Auckland Top 50
by Lizzie Dunn
Welcome to the big smoke. Auckland is New Zealand’s most densely populated region, and its most multicultural city. Its reputation as a metropolitan mecca is self evident- the Sky Tower dominates the horizon, looming overhead as shoppers bustle by day and socialites come out to play at night. But the wider Auckland region has much more to offer. Unique destinations include enigmatic inner city volcanoes, the Bay of Islands and breathtaking beach scenery on the West Coast. Auckland is a great springing point for those looking to travel on up north to warmer climates, or South to the golden Coromandel beaches.
1. Waiheke Island
The beauty of Waiheke Island lies not just in its breathtaking beach scenery, but in its accessibility. Situated just a half hour’s ferry ride away from central city Auckland, this small island paradise houses settled villages and visitor accommodation aplenty to ensure its stony beaches and celebrated vineyards are well trod. While it’s worth staying a night or two on the Island to get a ‘feel’ of the lifestyle, its location only a stone’s throw from the big city makes it an ideal getaway for a day trip. www.waiheke.co.nz
Auckland locals themselves might be very happy to forget that they live on a hotbed of volcanic activity, but tourists will be blown away (not literally, of course) by the vast array of cones in the region. Such popular sites as the Auckand Domain and Albert Park were volcanoes, and Mt Wellington, Mt Eden and One Tree Hill’s towering landscapes too are in fact dormant volcanoes- so don’t be deceived by the greenery!
3. Mission Bay
Mission Bay is a hot spot for city dwellers when Auckland turns on the sunny weather. The beach is complemented by well maintained grassy areas and water features with its walkways attracting bustling life as locals and visitors alike enjoy the shore, sands and the busy bars and restaurants that adorn the district. www.missionbay.co.nz
4. Western Springs Park
This beautiful green sanctuary surrounds a natural spring-fed lake, populated by native swans, eels and ducks. Picturesque Western Springs is perfect for a relaxed stroll, or for a picnic when in transit between nearby the attractions which include the Auckland Zoo, MOTAT and the Western Springs Stadium which hosts gigs and sporting events.
5. The Sky Tower
Soaring above the skyline at a colossal 328m, the Sky Tower is both the landmark that distinguishes Auckland’s horizon and the tallest building in New Zealand. Take a glass fronted lift to the viewing platforms for an awesome panoramic view, eat at Auckland’s only 360 degrees revolving restaurant, dare to step outside onto the ‘Skywalk’ or even ‘SkyJump’ off the tower! The Sky Tower is helpful when on the ground too- like an oversized compass it helps you orientate yourself around the city, is a central meeting point, and is lit up at night for your viewing pleasure. www.skycityauckland.co.nz
6. The Museum
Auckland’s War Memorial Museum is also home to a rich array of exhibits, collections and shows that include Maori cultural performances, galleries that proudly display Kiwi, Maori and Pasifika heritage and art, all alongside the latest exhibitions. www.aucklandmuseum.com
7. The Art Gallery
The Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tamaki) is housed in one of the city’s finest heritage buildings and contains within it a staggering 14,000 strong collection of international and locally produced art works. This is a must do for visitors to New Zealand looking to gain an insight into our unique creative microcosm. www.aucklandartgallery.com
8. Rainbow’s End
Rainbow’s End fun-park has been a favourite haunt of thrill seekers for many generations- entertaining all ages with a diverse array of rollercoasters, fun rides and activities. If you are also planning on visiting the Skytower, Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium, or are taking a cruise to Rangitoto Island, consider purchasing a multipass card [www.multipass.aucklandnz.com/index.html] which will enable you to do it all for the low price of $125.
9. The Viaduct
This marine precinct is well known around Auckland city as a hot spot for boaties, diners and partiers. Head to the Viaduct to sail by day and socialise by night. Visit one of the many harbour side restaurants or bars that populate the district and find out why it is famed for its nightlife. www.viaduct.co.nz
10. One Tree Hill Domain
Maungakiekie, or ‘One Tree Hill’ is the perfect spot for a vigorous stroll that will afford you a sweeping view of Auckland city. The eponymous tree is long gone- a victim of repeated political disputes- but when it still stood, it was a relic of the area’s rich settler history. Maungakiekie is one of many volcanoes that populate Auckland city, but is distinguished from the rest as the “largest and most complex volcanic cone fortress in the southern hemisphere” which once supported a settlement of over 5000 people.
