywhere more unique than Dr Rudi’s. Overlooking the glistening Viaduct Harbour, there’s a large central bar with 14 tap beers, some exceptional seafood and plenty of shared tables dotted around. But without question the standout feature is a full-blown bowling alley, offering the chance to hit some pins while enjoying some of the best views in Auckland.
LOCATION Cnr Quay & Hobson Street HOURS Sat 11am-4am ; Sun 11am-12am; Mon-Tues 8am-11pm; Weds 8am-2pm; Thurs 8am-3am; Fri 8am-4am
20. Food Alley
A magnet for food lovers in Auckland is this bustling, colourful bazaar that serves up classic Eastern flavoured cuisine throughout the week. The Food Alley has been a staple of Auckland life for many years now and has never seemingly let its standards slip, with its myriad of stalls selling Asian food of every hue, including Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese. There are also two bars for refreshments.
LOCATION 9 Albert Street HOUR Mon-Sun 10.30am-9pm