Auckland, The City of Sails as it’s been nicknamed is a hub of culture, food & incredible views. One of New Zealand’s largest cities with over 1.5 million people calling it home. When you ask people who have visited New Zealand and which of the cities where they’re favorite you’re likely to find yourself in a heated debate with them. While all of New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking, Auckland as a city definitely encompasses a lot of what makes New Zealand great. The food, the culture, the history & the people. All of these things together create an incredible place to learn about the mystical history of Maori culture, indulge in some of the world’s best restaurants and be gifted with views that you’ve only ever dreamed of before. Volcanoes invite you to hike them, the ocean begs for you to swim, kayak or surf its waves, it’s lush forests scream to be enjoyed all throughout the year and its people will make you feel like you’re at home. So in between all of that here are a few more unique opportunities to take in all that Auckland has to offer.
1. Piha Beach
Auckland’s west coast is chock full of incredible viewpoints and just over 30 minutes from downtown you’ll find yourself left speechless at the setting in front of you. The Tasman sea edges along the Waitakere Ranges producing some incredible cliffs opposite the beach along with adorable beach/family homes with pretty much the best view. Whether you’re an avid surfer or a profession beach stroller, there is something to do for anyone at Piha. The ocean here is quite rough, so it is recommended that you’re a strong swimmer and take note of all beach guidelines & safety precautions before heading out for a swim or surf. One of the most unique things about this location is that it’s a black sand beach, due to the high iron content thanks to the many volcanoes in and around Auckland. It leaves you feeling as if you’ve stepped onto another planet completely.
In addition to the sand that sparkles in the sunlight, there’s Lion Rock. A natural rock formation dividing the North and South sides of the beach and you’ll be able to tell quite quickly why it’s been named after the king of the animal world. The Rock is an eroded volcanic neck that was formed over 16 million years ago. And a bonus? It’s not just a cool rock to look at, you can actually hike it to the top and get a spectacular view of the beach from above. This is a great spot no matter what the season, in the summer the beach is lined with umbrellas & people soaking in that sunshine but in the winter it’s a great place to watch storms roll in and catch a sunset. If you find yourself with a whole day to explore the west coast beach be sure to head about 2km inland to the equally as impressive Kitekite Falls for a quick dip is the pool below the falls. There’s something to please anyone so pack up the family or your group and head off to explore of Auckland’s best beaches.
2. Try the Famous Ice Cream in Giapo
3. Gannet watching at Muriwai Beach
Continuing on the west coast is another rugged stretch of black sand beach home to not only some great surf but a huge colony of gannets. What is a gannet you might ask? It’s a pretty large bird that lives close to the sea, looking similar to a seagull but slimmer (and less likely to steal your chips, hopefully). This spot is just under an hour north of downtown Auckland and stretches over 50 km giving you expansive views of the sea. While surfing is the main draw to this beach, there are many different options no matter what you like.
One of the most unique things about Muriwai beach is the incredibly large colony of gannets who reside here. If you take off to the left of the car park at the beach it won’t be long until you see cliffs dotted with white specks, which as you get closer you’ll see are in fact birds. They call the cliffs home and make for quite the original scene when looking down on the rocks to find waves crashing up amongst them. Grab your binoculars and camera & head off along the coastline taking in the rugged ocean views along with the thousands of birds. Once you’ve had your fill of birds you’re options to explore more of the area include doing so through fishing along the shores, Bush walking the Hilary Trail, mountain biking along the ridges and even horseback riding along the beach.
4. Hike through volcanic caves on Rangitoto
Auckland isn’t just for the city lover out there. Love to hike? Love to explore something off the beaten track a little? Well, you’re in luck! Just under 30 minutes from the city are all of those things. A volcanic island with caves below to let you embrace your inner Indiana Jones. Hop aboard the ferry from the Auckland Ferry Terminal and be sure to take in the surrounding views of the Huraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour on the ride over. The island itself is visible from the city so you’ll be able to see the 5.5 km wide landmark before you even set sail. Not long after you’ll arrive on the island. If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, try renting kayaks and taking yourself across to the island instead. Be sure to keep track of the ferry schedule as missing the last one back to the city means a night spent on the island until the following morning (not recommended).
Once on land you’ll see visibly marked trails to explore, the most popular being the 1-hour hike to the summit of Rangitoto where you’ll be gifted with incredible views back towards Auckland city & the turquoise coloured waters of the Gulf. Once you’ve worked up quite a sweat summiting, it may be time for you to go underground and explore the volcanic caves that exist. These caves exist thanks to the previous eruptions of Rangitoto and differ from regular caves you might find in national parks as they do not have stalactites (from the ceiling) and the ground is quite uneven thanks to the volcanic rock so use caution when exploring. If the option appeals to you there are companies that rent out Four Wheel Drives to groups to tour the island, and as there are no transit services this could be a way for you to explore more of the island in a limited amount of time.
5. Wine on Waiheke Island
What better way to spend a day than by indulging in some local gems? And in this case, wines! Yes, Auckland is even home to some of New Zealand’s most famous wines, maybe you’ve enjoyed some of them from your hometown? Just under 30 wineries call Waiheke Island home, and it’s a great way to see another one of Auckland’s beautiful islands while enjoying some local wine. In between wine tours you can even tour the island via bike or scooter & even zip line through some incredible scenery. Again in less than 40 minutes from Auckland’s ferry terminal, you’ll find yourself looking back towards the iconic city.