11. Great Barrier Island and Kaitoke Hot Springs
Located at the edge of the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier Island is a nature lover’s paradise. Visitors can enjoy the Island’s beauty by kayaking, diving or snorkelling, or can explore its native bush via walking tracks. Travel to Great Barrier by plane or ferry and see first hand its native bird and marine life, before bathing in crystal clear waters, visiting the local museums and eateries, or relaxing in the famous Kaitoke hot pools. www.greatbarrier.aucklandnz.com
12. Vulcan lane
Inner city tourists looking for a friendly urban spot to have a drink and a sit down inevitably gravitate to Vulcan Lane. Contained in the back alleys that divide Queen St and High St, visitors will discover boutique fashion stores, bars and restaurants circling an ambient fairy lit bar. Vulcan Lane is a great stop off point, night and day.
13. The Civic
Stop into the Civic to catch a show or even just to get a glimpse of its unique interior. The historic cinema provides tours of its spectacular facilities, which includes an ‘atmospheric’ auditorium designed to appear like the outdoors at night and the screen is set amongst richly detailed decorum. www.civictheatre.co.nz
Auckland City has recently had a spruce up and is now proud to host a trendy new corner – the Britomart precinct. Restaurants and business owners have taken advantage of its beautiful old buildings and crammed them with culture. From Saturday morning’s ‘City Farmers Market’ to art installations and the flashest new bars. www.britomart.org
15. Auckland Domain
This sprawling park was developed on the rims of a volcano and forms a natural amphitheatre. The Domain is decorated with beautiful gardens, duck ponds, the glass housed wintergardens and sculptures. Concerts and many other outdoor events are often hosted at the Domain, but it is also highly recommended for daytime picnicking.
16. High St Shopping
Fashion vultures descend in droves upon the delightful boutiques that populate the High St shopping district. Browse High St’s samplings of local Kiwi couture including Kate Sylvester, Stella Gregg and Ricochet.
17. Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World
Thrill seekers may like to take the plunge at Kelly Tarlton’s… the popular aquarium recently introduced five new fearsome Sand Tiger sharks to their collection! You can also take the opportunity to get up close to some toothy predators in special shark cages for $71 or dive unprotected for $124 when booked online! If you’re a little intimidated by these denizens of the deep, ensure you also visit the playful penguins with Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter tour. www.kellytarltons.co.nz
18. Takapuna Beach
Offering fantastic views, sun, sand, shops and dining- Takapuna Beach is a perfect outlying destination for those who want to get out of the city. Locals consider it a charming beach district with plenty of entertainment opportunities- ‘the events capital of the North Shore’. Hint: You’ll need to traverse the Harbour Bridge to get there! www.takapunabeach.co.nz
19. Auckland Zoo
Home to the largest collection of animals in New Zealand, it provides exciting critter encounters and is home to more than 700 animals. The zoo holds a variety of events throughout the year, including safari nights and musical gigs. www.aucklandzoo.co.nz
20. Auckland Bridge Climb
AJ Hackett is well known as New Zealand’s foremost adventure innovator. Staying true to his reputation, AJ Hackett’s bridge-climb and bungy comprises a unique experience; his company offers the only tour guided bridge experience in New Zealand. Climb the Auckland Harbour Bridge to gain 360 degree views of the big city, and once you’ve finished admiring the view- top it off with a thrilling bungy above the harbour.
21. Woodhill Cycling Tracks
Off road cycling enthusiasts will enjoy Woodhill’s purpose built mountain biking tracks that covers 130km and is located just 40km from downtown Auckland. A warning- this track is not for the faint hearted!
22. West Auckland
In recent years, Auckland’s West Coast has been rendered famous in New Zealand by the runaway success of local show Outrageous Fortune. The celebrated ‘Westie’ aesthetic is of course not the only sight worth seeing on the West Coast- it possesses a distinct natural beauty in its beaches and rainforests that surround the Waitakere Ranges. Alternatively, hit the local craft and farmers markets to taste some local produce. www.westauckland.net.nz
23. Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari
The Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari was recently voted “Best Day on the Water” by Metro magazine. A great day is certainly on the cards for visitors who take the catamaran Dolphin Explorer to catch some marine action in the Hauraki Gulf.
