Home to over a third of New Zealand’s total population and housing more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts, Auckland is as bustling as it is beautiful. Each neighborhood comes with its own story and vibe, and dotted across the city and around the outskirts, you’ll find endless stunning scenery and dramatic coastlines to explore. However, knowing what to do, see, and eat takes some insider knowledge. So, sit back, relax, and let our Ultimate Auckland Guide do the hard work for you.
Table of Contents
- Best things to do in Auckland
- Best things to do outside of Auckland
- Best hikes in Auckland
- Best places to eat in Auckland
- The Ultimate Auckland Guide: Final Thoughts
Best things to do in Auckland
Visit the Sky Tower
Standing proud over Auckland, at 1,076 feet (328 meters) tall, Sky Tower is the most defining landmark of Auckland’s cityscape. It’s also the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere and sits perfectly in Auckland’s CBD. While just appreciating the soaring tower is reason enough to add the Sky Tower to our Ultimate Auckland Guide, an entire world of fun activities await you inside.
For starters, glass-fronted lifts bring you to a viewing platform where you can take in views of Auckland’s sprawling city, busy waterfront, and breathtaking islands. If that’s not enough, you can book in for a SkyWalk, strap on a harness, and walk the 192-meter-high outside ring. Or, for the extreme adrenaline junkies, you can even bungy jump right off the tower, landing back at the SKYCITY Plaza.
For those who prefer keeping their heart rate down, the Sky Tower is home to the Sky Café on level 50, the Orbit 360º Dining on level 52, and The Sugar Club fine dining on level 53. And last but not least, the Sky Tower is home to Auckland’s only casino.
Explore the Auckland Domain
Sitting a 35-minute walk from Auckland’s city center and easily accessible by public transport, the Auckland Domain is well loved by locals and visitors. Here you’ll trade in the bustling city for beautiful gardens, idyllic walking paths, and plenty of opportunities to learn about New Zealand’s history and culture.
The main feature of the Auckland Domain is the Auckland War Memorial Museum, more commonly known as the Auckland Museum. Inside, you’ll discover over 2,000 Māori artifacts, learn about traditional Māori village life, experience a volcanic eruption, and learn about the native birds and plants of New Zealand. Entry comes with a moderate price tag, so it’s best to set aside at least an hour or two for the museum.
Besides the museum, Auckland Domain is also home to the Windergardens, complete with two glasshouses, an enclosed courtyard with a fish pond, and marble statues. Or, if you want to stick to the great outdoors, opt for the lover’s walk track, which brings you through native forests and alongside a picturesque stream.
Hit the beach at Mission Bay
On a nice day, it’s hard to beat a trip out to Mission Bay. Located a quick 15-minute drive from Auckland city center, in no time, you’ll be relaxing on the sandy beach, playing out in the water, or enjoying one of the many restaurants located along the waterfront.
While Mission Bay can get quite busy during New Zealand’s summer months, December through February, you’ll always be able to find your slice of paradise to lay out a towel and sunbathe. If relaxing isn’t your thing, you can bike or walk along a beautiful pathway overlooking the Hauraki Gulf. Then, when hunger strikes or you’re just after a cold drink, you’ll have more than your fair share of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Check out the Auckland Zoo
No matter your age, it’s hard not to have a wonderful time at the zoo. Especially when it’s as well laid out and animal friendly as the Auckland Zoo. Stretched over an impressive 40 acres (16 hectares) and home to more than 1400 animals, it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon wandering the zoo.
The Auckland Zoo is split into six sections: the Africa Safari Track, Asian Elephants, Native New Zealand, Australian Bush Track, and the South America Rainforest Track. However, the favorite for many is the South East Asia Jungle Track, where Orangutans playfully trapeze right over you.
Wander the Auckland Waterfront
Auckland is nearly surrounded by water, so technically, much of the city is considered a waterfront. However, when locals talk about the waterfront, they’re talking about the stretch between Wynyard Quarter, Viaduct Harbour, and Britomart.
