Auckland is the largest and most populous city in the country (it is not the capital, though!). As a tourist destination, it’s not one of New Zealand’s best places. I found the city to be a bit ugly, sprawling, and sort of bland. There’s some fun activities, food, and nightlife in Auckland so I wouldn’t write the city off completely, but I also wouldn’t spend a lot of time here as there are more exciting and more beautiful places in the country. This guide will help you get a feel for the city.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Auckland
1. Day trip to Waiheke Island
2. Shop at Otara Flea Market
3. Head to Waitakere Ranges
4. Climb up Sky Tower
5. Hang out on the Auckland Domain
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Explore the Hauraki Gulf
If you’re a water lover, spend some time in the Hauraki Gulf. You can go scuba diving, fishing, boating, sailing, and whale watching here. Climb Rangitoto Island (Auckland’s youngest volcano), or relax on Motuihe Island. Visit the historical mansion house at Kawau Island, which was once home to the mine superintendent on the island. Waiheke (also known as the “Island of Wine,” for its numerous award-winning wineries) and Great Barrier are the largest islands in the gulf, while others range from wildlife sanctuaries to volcanoes.
2. Feed lambs at Sheepworld
New Zealand is known for having more sheep than people and this is the best way to get up-close-and-personal with sheep as a traveler. Sheepworld is a small family farm located 45 minutes from Auckland by bus. See how sheep are farmed and sheared and witness the process of what happens after the wool is harvested. Admission includes a sheepdog show and is 34.50 NZD for adults, with discounts available for seniors and children.
3. Visit the Auckland Zoo
This zoo has 150 animal species, 500 animals, and a number of different habitats such as the Rainforest and Pridelands. There are lots of different local species here, so it’s worth a visit if you’re traveling with kids. Admission is 28 NZD for adults, while a family pass (for one adult and 2 children) is 47 NZD.
4. Wander the North Shore
Auckland’s main beach area is popular with locals and tourists alike. The nightlife here is also very active and you can even do some surfing. Many of New Zealand’s successful international sailors began their careers as youngsters at North Shore yacht clubs. You’ll see the white triangles of sails decorating the bays on a breezy day. There are also plenty of kayakers, too. Offshore, the tree-covered volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island provides a unique backdrop and a fascinating destination for more experienced paddlers and sailors. Every local will tell you this area is a “must see.”
5. Check out MOTAT
Also known as the Museum of Transport and Technology, this interactive museum is host to more than 300,000 technology and transportation-related items. If you happen to be going to the zoo, you might as well stop here, as it is a few blocks away. Admission is 19 NZD for adults, and 10 NZD for children and students.
6. Visit the aquarium
Here, you can peer through the depths at an array of fish, stingrays, and sharks, which swim around you as you travel through a long transparent tunnel. Additionally, you can experience the Antarctic in the permanent winter exhibit. Adult tickets are 31 NZD if purchased online (39 NZD if bought at the gate).
7. Try water sports at Mission Bay
Located close to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, Mission Bay is one of the most popular urban beaches in Auckland. Its’ peaceful waters are perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking. After working up a sweat on the water, take in one of the many eateries in Mission Bay and if you happen to be on the beach at nightfall, check out the light-up fountain.
8. Travel back in time
The Howick Historical Village is one of those ‘living museums’ that really makes you feel like you are in another time. With staff dressed in costumes dating back to the mid-1800’s and speaking in peculiar accents, it’s fun and cheesy all at once. Admission is 16 NZD for adults, with discounts available for students, seniors, and children.
9. Walk through Waikumete Cemetery
This is the largest cemetery in the country. It is home to a number of heritage buildings, including the Corban family mausoleum. It is really interesting to walk around and the dates on many of the tombstones can be startling to really think about. If you happen to be here on the first Sunday of a month, guided tours are available at no charge.
