New Zealand’s biggest city is a wonderful mixture of natural beauty and urbane living, a place where you can get rugged during the day and frocked-up at night. With its beautiful harbour, islands, wineries, beaches, restaurants and adventure activities it’s a hot spot for a cold-season break
1. Walk up One Tree Hill
If it is good enough for U2 to write a song about it, it is certainly worth the effort to walk up the old volcano and spend some time in the magnificent Cornwall Park around its base. The One Tree Hill domain is Auckland’s largest park, and sheep and cattle still graze there. The summit is a place of great cultural significance to the Maori and European settlers alike. It’s simply one of the world’s great urban green spaces, and not to be missed.
2. Rugby at Eden Park
You wouldn’t go to Rome without visiting the Vatican, so if you go to Auckland you should try to go to the imposing cathedral of New Zealand’s great religion, rugby. Rugby isn’t just a sport in New Zealand, it is a physical expression of the nation’s personality. The national team, the All Blacks, are hard enough to beat anywhere, but at Eden Park they are almost invincible. They haven’t been beaten there since 1994. Winter is the rugby season in Aotearoa so if you can get a ticket to see a match at Eden Park — it is also the home ground of the Auckland Blues team in the Super Rugby competition that also involves Australian sides — grab it. You don’t have to know much about rugby, just soak up the atmosphere.
3. Take a fall
The Sky Tower that dominates the city centre is, apart from being the tallest (328m) man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere, a place with much to offer a visitor to Auckland. The upper portion of the tower contains two restaurants and a cafe — including New Zealand’s only revolving restaurant, which turns 360 degrees every hour. There is also a brasserie-style buffet a floor above the main observatory level. It has three observation decks at different heights, each providing all-round views of the city. Thrill-seekers can get their adrenaline fix by attempting the 192m “SkyJump”. The jump is cable-controlled to prevent wind gusts slamming participants into the tower.
4. Hang out in Ponsonby
Discover Auckland’s hip side by spending some time in Ponsonby. Ponsonby Road is a shopper’s delight, packed with boutiques and designer outlets that will satisfy a dedicated browser. It’s also a precinct with plenty of cool bars, restaurants and cafes, and a vibrant live music scene. For those who love stylish architecture, Ponsonby is known for its concentration of beautiful 19th Century villas.
5. Look inside a volcano
Rangitoto is a large island in the Hauraki Gulf about 8km from Auckland and offers an opportunity to peer into the heart of a dormant volcano. Only a short scenic ferry ride across the harbour from downtown Auckland, the island is a favourite destination for hikers and day-trippers. Emerging unexpectedly from the sea some 600 years ago, it is the youngest and largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field. Take the guided tour option on the 4WD road train or walk up to the summit on foot (about an hour each way). Take a torch to explore the black lava caves on the way up. History buffs will love exploring the remnants of three small communities on Rangitoto. Because building was banned on the island in 1937 they provide a snapshot of life in the Depression era.
6. Waiheke Island wine
Another of the Hauraki Gulf’s spectacular islands, Waiheke offers the day-tripper or short-stay visitor a wonderful mix of serene beaches, stunning scenery and relaxed sophistication. It is renowned for its wineries, restaurants and thriving arts scene. Only a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, it is a must-see destination.
7. Wind in your sails
Auckland is known as the City of Sails, so it makes sense to get a view of the city with the sound of the wind in your rigging. For a high-octane experience you can go out and crew on a sleek America’s Cup racing yacht, or just kick back and relax on a day charter touring the harbour. The Maritime Museum is also a good place to prepare yourself for a day out on the water by exploring New Zealand’s rich seafaring traditions.
8. The wild west
A visit to Piha Beach on Auckland’s rugged west coast is a great day out. Piha is renowned for its rugged beauty, black volcanic sand and pounding surf. Here you can climb Lion Rock, the monolith that separates Piha and Little Piha beaches, and admire the Maori carving. Take an easy walk through the bush to marvel at the Kitekite waterfall. Piha is New Zealand’s most popular surfing spot. Piha is in the Waitakere Ranges National Park which features some spectacular scenery, 250km of walking tracks and more beaches and waterfalls. It is only 40 minutes’ drive from central Auckland.
9. Peer at a penguin
Ask an Aucklander what to see and do in their city and most times Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium will be included in their suggestions. Built in 1984 using disused underground sewage tanks and for its time an innovative viewing strategy involving a moulded acrylic tunnel, the aquarium features a penguin colony, a large collection of sharks and the world’s only display of spiny sea dragons. There’s also a replica of Captain Robert Scott’s hut in the Antarctic.
10. Eat and drink
After all that exploration, it’s time to kick back and relax with a glass of wine or a coffee overlooking the water at Viaduct Harbour in the heart of Auckland. It is packed with restaurants and bars, offering everything from casual snack options to five-star dining. You’ll get a real feel for the city here — as well as a great meal!