You’ll want to dress in your finest as the waterfront is particularly known for its upmarket vibe and fancy bars and restaurants. Adding to the feeling of luxury, you’ll see superyachts moored all around you, and five-star hotels overlooking the harbor. It’s great fun to look around and see what money can buy, and as many of the restaurants are still reasonably priced, it won’t blow your budget to enjoy the many views with a cocktail in hand.
Go Bungy Jumping
We know we’ve already mentioned bungy jumping off the Sky Tower, but did you know Auckland has two different jump locations? Seeing as AJ Hackett, the man who invented modern-day bungy jumping, grew up in Auckland, it certainly makes sense. This second jump is all the more frightening as you’ll be dunked right into the ocean. If that sounds like just your thing, the Harbour Bridge Bungy is calling your name.
Take in the views in Devonport
Last but certainly not least on our list of best things to do in Auckland is to take a ferry over to the North Shore. Even though Devonport is a mere 10-minute ferry ride away, you’ll immediately feel the slower pace and laidback culture found here.
Once you hop off the ferry, wander down the heritage main street and pop into small boutique stores, stop in at one of the many friendly cafes, or head over to Cheltenham Beach for a refreshing dip in the ocean. If you’re feeling energetic, climb to the top of Mount Victoria, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of Auckland’s cityscape.
Best things to do outside of Auckland
Besides a few suburbs, we’ve stuck to exploring in and around Auckland’s city center. However, it’s nearly impossible to talk about Auckland without adding a few short day trips you can take from Auckland, all of which are within two hours of the city.
Wine taste on Waiheke Island
If there’s one day trip you take from Auckland, make it to Waiheke Island. While only a 45-minute ferry ride away, you’ll thoroughly trade the bustling city for the most picturesque island imaginable. We’re talking rolling green hills dotted with sheep, picture-perfect vineyards, long stretches of rugged coastline, and vibrant blue water of the ocean combining into one view.
If you only have one afternoon, the best way to check out the island’s many wineries is to book a wine tour. You’ll be picked up right from the harbor and spend the rest of the afternoon sampling wine at boutique wineries, each with its own charm. If you’re not into wine, there are also plenty of gorgeous beaches, walking tracks, and delicious restaurants to make the trip over well worth it.
Roam Rangitoto Island
Starting with a fun fact, Rangitoto Island is almost symmetrical. No matter where you’re at in the city or on the water, the island will look the same. This can be quite disorienting to first-time visitors to Auckland, but you’ll soon learn to love this unwavering landmark off Auckland’s shore. As Rangitoto is still an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted in 600 years, there aren’t any shops or restaurants on the island. You’ll need to bring everything you need over with you on the 25-minute ferry.
Once here, you can hike around the coastal track and climb to the summit for sweeping views of Auckland and Waiheke Island. Just keep in mind the track is mainly volcanic rock, so you’ll want comfortable hiking shoes that can take some wear and tear.
Check out Muriwai Beach
An easy 45-minute drive west of Auckland brings you to the incredible black sand beach of Muriwai. While the scenery itself is spectacular, many tourists whizz right on by, so chances are you’ll only be sharing the beach with a few other locals. The sand gets its dark color from iron in the volcanic rock as it breaks down, but it’s still plenty soft to enjoy a barefoot walk. Muriwai Beach is a popular spot for surfers, and you can certainly join in as long as you’re a confident swimmer and know how to spot rip tides.
On top of the impressive scenery, Muriwai Beach is also home to a large gannets colony. Hundreds of gannets come to nest between August and March, and if you’re lucky, you may even see juveniles in December and February.
Best hikes in Auckland
You’ve probably already noticed that a lot of things to do in Auckland revolve around the incredible scenery. And as we believe the best way to take in the breathtaking landscapes is by your own two feet, we thought it only made sense to include the best hikes in our Ultimate Auckland Guide.