10. See the Gannet Colony at Muriwai
Along the Muriwai beach, you can find thousands of breeding gannet birds nesting between the black sand dunes. They are here between August and March. There are two viewing platforms from which to watch the birds. If you’re not a bird person, you can also come to Muriwai for the surfing, biking, or hiking. A surf school is set up at a spot on the beach.
11. Go bungy jumping
One of the world’s first bungee jumps is operated by AJ Hackett, the man who created bungy jumping. Here you jump off the bridge into the harbor. If you want something higher, head down to Queenstown for the 143-meter Nevis jump. A single jump at AJ Hackett’s will cost around 375 NZD.
12. Climb to the summit of Rangitoto Island
An iconic part of Auckland’s horizon, Rangitoto Island is a 600-year-old volcano that gives unbeatable views of Auckland. A summit trail offers casual hikers a one-hour climb to the top. The island also has lava caves worth exploring. Be sure to bring water and good hiking shoes.
13. Snorkel on Goat Island
Take a day trip to Goat Island, a protected marine reserve and one of New Zealand’s top snorkelling and dive spots, with abundant colourful fish close to the shore. If you’d rather stay dry, try a clearyak (clear kayak) trip or the glass bottom boat. Bring the kids to meet the cute farm animals at Ambury Regional Park – they might even get to feed the lambs in spring!
Budget hotel prices – You can find budget hotels for around 100 NZD per night. While WiFi is generally included, very few budget hotels include free breakfast. If you go outside the city center, you can find rooms as cheap as 65 NZD per night. Airbnb is available in the city, with shared accommodation starting around 26 NZD per night and entire apartments costing 70 NZD per night.
Average cost of food – Budget meals such as sandwiches or pizza will cost between 8-17 NZD. Many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean restaurants will have food for as little as 10 NZD. Fast food (think McDonald’s) will cost at least 8 NZD. A meal at a nice restaurant with table service will cost around 45 NZD. For a beer at a bar, expect to pay around 8 NZD. If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 65-80 NZD depending on your diet.
Transportation costs – Bus fares range from 1.80 NZD for short trips to 11.52 NZD around the entire city (if you have an AT HOP card; cash fares will cost slightly more). The link bus on Queen Street runs every 10 minutes and costs 1 NZD. Train fares run between 1-2 NZD. There is a day pass available that is valid for unlimited bus, train, and ferry travel. It costs 18 NZD. HOP passes cost 10 NZD to purchase and can be topped up around the city. They can also be used to purchase snacks and newspapers at certain retailers. HOP cards save around 20% when compared to cash fares. Bike rentals are available in the city, as well, with daily rentals costing between 15-20 NZD. Ferries to Rangitoto and Waiheke cost 24-36 NZD for an adult return ticket (discounts are available for children and families). The SkyBus is Auckland’s 24/7 airport bus, starting at $16 each way. You’ll save a few dollars by booking online.
Suggested daily budget
70 NZD / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, limiting your drinking, and using local transportation.)
Money Saving Tips
- Visit backpacker bars – Going out in New Zealand can be expensive. The best way to save money is to participate in the happy hours at the backpacker bars. They usually have 5 NZD drink specials. Start here to save money.
- Watch cricket for free – You can watch cricket matches for free if you head to Victoria Park on the weekends. This is when the amateur teams play, so it’s a great way to take in a game.
- Get the AT HOP Card – If you plan on using the public transportation often be sure to get this prepaid card as it will save you up to 20% on single fares. The card itself costs 10 NZD and can be reloaded throughout the city.
- Stay with a local – If you want to cut down on your costs, give Couchsurfing a try. It’s a great way to meet locals and get additional insight into the country.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to delve beneath the surface of Auckland be sure to try a free walking tour. The Auckland Free Walking Tours is a great way to learn more about the city, its history, architecture, and its people.
- Visit the free museums – There are a few free musuems here, like the Papakura Museum and the Huia Settlers Museum. Some other noteworthy sites to visit if you’re a history buff are the Devonport Museum, McCahon House, and the Polish Heritage Trust Museum (not all are free, but they have pretty low entry fees).
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
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