The Saturday City: Auckland

auckland's queen street in nzAuckland isn’t one of my favorite cities in the world. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad city. I just find it to be quite boring- it’s a business city lacking the character of Wellington or Queenstown. I think living in Auckland would be great. It’s a beautiful city, there are a lot of parks around, and you can drive to beautiful beaches.

As a tourist though, I found the city lackluster. There are a few things to do here but overall, you aren’t wowed by it and Auckland is a poor introduction to just how amazing New Zealand is. Once you get out of Auckland, everything gets a lot better. But since to get to New Zealand, you most likely will into fly into Auckland, here are some things to do when you find yourself stuck there:

  • Bungy Jump: Home to the world’s first Harbor Bridge Bungy Jump operated, this jump is operated by AJ Hackett, the famous bungy jumping inventor. It’s not as high as the Nevis bungy jump in Queenstown but if you don’t want to start with a big jump, this is perfect.
  • Hauraki Gulf: The harbor is a great place to take a whale and dolphin watching tour. You’ll always see some dolphins but the whales are hit and miss most of the time. If dolphin and whale watching isn’t your thing, you can simply sail around the harbor. Auckland is home of to the most sailboats per capita in the world so you know it’s a good place to sail.
  • Auckland Bridge Climb: If you never got to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, you can do the 1 1/2 hour bridge climb here. You’ll get a good view of the harbor and surrounding cityscape.
  • Sky Tower: This tower stands at 328 meters and offers great views of Auckland and the area. You can head out and walk around the outside and even bungy off it! It’s in the same complex as the casino where you can also find good restaurants.
  • Otara Flea Market: Every weekend on Saturdays there is a large Polynesian and Maori market that is full of clothes, food, and local items. This is a great way to spend an afternoon.
  • Visit the North Shore: Auckland’s North Shore is home to fabulous beaches. They’re a great reason to get out of the boring city center. During the summer time, expect lots of people and little parking on the weekends.
  • Auckland Domain: This giant, beautiful park in the middle of Auckland. During the warm summer months, this place is filled with people running, playing sports, and just laying out. There are a lot of nice walks here and beautiful gardens.

One thing I did like about Auckland was the food. While I was never able to find any great sushi there (outside of a few places in Melbourne and Sydney, you can’t find really good sushi in this region), I managed to find a few gems. For eating, I recommend Covo for Italian and Mezza Bar for Middle Eastern food. The top of Queen Street has some really good Korean and Chinese food, though I forgot where I ate. For decent Japanese, I recommend Kura, near the town hall. It’s very good. If you plan on going for dinner, I’d make reservations. They are the only place where I found decent sushi.

Everyone finds themselves in Auckland at some point. I wouldn’t stay there a long time. Even if you only stayed a day, you wouldn’t be missing much. To really get a feel for it and get over your jetlag, I suggest about two full days in the city.

After that, leave for more exciting adventures around New Zealand.

  1. Sofia

    yeah I was in Auckland around this time last year, and I also didn’t really find anything special about the place – instead only about 1 hour north and/or south you find some amazing beaches and landscape – you will also find the rest of NZ talking sh*t about the place – and even go as far to say it isn’t really part of New Zealand :p its nice to see – but travel around the rest of NZ and you will find so many more amazing places :)

  2. Having visited Auckland I can tell you it’s a lot like Toronto (where I live). It’s a wonderful city to live in but not very exciting to visit. Whenever I meet travelers who want to come to Canada I suggest Vancouver or Montreal which are much more travel friendly.

    I had a great time in Auckland, although I was visiting two friends that lived there so it was a much different type of traveling. When discussing NZ to others I often tell them they could skip the North Island if they had to (sorry North!)

    • Such a shame, you’re missing a whole lot about Toronto then.
      To say Toronto is not exciting? You don’t know this city well enough then, you need some major Toronto Introduction 101 or something, cause you’re REALLY missing a whole lot if you think this city is boring. I have friends who used to think like you, and I showed them around the city and now they love Toronto. Why people say this city is boring amazes me because half the time people just probably don’t bother to look at the right places.
      And I’m sorry, I find that offensive that a local would suggest that other cities are more ‘travel friendly’. If you really don’t like it here, then move, your attitude is not helping the city itself to become ‘travel friendly’ don’t you think? I’ve lived in Toronto for 10 years and the last 5 years have gotten to know the city and I’m telling you IT IS NOT BORING. The city isn’t boring, YOU are.
      A place is only boring as you want it to be. I can be stuck in the middle of nowhere and come out saying it’s the most exciting place in the world.

      • I lived in Toronto for a bit, and when my Austrian cousins came to Canada there was really not to much I could recommend for them as sites to see there other than the CN Tower…I steered them to Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Niagara on the Lake…ANYPLACE buy TO!!!! Seriously better places in Canada to tour.

  3. Nice, Matt. Heading to Auckland for the first time in a couple of weeks, and will definitely be referencing this post for things to do!


