Auckland is the largest and most populous city in New Zealand (and, contrary to popular belief, it is not the capital). Pretty much anyone coming to New Zealand is going to visit Auckland. As the country’s main airport, all your long-haul international flights are going to land here.
As a tourist destination, I don’t think this is one of New Zealand’s best places. I found the city to be a bit ugly, sprawling, and sort of bland. There are some fun activities, good restaurants, and a hip nightlife here 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 travel guide to Auckland will help you get a feel for the city and figure out what to do when you visit.
Table of Contents
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 in Auckland
1. Explore the Hauraki Gulf
This coastal area is where you can scuba dive, fish, go boating, sail, and go whale watching. For some hiking, visit Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island in the gulf (it’s Auckland’s youngest volcano). You can reach the summit in four hours and there are also some lava caves near the peak that you can explore (bring a flashlight). For a more relaxing time, head to Motuihe Island and lounge on the beach. And, to learn about the region’s past, visit the historic mansion house on Kawau Island, which dates back to 1845. Waiheke (known as the “Island of Wine” for its numerous award-winning wineries) and Great Barrier are the largest islands in the gulf and are worth visiting as well.
2. Feed lambs at Sheepworld
New Zealand is known for having more sheep than people (there are approximately 6 times as many sheep as people in the country). Sheep play an important economic role in the country, which is why you should plan a visit to Sheepworld. It’s a small family farm located 45 minutes from Auckland by bus. At Sheepworld, you’ll be able to see how sheep are raised and sheared and you’ll also learn about the wool-making processes that occur afterward. Admission is 24 NZD.
3. Visit the Auckland Zoo
Opened in 1922, the Auckland Zoo is a not-for-profit zoo that is home to over 1,000 animals. Covering almost 40 acres, the zoo has several different habitats, including rainforests and savannahs (the latter of which is home to giraffes, zebras, ostriches, cheetah, and other amazing animals from Africa). It’s a fun and educational way to spend the day if you’re traveling with children. The zoo is located just 10 minutes from downtown by car and admission is 24 NZD.
4. Wander the North Shore
The North Shore is Auckland’s main beach area. Swimming, kayaking, and surfing here are popular activities. Moreover, many of New Zealand’s successful international sailors began their careers at North Shore yacht clubs so you can find a great sailing scene here too. You’ll also find a lively nightlife here if you stick around after sunset.
5. Check out MOTAT
The Museum of Transport and Technology is an interactive science and technology museum that’s home to over 300,000 items and exhibits, including steam engines, historic trams, and aircraft dating back to the early 1900s (they also have the largest aviation display in the Southern Hemisphere). The MOTAT is located near the zoo so you could do both together. Admission is 19 NZD.
6. Visit Howick Historical Village
The Howick Historical Village is a museum that recreates life in colonial New Zealand. Staff are dressed in period costumes dating to the mid-1800s to really make it a historically accurate and immersive experience. Sure, it’s a little cheesy but it’s fun for kids (and educational too). They have a blacksmith, a mock classroom, and even a fake contingent of soldiers. Admission is 16 NZD.
7. Walk through Waikumete Cemetery
Spanning a massive 266 acres, this cemetery is the final resting place of over 70,000 people, including almost 300 Commonwealth soldiers from World War I and II. Guided walks of the cemetery are held daily and explain more about the grounds and the people buried in the cemetery. Tours are 5 NZD.
8. See the Muriwai Gannet Colony
Here you can find thousands of breeding gannets (large white seabirds) nesting between the black sand dunes. They are here between August and March and there are two viewing platforms where you can watch the birds. If you’re not a bird person, you can also come to Muriwai Beach for the surfing. There are also trails for biking and hiking nearby. The colony is located around 40 minutes by car from Auckland.
9. Go bungy jumping
AJ Hackett, the man who invented modern-day bungy jumping, has two jumps available in Auckland for anyone looking to get their adrenaline pumping. First, there is a 40m plunge from the Harbour Bridge (which dunks you into the ocean). It costs 132 NZD. There is also a 192m jump from the Sky Tower. It costs 225 NZD. If you don’t want to bungy jump, AJ Hackett also operates a Sky Walk on the Sky Tower, which lets you walk around the exterior of the tower for a 360-degree panorama of the city (you’re attached to safety lines so there is no risk of falling). The Sky Tower walk is 150 NZD.
10. Snorkel on Goat Island
Located just 800m from shore, Goat Island is a small island within a protected marine reserve. It’s one of New Zealand’s top snorkeling spots and home to abundant colorful fish. Expect to pay around 75 NZD for snorkeling gear and a guide. If you want to scuba dive, expect to pay around 110 NZD for equipment and a guide. If you’d rather stay dry, rent a “clearyak” (clear kayak). You can find rentals on the coast for around 60 NZD per 30 minutes (kayaks fit 2 people).