24. Canyoning in the Waitakere Ranges
Extreme sports are a great way to experience the New Zealand outdoors, and canyoning has become a very popular pastime amongst visitors keen to experience the raw countryside hands-on. Try out Canyonz in West Auckland, who are offering deals on canyoning packages that will see you sliding, abseiling and ziplining your path through the watery Waitakere ranges.
25. Coast to Coast Walk
Where else in the world can you walk the entire width of a country within one day? This sixteen kilometre walk across the Auckland Isthmus- New Zealand’s narrowest neck of land- offers plenty of historical sights and natural thrills, as walkers will bypass five volcanoes.
26. Eden Park
Kiwis are sports mad, mention that you like the All Blacks to the guy next to you at the pub and he might even buy your next drink. You may have missed the 2011 Rugby World Cup but there is always something on at the legendary Eden Park. Check out upcoming events at their website. www.edenpark.co.nz
27. Vector Arena Gigs
Auckland’s largest entertainment venue is hosting some big names this summer; Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys and Linkin Park to name but a few… www.vectorarena.co.nz
28. K’ Rd
Fashionistas: eat your hearts out. Karangahape Road- affectionately known as ‘K’ Rd’ to its regulars- is host to a fabulous range of vintage, retro and opportunity shops and is a hotspot for innovative street fashion too. With a reputation for night time debauchery putting it on the Auckland social map, K’Rd comes alive day and night with visitors perusing the eclectic shops and cafes in the sunshine hours, before spending a night out on the tiles at one of its alternative ‘scene’ bars. www.kroad.com
29. Moituhe Island
Moituhe Island is situated less than 20km away from mainland Auckland, and contains some of the best beaches in the region. A popular snorkelling destination, the Island also offers an interesting glimpse into its tragic history- it was originally utilised as a quarantine station in the late nineteenth century, and was later converted to a prisoner of war camp during WWI before being refurbished as a naval training base.
30. Auckland Ferry Terminal
Situated at the bottom of Auckland’s main promenade- Queen St- the Ferry Terminal connects visitors with the delights of the harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. Visitors need not await their ferry uncomfortably, as the Terminal offers a range of eateries including seafood restaurants and is housed in an attractive historic building which will celebrate its centurion next year. After a day out on the sea, visitors can retire to their quarters easily, as Auckland’s transport hub known as ‘Britomart’ is conveniently located just across the road.
31. Piha Beach
Piha beach is one of the best known beaches in New Zealand for its wild beauty, black sands and outstanding surf. Its well trod shores are also the subject of a local surf lifesaving reality show. Piha is best reached by driving the scenic route after Titirangi on the West Coast. Note that the waters are treacherous, so paddle with care. www.pihabeach.co.nz
32. Pakiri Beach Horse Rides
For a beach trip with a touch of country side charm, take a trot on this beautiful white sand beach that is only two hours out of Auckland city and a stone’s throw form the Matakana Coast Wine Country.
33. Ponsonby café scene
In Ponsonby the coffee’s so good, its reputation has gone Stateside. This Washington Post write up accurately sums up the Ponsonby atmosphere with the label “boho-chic”. Filled with boutique shops, exotic eateries, picturesque metropolitan real estate. Ponsonby is populated by an eclectic mix of students, hippies and Auckland’s nouveau riche set. Ponsonby is undoubtedly the place to be for some inner city hustle and bustle a little removed from the frenetic Queen St foot traffic. www.ponsonbyroad.co.nz
34. Rangitoto Island
Here’s another one off experience for the traveller who has seen it all- your chance to climb the blackened slopes of a volcano- extinct, of course. A daily ferry service takes visitors to Rangitoto for a reasonably strenuous summit walk – even fitter backpackers should allow a full day! www.doc.govt.nz
35. The Rainforest Express
Take a ride throughout history on this quaint narrow-gauge railway, replete with wooden bridges and glow-worm lit tunnels. The ride over the Nihotapu dam is a highlight. www.watercare.co.nz
36. Whatipu Coastline
This scenic reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation, which along with Auckland Council management has maintained its beautiful sand dunes and wetlands fastidiously. Take a walk- not a swim, as the surf is reputably dangerous- to catch a glimpse of endangered Dotterels’ breeding grounds. www.wonderwalkers.co.nz
37. Victoria Park Market
The Victoria Park Market maintains elements of traditional urban marketplaces, with outdoor stalls featuring arts and crafts giving it a nostalgic charm. The markets are open daily and also feature indoor shopping, cafes, licensed restaurants and bars. www.victoria-park-market.co.nz
38. St Jerome’s Laneway Festival
An ‘indie’ mecca, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is the hippest new festival to hit Auckland. Tight pants, vintage tees and statement sunglasses are the usual uniform for Laneway – this concert is the epitome of ‘cool’. www.auckland.lanewayfestival.com.au
39. Aqua Air Adventures
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s you soaring high above the surf in an Aqua Air Adventure glider! This local company offers comprehensive training in gliding and blo-karting thanks to its owner’s twenty eight years experience in the business. Dependent on the weather, gliders can fly on the West Coast in locations including Muriwai, Kariotahi or Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.