  4. I completely agree Matt. Auckland leaves a lot to be desired as a backpacker. Great place to live, but also a great place to travel through quickly.

    For food, I recommend checking out the Food Alley just off of Queen Street. Great food from all over Asia at very reasonable prices. For $15 you can get a massive lunch.

  5. I never thought Toronto was boring actually. But, I come from the prairies where an exciting event is seeing a gopher pop his head out of a hole. :) Man, those NZers love their bungee. Still not sure if I’d try it. But if someone wants me to proxy them, I won’t say no!

  6. Hi Matt — I agree with your point of view (I summed up my feelings toward Auckland in my blog post as “it’s a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit there”). However, there was one place I really enjoyed, which I wanted to add to your list: the Auckland War Museum in the Auckland Domain. The museum has an extensive collection on Maori culture, and also a natural science collection with hands-on exhibits my kids loved. The surrounding Auckland Domain park has beautiful trails for running. If I had to spend a day there, that’s where I’d head!

  7. I totally agree. Auckland doesn’t have soul, Wellington has much more of a vibrant urban buzz even though it is a third the size of Auckland.

    In many ways Auckland is like Sydney. It’s a great city if you have a view of the harbour, but otherwise it can be a bit boring. Wellington is more like Melbourne. You won’t think much of it on your first visit, but you’ll like it more and more every time you return and discover new things about the city.

    One exception about Auckland is Ponsonby. It’s a funky neighbourhood not far from the city centre with loads of character and lots of interesting shops, bars and cafes. It is worth visiting if you’re spending more than a day or two in the city.

  8. becs

    In town:

    Mission Bay!
    A ferry ride to the cute town of Devonport (plus hikes) on the shore!
    Auckland Museum!

    And getting out of town:

    Day tours to Piha and the W. Coast!
    Bus to Orewa and Whangaparaoa for great beaches!

    I would skip all the extreme stuff and save your money for the rest of the country. Enjoy AKL for what it has that you can’t do anywhere else. And all the extreme stuff can be found better and elsewhere.

  9. Dan

    As a local for (most of) 30 years, I can drop a few hints for travellers to Auckland. The central city is a bit dull, but there are things to do if you know where to find them.

    If you are thinking of moving here permanently, there are drawbacks you should consider, namely: high cost of living compared with income, especially housing and food, and public transport simply does not work for the bulk of people (thus, there are some traffic problems). If you can live with these things, it is wonderful to be able to find a beach without driving more than 5 minutes, or a beautiful park in a short walk. I also love the fact that pretty much wherever there could be a tree, there is.

    I agree with many of the comments above. Ponsonby is a vibrant community, so is Parnell and even Grey Lynn. If you like “buzz” and cafe culture, these are great places to hang out. I’m not one for adventure tourism, but if you’ve come all the way to NZ already, go the extra distance to Queenstown for that, options here are most likely to be cheap imitations of those found elsewhere in NZ.

    As a sushi fiend, I heartily deny the claim that there is no decent sushi to be had. There are dozens of very average sushi shops around – however I can recommend a couple off the top of my head that really stand out: Bian Sushi, near the corner of Symonds St and Newton Road/Khyber Pass is amazing. Also very good is the sushi place in the foodcourt at Atrium on Elliot (can’t recall the name).

    For beaches, check out Takapuna beach on the North Shore. It’s relatively busy, by NZ standards, ie. not to the point of no room to lay out a towel, but is a great swimming beach summer long. The neighbouring community (Takapuna) also is a local hotspot with plenty of cafes, busy bars and clubs. If it’s a hot day, go for a late afternoon swim and follow up with some eating, drinking and dancing with the locals. It’s not cheap though, be prepared to pay on the high side of $8NZD for ahem “premium” beer.

    Newmarket is a nice place to visit in the day, and close to the city. Davis Crescent has some great cafes with lunches for $12 and some even do beers for $5 at lunchtime (Bistro 65, a fave haunt of mine). There is amazing flagship fashion shopping (eg. Industrie, WORLD, Trelise Cooper) in the Teed St precinct (recently developed). Also worth checking out if you like fresh, artisan, cafe style food, the Teed St. Larder. The Link bus runs from the city about every 10-15 minutes, but seems to take about 20 minutes due to its circuitous route (you could probably walk in that time!), or you can get the train from Britomart (which takes less than 5 minutes but runs less often).

    Want to stand on a volcano without getting burned to a crisp? We have over 50 in Auckland – most of our hills are “dormant” volcanoes. Mt Eden has a massive crater which is pretty breathtaking, and also offers great views over the city and its surroundings. If you like boat rides and walking, take a Ferry across Waitemata Harbour to Rangitoto Island.

    Hope that helps some visitors to enjoy the best our City has to offer. Sure, it’s not Melbourne or Wellington, but it does have soul if you know where to find it :) And it’s planted smack bang in the middle of one of the most stunning harbours anywhere.

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