For more information on other destinations in New Zealand, check out these guides:
Auckland Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms with 6-8 beds cost between 25-30 NZD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities if you want to cook your own food. Only a couple of hostels include free breakfast so be sure to book those hostels in advance if that’s a priority for you. Private rooms begin at 75 NZD.
There are several campgrounds outside of the city with prices starting at 10 NZD per night for a basic plot (a flat space for a tent, usually without electricity). If you’re driving a self-contained camper van (one with its own water supply and bathroom), there are plenty of free places to park overnight in and around the city as well. You can use the app Park4Night to find them.
Budget hotel prices – For a budget two-star hotel, prices start at 80 NZD per night. These usually include free Wi-Fi; however, two-star hotels are rare in Auckland. Three-star hotels are much more common, costing around 100 NZD per night.
Airbnb is widely available in the city with private rooms starting at 40 NZD, though they average closer to 80 NZD per night. For an entire home/apartment, expect to pay at least 90 NZD per night.
Food – Food in Auckland consists mostly of seafood, lamb, fish and chips, and specialties like Maori hangi (meat and vegetables cooked underground). Expect to indulge on things like roast lamb, muscles, scallops, oysters, and snapper. Auckland also has a lot of ethnic food too, including sushi, Korean, Thai, and Chinese food.
A cheap meal of traditional cuisine costs around 18 NZD while a three-course restaurant meal with a drink costs about 45 NZD. A fast-food combo meal (think McDonald’s) costs around 12 NZD. Chinese food can be found for 10-15 NZD while a small pizza cost around 14 NZD.
Beer costs 10 NZD while a latte/cappuccino costs 5 NZD. Bottled water is 3 NZD.
If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend between 75-85 NZD per week for basic food stuffs like rice, pasta, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Auckland Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Auckland for 75-85 NZD per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a dorm room or camping, cooking all of your meals, doing free walking tours or outdoor activities, visiting just a few paid attractions, and using public transportation. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can lower this by staying in hostels that include free breakfast, Couchsurfing, and by limiting your drinking.
On a mid-range budget of about 185 NZD, you’ll stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out for a few meals, take the occasional taxi, enjoy some drinks, and do more paid activities like visiting museums, going snorkeling, and visiting half-day attractions. In short, you’ll have the flexibility to do what you want. You’re not going to live large but you’ll be able to get by without worrying too much about your spending. If you plan on drinking often, you’ll need to add 10-30 NZD more per day.
On a “luxury” budget of 380 NZD per day or more, you can stay in a 4-star hotel, eat out for every meal, drink what you want, take more taxis, visit museums, and do as many of the adventure activities that make the country famous as you’d like (such as bungy jumping and scuba diving). This is just the ground floor for luxury though — you can easily spend more if you really want to splash out!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in NZD.
Auckland Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Auckland is an expensive city in an expensive country. That said, if you find cheap accommodation, stick to happy hours, and cook your meals, you’ll be able to cut your costs a lot without limiting too much of what you do in the city. Here are some quick tips to help you save money in Auckland:
- Learn to cook – The food scene in Auckland isn’t that mind-blowing. If you want to really save, cook your own food. When it comes to buying groceries, the cheaper supermarkets are Pakn’Save or Countdown.
- Hit happy hour – The backpacker bars have cheap happy hours. Hit them up and drink for cheap. Otherwise, plan to spend 10 NZD for a beer at the bar.
- WWOOF it – If you don’t mind staying outside of the city, WWOOFing is a great way to work for your accommodation and food. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free room and board. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you stay in a place cheaper and longer. You can do it for a few days or a few months.
- Clean in exchange for your room – Some hostels in the city will let you trade a few hours of cleaning and making beds for free accommodation. Ask at the front desk if this is an option.
- Couchsurf – While there are not a ton of options available in the city, it never hurts to check! If you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or floor, this is a great way to save some money and meet locals.
- Take a free walking tour – Auckland Free Walking Tour has a fun and insightful tour that will show you all the highlights of the city. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land — just be sure to tip your guide!
- Find cheap activities – The bookme.co.nz website provides last-minute discounts on activities (and pub crawls) throughout the country. Most of the activities are last minute, but if you’re flexible in when you want to do things, you can save up to 60% off attractions! I can’t recommend it enough.
- Enjoy nature – Remember that nature is free! New Zealand, home to the great walks of the world, has tons of free outdoor activities. While the adventure sports, wine tours, glacier treks, and boat cruises can eat into your budget, there are plenty of trails and walks to keep you busy!
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water in Auckland is safe to drink. To save money and reduce your plastic use, bring a reusable water bottle with you. LifeStraw make a reusable bottle with a built-in filter so you can be sure your water is always safe and clean.
- Pet sit for free accommodation – House and pet sitting is very popular here since Kiwis often head abroad and need pet sitters. All you need to do is watch their pets/home while they’re away and you’ll get a free place to stay. Use a site like Trusted Housesitters to find the best gigs.