40. Sail Auckland Harbour
Sail in Auckland Harbour or the Bay of Islands on a genuine America’s Cup (now Louis Vuitton Cup) yacht to enjoy the sights or even experience the thrill of the race! You can also discover whales and swim with dolphins in the Hauraki Gulf as part of a specially tailored route, or tour the Bay of Islands in New Zealand’s most famous maxi yacht, once sailed by legendary Kiwi sailor the late Sir Peter Blake.
41. Fergs Kayaks Auckland harbour
Fergs Kayaks owner Ian Ferguson has represented New Zealand in the Olympics for Kayaking five times, and says he loves to share his “great passion” for the sport with others. He owns two stores in Wellington and Auckland and both are very popular with locals due to their cheap rates and reliable boats. The company also offers courses and tours, as well as inline skating hire and indoor rock climbing.
42. Waiwera Hot Pools
Waiwera hot pools are a popular Auckland haunt, attracting some 350,000 visitors annually to their Hibiscus Coast location. Relax in Waiwera’s steaming hot pools or scream down a hydroslide. Night time visits are highly recommended- the perfect way to wind down after a day of adventuring or shopping around the city! www.waiwera.co.nz
43. MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology)
MOTAT exhibits over 300,000 transport related items- showcasing everything from fire engines and steam trains to war planes, a fully functioning tram line and even a double decker bus! Explore relics from the aviation, military and rail collections when you visit Western Springs. www.motat.org.nz
44. Auckland Seafood Festival
Every January, visitors are invited to sample New Zealand’s best seafood- known as “kai moana” in Te Reo Maori. There is always a mouth watering array of seafood on offer, as well as locally produced beverages. Keep in mind there’s to be no guilty conscience while you reach for another helping because it’s all for charity! Since its beginnings six years ago the festival has raised over $340,000 for local charities. www.aucklandseafoodfestival.co.nz
45. Devonport Forts
Set on Mt Victoria on the North Shore behind the Devonport shopping centre, these musical bunkers and remnants of the Kawerau tribal fortifications are interesting landmarks on this short hill-walk. www.devonport.co.nz
46. Otara Market
The Otara Market is a colourful market held every Saturday in South Auckland where visitors can sample local arts and craft, and food and entertainment with a distinctly Pasifika flavour.
47. Snow Planet
In New Zealand, snowy slopes abound and Aucklanders are not more than a half day’s drive away from the world class ski fields on Mt Ruapehu. However, some enthusiasts’ appreciation for snow activities transcends the summer season too, so Snow Planet has ensured that they are catered for all year round in New Zealand’s first and only indoor snow dome.
48. Spookers (haunted house)
This one is not for the faint hearted- or the weak bladdered! New Zealand’s only haunted attraction scream park plays on your fears by drawing inspiration from 1980′s style slasher flicks. Check out the pics on the Spookers website, it looks like a real screamer… www.spookers.co.nz
49. Goat Island Marine Reserve
Despite the label, Goat island is not actually an island, but it is New Zealand’s very first marine reserve! Worthy attractions include snorkelling, on site dive courses, boat trips around nearby islands and the old copper mines. www.goatislanddive.co.nz
The well heeled backpacker will find sartorial solace in Newmarket, an upmarket shopping district populated with a diverse range of Kiwi and international fashion. www.newmarket.co.nz