Updated November 2, 2020
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and probably most well-known city, despite the fact that it is not the capital.
Located on the country’s North Island, it is usually the city that travellers will fly into before starting their kiwi adventures, and there are plenty of fun things to do in Auckland.
With its position on the coast, there are some stunning views and wonderful trips out to the nearby islands as well as the iconic city sights.
Having spent a few weeks exploring, I’ve put together this list of the best things to do in Auckland so that you can maximise your time and get the most out of your trip.
1: Milford to Takapuna Coastal Walk
Across the harbour bridge from the city centre, Milford and Takapuna are two small suburban towns on Auckland’s North Shore.
The Coastal Heritage Trail can take between 30 to 60 minutes to walk, starting at Milford beach and ending at the boat ramp in Takapuna, with incredible views across to Rangitoto Island.
It’s also one of my favourite free things to do in Auckland.
The walk follows a concrete path for the most part, with some minor rock scrambling required.
The black rock is cooled lava from the eruption of the Lake Pupuke crater 200,000 years ago, which engulfed and incinerated an entire forest of Kauri, Pohutukawa and other trees, creating New Zealand’s only fossil forest.
As a result, at low tide, you can see many holes and cylinders in the rock from where the lava cooled around the trees, which then slowly burned away inside. The biggest example of this is right next to the path about 250m before the end of the trail in Takapuna, where a circular metal grill covers a hole 150cm in diameter and 4m deep; the mould of a Kauri tree.
At the end of the path there is a chance to relax at Takapuna Beach Cafe, or you can continue into the town and to the beach.
We found some delicious dumplings at a friendly little shop on the main street, and then decided to walk back to Milford along the same route.
The return trip was even more stunning, if that’s possible. After a short spattering of rain, the setting sun turned the clouds orange and a spectacular rainbow arched over Rangitoto Island.
We ended up doing this hike multiple times while we were staying on the North Shore and would highly recommend it as it is a little off the tourist trail.
2: Mt Eden/Maungawhau
The tallest volcano in Auckland is Mt Eden, or Maungawhau in Māori, at 196m tall, with a 50m deep crater.
We took a bus to the town of Mt Eden and walked up from the base. There are a few trails to the summit, which can range from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level.
The 360 degree view from the top is wonderful and, on a clear day, you can see Auckland’s attractions, Rangitoto Island and the Waitakere Ranges.
The site used to be a traditional Māori fortified village, or pā. The crater is considered sacred and it is forbidden to enter it; however, you can walk all along the outer rim and some remains of the old settlement can still be seen.
After we’d taken in the views, we headed back down into Mt Eden town and treated ourselves to some delicious cocktails and kumara fries at The Garden Shed.
Another great place for dinner and drinks is De Post Belgian Beer Cafe, where the meals were a bit closer to our budget.
We happened to visit on ‘All You Can Eat Ribs’ night, which occurs every Tuesday and is exactly as it sounds. One full portion of ribs and chips for $25, then order as many additional half portions of ribs as you can manage for no extra cost! Perfect with a pint of Belgian beer; Theo was in food heaven!
There are many other delicious meals on the menu too if ribs are not your thing – I can personally recommend the lamb shank. Yum!
Our friends recommended Devonport for its cute cafés, restaurants and boutique stores in Victorian-dated buildings, and it didn’t disappoint! Located south of Takapuna on the North Shore, Devonport is right by the sea and is accessible by ferry and by bus from downtown Auckland.
After a pleasant stroll by the water and along the high street, we stopped in a cafe for a relaxed lunch and planned our afternoon.
Devonport is home to two volcano cones: Mt Victoria and North Head, and we decided we couldn’t leave without climbing them.
Mt Victoria, or Takarunga in Māori, is the tallest volcano cone on the North Shore at 87m. It was previously used by the military as an Observation and Control Post, and at the summit you can see some old army bunkers, as well as one of the few remaining disappearing guns in the world, which is quite a sight to behold!
North Head, or Maungauika, is a short walk away and was also used by the military for defence. You can still access the old tunnels travelling underground between bunkers and gun emplacements (bring a torch!).