Coast to Coast Walkway
Did you know that in four hours, you can walk 9.9 miles (16km) from one side of New Zealand to the other? Starting from the Auckland waterfront, you’ll cross through the bustling city center, past the Auckland Domain, up and over One Tree Hill, and finish at Manukau Harbour. If you don’t want to walk back, there are plenty of public transport options to bring you back to the start.
Wattle Bay Loop
Part of the Waikōwhai Walkway, Wattle Bay Loop is the perfect mix of coastal hiking, suburban strolls, and fascinating bird life. To start the hike, head to Manukau Domain, where you’ll immediately be spoiled with incredible views across the harbor, then follow the road down through Wattle Bay Reserve and back around the Manukau Domain. The loop should take one to two hours, but if you’d like to make it longer, you can add other sections of the Waikōwhai Walkway.
Te Henga Walkway
Looking for something a bit more challenging that’ll get you into the rugged nature New Zealand is so well known for? The Te Henga Walkway has you covered. You’ll want a sturdy pair of hiking shoes for this 10.3 km walk, which brings you over the Waitakere River, along O’Neills Bay, and then after a steep climb, follows a rugged cliff-top coastline. This track is best done with two cars, one at each end. But if you only have one vehicle, pack a lunch and a sense of adventure, and walk as much or as little as you’d like before returning to your car.
North Shore Coastal Walk
If you’re ready for an ultimate full-day adventure, it’s hard to beat the North Shore Coastal Walk. Catch a bus out to Long Bay Beach, and from here, you’ll follow the coastline 22.3 km all the way to Devonport, where you can then catch a ferry back to Auckland’s city center. The path is mostly flat, so while long, you won’t have to worry about steep climbs or uneven footing on this hike. Instead, you’ll walk along quiet roads, beaches, and beachside paths, with plenty of opportunities to stop for a swim or picnic. If you don’t wish to hike the full path, simply walk as much as your heart desires, then turn around. But here’s your warning, it’s hard to turn around when every corner presents incredible scenery.
Best places to eat in Auckland
All this hiking and exploring has surely left your stomach growling. Luckily, Auckland is home to some of the best dining options in New Zealand. And with a melting pot of cultures calling the city home, no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it cooked to perfection in Auckland. We’ve split our Ultimate Auckland Guide into the best places for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nightlife – let’s dig in!
Best breakfast spots in Auckland
Williams Eatery ($$) – Located just off Wynyard’s Quarter, Williams Eatery combines classic New Zealand dishes with Filipino-inspired cuisine while using fresh local products. Think market fish scrambled eggs, yam pitas, and brulée toast. Williams Eatery fills up fast on the weekend, so be sure to book a table well in advance.
Best Ugly Bagels ($) – There are four Best Ugly Bagel restaurants in Auckland, two in the city center, one near the Auckland Domain, and one in the airport. So, you have no excuse not to give this mighty breakfast a try. All the bagels are handmade daily and then fired over the flame of Manuka hardwood. You then pick your toppings, and away you go with a delicious and well-priced breakfast.
Little Bird Kitchen ($$) – Ponsonby is known for its hipster vibe and quirky cafes, and Little Bird Kitchen is no exception. Created by partners Megan and Jeremy, this breakfast hotspot puts a culinary twist on vegan cuisine and serves everything from chai waffles and kimchi pancakes to superfood smoothies.
Best lunch locations in Auckland
Mad Samurai ($$) – If you’re a sushi fan, it’s nearly impossible to beat the Mad Samurai. Not only do they have the best name around, but Mad Sumurai also cooks up the perfect combination of traditional Japanese cuisine with a New Zealand twist. You can opt for the classic salmon nigiri sushi, sample a bit of everyone with their bento box, or indulge in New Zealand’s finest beef and opt for their slow-cooked Wagyu brisket. You won’t be disappointed.