Where To Stay in Auckland
Auckland has a lot of hostels. They’re all pretty comfortable and sociable. These are my recommended places to stay in the city:
How to Get Around Auckland
Public transportation – Buses are the most common way to get around the city. Prices start at 1 NZD and go up depending on how far you travel. You can buy an AT Hop card for 10 NZD which will cut ticket prices by 20-50%. You can purchase the AT Hop card at stores around the city. A day pass (with the Hop card) is 19 NZD.
To reach the suburbs, you can take the local commuter train. Tickets start at 3.50 NZD (or 2 NZD with the Hop card). Also, there are ferries running between downtown Auckland, the North Shore, East Auckland, and the islands. Fares start at 7.50 NZD (5 NZD with AT Hop card). Just keep in mind some ferries do not accept the Hop card so you’ll need to check in advance.
The airport is around 45 minutes from the city and an express bus ticket will cost 17 NZD (one way).
Taxi – Taxis are expensive and should be avoided. Rates start at 3.50 NZD and go up by 2.65 NZD per kilometer. Unless you have no other option or are splitting a ride with other travelers, I’d avoid using taxis.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Auckland and is usually cheaper than taking a taxi.
Car rental – Unless you’re planning to leave the city, you likely don’t need to rent a car here. Public transportation is clean, safe, and reliable. However, if you do need a car, expect to pay at least 20 NZD per day for a small vehicle (prices are cheaper the longer you rent). Keep in mind that they drive on the left here.
An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is required for car rentals. You can get one before you leave your home country.
Bicycle – Bike rentals in Auckland aren’t cheap. Expect to pay at least 35 NZD per day for a bike. For a touring or mountain bike, prices go as high as 100 NZD per day!
When to Go to Auckland
Auckland is in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning when most North Americans are dealing with snow and freezing temperatures, Kiwis are enjoying their beaches. Overall, the climate here is temperate. Summer is from December-February and it’s the most popular time to visit the city. Kiwis also take their holidays during this time, so things get busy! Days are long and sunny, nights are mild. The average daytime temperature in the summer in Auckland is around 25°C (77°F).
Fall is from March-May, and it’s one of the best times to visit the city. The crowds have dispersed, prices are lower, and the weather is still warm.
Winter is from June-August. This is the cheapest time to visit as flights and accommodation are usually discounted. Snow isn’t common but it can be windy and wet, making it seem much cooler than it is. Temperatures hover around 7°C (45°F) during the day so make sure you dress for the weather.
There’s really no bad time to visit Auckland but since New Zealand is so expensive, the shoulder season is probably of the best times to visit if you’re on a budget.
How to Stay Safe in Auckland
Auckland is a safe city to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Take the normal precautions as you would in any major city. download offline maps of the city in case you get lost.
The biggest risk to travelers in Auckland is natural disasters and unpredictable weather, including strong winds, heavy rain, and even hail. Earthquakes are common and can happen at any time (though they are not as destructive here as other places in the country).
The emergency number in New Zealand is 111.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move. If that driver picking you up seems weird, don’t get in the car.
And, if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in New Zealand. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Auckland Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Auckland. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Sweden, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- bookme.co.nz – You’ll get some really good last minute deals and discounts on this website! Just select what area you’re traveling in, and see what activities are on sale.
- treatme.co.nz – The locals use this website to find discount hotels, restaurants, and tours. You can save up to 50% off things like catamaran sailing lessons or three-course dinners.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Auckland Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Auckland Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Joan Druett
Auckland Island, located 285 miles south of New Zealand, is a place with year-round freezing rain, wind, and little food (but apparently a lot of seals). Simply put, it’s not a place you want to get shipwrecked on. Yet in 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew did just that — and a few months later, on the opposite side of the island, so did the crew of the Scottish ship Invercauld. This well-written account of how the two crews survived (and didn’t survive) offers an eye-opening look at leadership, camaraderie, and coming together in crisis.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning book is a parody of the 19th-century novel is considered a modern classic. The year is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to New Zealand to get involved in the gold rush. When he arrives, he happens upon 12 men who have met in secret to talk about several mysterious events, including the disappearance of a wealthy man and a prostitute’s attempt to end her life. Moody is drawn into the circle, and the book soon turns into a thrilling page-turner that will keep you hooked the whole way through.
Squashed Possums: Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand, by Jonathan Tindale
This one is a fun, humorous travelogue that will get you super excited about your trip. In Squashed Possums, Tindale shares his adventures (and misadventures) from a year spent exploring the lesser-explored areas of New Zealand. He makes himself a home in an abandoned caravan, and then lives out four seasons getting acquainted with the terrain – including the coldest winter in decades.
A Land of Two Halves, by Joe Bennett
After having spent ten years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett decides to figure out why he’s still living there. A notorious restless traveler, Bennett finds himself examining all the reasons why these two islands have captivated him for a decade — so he packs his bags and heads out on a hitchhiking adventure around the North and South Islands. His encounters along the way are an enlightening look at life in New Zealand!
Auckland Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling New Zealand and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 3 – Otara Flea Market