At the 50m summit there are information boards and movies about the military history in the old WWII buildings and army barracks. We spent a lot of time wandering around, reading and watching because we both love a good bit of history.
The views are incredible, as is to be expected from the location; you can see across the harbour and the Hauraki Gulf, with Rangitoto standing proud just across the water.
All in all, we did a fair amount of walking that day, but there’s nothing new there!
4: Skytower and the City Centre
Probably one of the most iconic Auckland attractions is the Skytower.
You can see it from almost anywhere in the city as it’s up on a hill on the corner of Hobson St and Victoria St W, and if you go up to the top, you’re rewarded with fantastic 360 degree views over the city and beyond.
The ticket price for the tower is $29, but what’s great is that once you’ve bought the ticket you can go up again for a second time, on the same day, for just $8! This means that you can see the views by day and then again by night, which is exactly what we did.
There is a revolving restaurant, called Orbit, which we didn’t visit but has good reviews – booking in advance is recommended.
Although Auckland is the largest city in the country, it still didn’t seem too big or chaotic to me after becoming used to cities like Hong Kong, London and Melbourne.
It’s definitely worth spending a day just wandering around: Queen St is good for shopping, and Britomart and Ponsonby for some trendy bars.
Also, take a walk along North Wharf as there are some nice bars open by the water, and at Wynyard Wharf further on you can take a look at some old and classic sailing boats from New Zealand and beyond, as well as some super expensive yachts.
I definitely recommend just taking a wander around and seeing what you can stumble upon – I’m sure if we spent more time doing this we would have found even more awesome places.
5: War Memorial Museum
Located in Parnell, just south-east of the city centre, Auckland War Memorial Museum really is a must-do if you’re interested in New Zealand history, geography, geology, zoology, Māori culture – basically anything and everything!
It is considered one of the finest museums in the Southern Hemisphere and there are so many fascinating collections that I’d recommend dedicating a whole day to it; we arrived in the early afternoon and still hadn’t seen everything when they closed up at 5pm.
The entry price is $25 for international visitors; however, we discovered later that if you can provide proof of residence (i.e. a NZ bank account, which you’ll likely already have if you’re on a Working Holiday Visa) you can enter for free if you make a donation.
The museum itself is set in a striking Greco-Roman inspired building on top of the hill in Auckland Domain, alongside a war memorial for fallen soldiers of WWI and WWII.
When we visited, there was an installation of white crosses outside the museum to depict the sheer volume of fallen soldiers from Auckland during the wars.
6: Rangitoto Island
Of all the volcanoes in Auckland, Rangitoto is the most recent, erupting out of the sea just 600 years ago.
To get there, take a ferry from the wharf in downtown Auckland; to view timetables and book online, visit the Fullers website. The journey is around 25 minutes and the ferry sometimes stops in Devonport on the way.
Rangitoto is a pest-free island so, before you board the boat, you will need to brush your shoes and ensure you are not bringing anything to the island that may destroy the habitat.
There are walking tracks around the island and up to the summit of the 259m high volcano or you can take a 4WD road train.
The climb to the summit takes about an hour to walk and the track is flanked by lava fields so make sure you bring some sturdy shoes!
On the way up, there are some lava caves created by channels of flowing lava beneath the surface, which then drained away. If you bring a torch you can explore these caves.
As Rangitoto is the largest and least modified of Auckland’s volcanoes, the view from the top is incredible!
The plant life on an island of inhospitable, heat-absorbing, bare lava is remarkable. Mosses and lichens were the first to grow here, followed by the pohutukawa tree, and the island is now home to the largest pohutukawa forest in the world.
Despite the difficult conditions, over 200 native plants have made Rangitoto their home, and most of them grow in ways completely different to where they would usually be found; mangroves usually grow in the mud of tidal estuaries, but here they grow directly on lava, and a type of Alpine moss, which normally grows high in the mountains, here grows at sea level.
We saw many native birds on the island, including North Island Saddlebacks, Fantails, Silvereyes and, my favourite, Tūī. Brown quail chased each other around the summit.