Proper Pizza ($) – You know those restaurants you can smell long before arriving at its doors? Proper Pizza is just that. Serving delicious pies on their handmade crust recipe and topped with housemade sauces and a secret cheese blend, it only takes one bite to know this is a pizza you’ll be fighting over the last piece. Choose between the likes of black truffle pizza, garlic chicken pizza, and their delicious dessert, apple crumble pizza.
The Botanist ($$) – If you’re not paying attention, The Botanist is one of those restaurants you’ll walk by. Not because it lacks charm or delicious smells, but because it’s also a florist and is overflowing with stunning bouquets. You’ll feel like you’ve landed in a tropical garden as you dine on a delicious sandwhich or acai bowl surrounded by fragrant flowers and a calming atmosphere.
Top restaurants for dinner in Auckland
Ahi ($$$) – When in New Zealand, you might as well enjoy the incredible meat and produce grown here – and Ahi is up there with the best of the best. Each plate is crafted to perfection, and while you can expect to pay premium prices for premium food, it’s well worth it. Think wild Fiordland deer, Te Matuku oysters, and Chatham Island fish paired with local wines and specially crafted cocktails.
Bali Nights ($$) – If you’ve eaten Indonesian street food, you know just how unique and flavor-packed it is, and Bali Nights have nailed their take on it. Enjoy the same colorful food and friendly atmosphere you’d find in Bali, right in Ponsonby. Their nasi goreng (fried rice) is a must-try, along with their housemade sambals (Indonesian chili sauce).
Daphnes Taverna ($$$) – What makes good food great? A friendly atmosphere, attention to detail, and an uninhibited pride in serving authentic food – and Daphnes Taverna more than ticks all of these boxes. Serving up mouthwatering Greek cuisine using only the freshest New Zealand ingredients, you’ll only fall more in love with the restaurant as you get deeper into your meal.
Best nightlife in Auckland
You’ve had a wonderful day exploring and just finished dining at one of Auckland’s excellent restaurants, yet you’re not ready to call it a night just yet. Luckily, Auckland is home to a range of clubs and cocktail bars perfect for dancing the night away or having a nightcap with a view. Below are a few of our favorite places to head after dark.
Everybody’s – Don’t be fooled by the name. While sure, everyone is welcome at Everybody’s; it’s one of those places you must know about. Otherwise, you’ll just walk on by without ever knowing better. Located up a flight of spiral stairs in the heart of downtown, Everybody’s is always buzzing with finely dressed men and women looking to dance the night away while sipping elegant cocktails.
Ponsonby Social Club – You’ve probably picked up on the fact that Ponsonby is as hip as they come, and Ponsonby Social Club is an ode to the half hipster, half boujee vibe felt in this suburb. As dinner service wraps up, one of Auckland’s best DJs turns up, and the dance floor fills up. No matter the day of the week, this is one venue you’ll want to arrive at early or prepare for a long wait to get inside.
Coops Corner Pub – Looking for something a little less fancy? Coops Corner Pub has you sorted. Here, you can show up wearing your Friday casuals and fit right in, and as it’s located right on the viaduct, you won’t have far to go if you’re staying downtown. Just be prepared; some nights, they’ll open the mic up for karaoke, and like all great karaoke bars, you’ll get the great, the good, and the not-so-good singers living it up on stage.
Bellini Bar – If you’re not one for loud music and packed bars but aren’t ready to call it a night, head to Bellini Bar. Okay, one drink might cost an arm and a leg, but as you sip the perfectly curated cocktail overlooking the harbor in one of their living room-inspired sections, it’s hard to care. And if you want to learn how to make these incredible cocktails for yourself, you can join in on a cocktail masterclass right at the bar.
The Ultimate Auckland Guide: Final Thoughts
Auckland truly is one of a kind, with its unique location and melting pot of cultures. So get out there, and discover the wild nature, beautiful beaches, and epic restaurants in the City of Sails. Then, continue on your exploration with our Ultimate 2 Week New Zealand itinerary, or head across the Tasman for an Ultimate 3 Week Australia itinerary.