Waiheke is the most populated of the Huraki Gulf islands (with 8,750 permanent residents) and the most easily accessible as cars can ride the ferry over. The “Island of Wine” as it’s been aptly nicknamed has a climate best suited for growing Bordeaux wine-type grapes mainly but also boast great Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes as well. Out of the nearly 30 vineyards located on the island the most well known include : Cable Bay, Mudbrick & Stonyridge. Not only do these vineyards offer up great wine, but they’ve been known to host a great many weddings & parties for residents and travelers alike. Once you’ve had your wine there’s no better way to explore the island than on foot beach hopping. Nearly a dozen beaches surround Waiheke Island each more breathtaking than the next. With calm waters & white sand there is a sense of relaxation and vacation from the first moment you arrive on the island. So whether you’re on holiday from a different country or looking for a nice day trip out of your home city of Auckland there is a slower pace of life on the island that everyone can get on board with.
6. House hunting in Takapuna
What is better than a relaxing Sunday stroll? A Sunday stand up paddle board! And where better to do it than Takapuna, one of Auckland’s north shore suburbs. A relatively small suburb but like most of Auckland is surrounded on one side by gorgeous ocean views and million + dollar homes on the other. So grab your friends & head out of the city for the day and enjoy the views.
Sure, now you can always walk the streets of Takapuna and scope out some pretty dreamy locations to put on your #housegoals list, but there really isn’t a unique way to check these houses out than via stand up paddleboard. If you’re lucky enough to have your own, that’s awesome, but if not there are plenty of rental shops in the area and if you can find a deal online that’s even better. Throw on your swimmers & paddle away out into the ocean and make your return along the shore before heading into the center of town and indulging on some great Sunday brunch, something else the town is famous for. After all that house hunting & paddle boarding you’ll have sure worked out a big appetite.
7. Count sheep at Mount Eden
Named after George Eden the first Earl of Auckland and the highest point in the city. Just under 5km from downtown and somewhere you should be when the sun begins to set! You’ll never be short of volcanoes to check out during your time in New Zealand and Auckland definitely has great ones on offer. While the road from the street up to the top is fairly steep & windy it is well worth it when you get to the top and look back down. Why look back down you ask? Well to see the crater of course! The highest volcano in Auckland also has the largest crater and is some to some white & fluffy new friends, sheep.
Wild sheep roam freely throughout the domain and look like they’re suspended on the sides of the crater with you looking down on them. Pack a lunch & a blanket and soak up the afternoon sun while taking in the view & making friends. Or head up with the gang in time for sunset and watch the colors change over the city. Whatever time of day you find yourself on the Mount you’ll be glad you did!
8. Silo Park Movies
This is a weather dependent activity, but if you should find yourself in Auckland during the summer months, there is no better way to spend an evening with friends or family (even both) than by taking in a movie. What makes this movie night different from any other you’ve experienced is that the movie isn’t projected onto a normal screen in your regular dark cinema. It’s projected on to the cities Silo’s in the harbor as soon as it gets dark enough.
The space itself is open year round and offers art installations as well as a water playground & regular playground for the kids and a basketball court. During the summer months, the park area is transformed into a dinner & a show setting for people to enjoy. There are markets and food trucks in addition to the cinema nights and a great place to spend a Friday after work catching up with friends & enjoying great food & drink before catching a film on the “big screen.” Films range from classic oldies like ‘Monty Pythons; the Life of Brian’ to documentary films about historic New Zealand. No matter what the movie there will be something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Where to Stay in Auckland, New Zealand
Ponsonby Backpackers is a cozy, comfortable, and safe traveler’s hostel offering warm and friendly accommodation right in the heart and soul of Ponsonby! Cafes and bars, arts & crafts, restaurants, fashion designers and a wide variety of boutique establishments are all within a short stroll of the hostel.
Ponsonby Backpackers is located very close to central Auckland and have hosted thousands of guests over the years.
The Attic is a fresh, comfortable, and safe traveler’s haven offering friendly and contemporary accommodation right in the heart and soul of Auckland City! As the sister hostel of popular Ponsonby Backpackers, we pride ourselves on providing exceptional service and travel advice to our guests as well as maintaining a spotlessly clean and welcoming environment!
Our top floor hostel featured a wonderful, large outdoor covered deck complete with chill out spots and dining area and attached well-equipped communal kitchen. We offer large and small dorms as well as a female only dorm, private single, double and twin rooms; all linen is provided free. All guests receive one free wifi voucher on check-in.
Located at the top of Queen Street in the heart of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most exciting city, YHA Auckland City provides easy access to the city center and is surrounded by shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.
The hostel offers a range of clean and comfortable rooms from different sized dorm rooms (male or female only available), to a private single, twin, and double rooms. The hostel combines the excitement of the city with a safe and secure environment.
About the Writer
Six years ago Laura took a crazy leap of faith and moved across the country to a town she had never heard of to start a career she had dreamed of for years. Within just a few short weeks she had met so many people from all over the world and heard about the incredible places they were from. And with that, like a lot of travel bloggers out there is where Laura discovered her true passion- traveling. From that one move a few provinces away from everything & everyone she knew, Laura has spent a good portion of the last six years living in foreign countries and being a self-proclaimed wanderluster extraordinaire. From working in a little beach town on Australia’s East Coast to sliding down an active volcano in Nicaragua, climbing up 1400 vertical wooden steps in Hawaii to sailing thousands of feet in the air behind a boat on New Zealand’s North Island. There is so much of the world She has yet to see, and so many people she’s yet to meet. And as long as Laura has this insanely addictive passion for travel nothing will keep her from exploring all that’s out there to be explored and sharing it with all of you.