After returning to the shore, we took a walk along the coast to the right of the wharf and spent some time looking out over the water towards the city. There are some information boards along this track about the historic baches (small holiday homes or beach huts, pronounced ‘batches’) that used to line this part of the coast. Some are no longer there, while others are still in use.
A final note: do not miss the last ferry off the island! There is no accommodation and it’s a long swim back!
7: Waiheke Island
Waiheke is a large populated island with public transport and accommodation options, located about 40 minutes from downtown Auckland by ferry.
Known as New Zealand’s ‘Island of Wine’, it is home to a large number of successful vineyards and wineries, and there are tour packages which include trips to some of them.
As usual, our trip to the island consisted mainly of hiking.
Upon stepping off the ferry at Matiatia Wharf, we decided to start on the Northern Walk, rather than taking the bus into the nearest village, which was what most of the tourists were doing.
We turned left from the ferry pier, intending to walk along the beach to the start of the trail, but the tide was too high to access it and a sign directed us to an alternative route.
This track took us steeply upwards and turned out to be a much longer route up and around the hill, before descending back down to the other side of the same beach that we had just left!
The Northern Walk track leads around the coast line to Cable Bay, the stunning Owhanake Bay and Island Bay, before heading inland to cross over to Oneroa Bay. The walk was steep and tiring at times, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!
Finally, we ended up on the gorgeous Oneroa beach and enjoyed a stroll along the sand, before heading into Oneroa village.
The village has some lovely little unique stores and we spent some time looking around, before deciding to catch the bus back to the wharf, as it was nearing sunset.
We now know that the Northern Walk continues from Oneroa bay back to Matiatia Wharf, but as we had walked along the beach and into the village, we lost the trail and ran out of time.
As it turned out, catching the ferry in time for the sunset was well worth missing the last part of the trail, and we spent the majority of the journey outside marvelling at the gorgeous colour display.
Useful info for visiting Auckland
If you’re planning on spending more than a few days in Auckland, consider buying an AT HOP card. The card itself costs $10 and you can top it up in many places around the city or online (you’ll need to create a MyAT account and register your card), and it can save you 20-50% off local transport (bus, train & ferry).
It is also worth downloading the AT Mobile App, which helps you plan your journeys and updates the location of your bus/train/ferry in real time.
Don’t bother with booking a taxi to get to or from the airport; SkyBus operates 24/7 to the city at as little as $17.50 per person one way or, if you’re travelling with family, you can buy a group ticket for two adults and up to four children for just $35! There is also a North Harbour service with slightly higher fares as the distance is greater.
If you do not have a form of NZ ID and you want to buy alcohol or tobacco products, make sure you have your passport with you. At 30-ish years old, we don’t usually expect to be asked for ID when buying a drink but we have been surprised with the request on multiple occasions and have had to leave the store empty-handed and disappointed. We now always have ID with us if we want to purchase alcohol.
If you are staying in New Zealand long-term and need to buy a vehicle, Ellerslie Car Fair is a good place to start your search for a used car. Operating every Sunday (including public holidays) at Ellerslie Racecourse from 9am to 12pm, the fair is a great way to see multiple sellers in one place and view all types of vehicle.
There are pre-purchase mechanics located on site where you can pay for the vehicle to be inspected before you buy the car, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
There are two train stations within walking distance of the racecourse: Greenlane and Ellerslie.
Another great way to search for cars in the area, which we find is often overlooked, is Facebook Marketplace. Just search for vehicles in your area and hundreds will appear at your fingertips.
Note: Make sure you are aware of the road rules in New Zealand before taking to the road!
No matter what the season, the weather in the Auckland area is very changeable so make sure you are prepared for everything! In summer, you may be fine in shorts and a T-shirt for most of the day, but have a jacket to hand in case the temperature drops suddenly.
For the country’s largest city, there are certainly a lot of Auckland activities to do outside of the city centre, and this is one of my favourite things about it; from busy bars and shops to remote islands and hikes, there really is something for everyone to enjoy.
Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you’d like to know about what to do in Auckland? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- Moving to New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa
- Great Barrier Island’s most beautiful day hike
- 14 Best things to do in New Zealand’s North Island
All images in this post are the property of lastminutewanders.com