Many visitors to New Zealand use Auckland as a pit stop on their way to explore more storied parts of the country, but the gateway city has plenty of its own attractions that are worth exploring. Spend a few days soaking in laid-back charm, discovering intriguing islands and beaches, and indulging in delicious cuisine.
Hit the Beach
Auckland has a wealth of beaches but perhaps the most famous – and impressive – are the volcanic black sand beaches of the West Coast. See Lion Rock, the eroded core of an ancient volcano, and the colony of blue penguins at Piha, then head to mysterious Karekare, a wild retreat secluded by lush vegetation and hills. If that’s not enough, Muriwai and Bethells will sate your appetite for beach bumming.
The waters of Auckland are littered with some 50 gorgeous islands, and it’d be a shame to miss them completely. A local favourite, Waiheke offers a relaxed atmosphere, active pursuits, and a smattering of internationally acclaimed wineries. But for a real back-to-nature experience, explore Rangitoto’s 600-year-old volcano and more than 200 species of flora and fauna.
Cruise the Waterfront
Auckland’s downtown harbor area has been revitalized in recent years, with a slew of new dining and entertainment openings injecting some serious cool into the area. Sample some of Auckland’s best dishes at restaurants in Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Quarter, or hunker down for a spot of people-watching in Silo Park of Tukutai Square. History buffs won’t want to miss the intriguing Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.
There are art galleries, and then there’s the Auckland Art Gallery. The building itself is a work of art that won Building of the Year at the 2013 World Architecture Festival, thanks to the effortless blending of a beautiful historic façade with the museum’s contemporary extension. Inside, you’ll find more than 15,000 works of art ranging from 1376 to the present. Maori and Pacific Island artists are well represented here, but there are plenty of other local and international artists on display too.
For daredevils, Auckland has two sky-high attractions offering spectacular bird’s-eye-views over the city. The tallest building in New Zealand, the Sky Tower soars 328 meters over Auckland and boasts 360-degree-views of up to 80 meters in each direction. Suit up and take a walk outside the tower with the SkyWalk, or hurl yourself off it on the 192-meter bungee jump. If that doesn’t get your adrenaline rushing, head to the Auckland Bridge Climb, run by thrill-seeking experts AJ Hackett.
Sample the Wares
Auckland’s weekend markets are a great way to tap into local life while sampling New Zealand’s delicious fresh produce and picking up some souvenirs. In Parnell – said to be Auckland’s oldest suburb – La Cigale is a French-inspired market with fresh bread and pastries, quality meats and delicious cheeses, and communal tables to enjoy your purchases at. Further afield, the Otara Markets in South Auckland are a holdover from the 1970s. Offering everything from fresh produce and fast food to jewellery and art, the markets are also a cultural melting pot of Polynesian, Maori, European, Asian and Indian influences.
The relaxed, intimate interiors of The Grove is the perfect foil for the delicious French-inspired fine-dining by Benjamin Bayly. Settle in for the tasting menu to sample the best dishes here, and pair it with the well-crafted global wile list.
A charmingly rustic eatery, Coco’s Cantina combines great value with eclectic décor. This Italian-Mediterranean hybrid has a simple, no-frills menu, but what a menu it is. Start with chicken liver parfait and arancini, sample the spaghetti and meatballs, then tuck into a chargrilled Scotch steak or slow-roasted pork belly.
Auckland has several contenders for “best steak restaurant” title, but The Grill by Sean Connolly is definitely one of the heavyweights. Enjoy the gorgeous brick-and-candle interiors and forget about making a choice. Order the Study of Beef, a chef’s choice of the day’s three best cuts, and let loose your inner carnivore.
Fresh Kiwi seafood doesn’t come better than Depot, TV chef Al Brown’s first Auckland eatery. Communal tables and butcher tiles are a study in informal comfort, while a team of expert shuckers will have you feasting on ocean-fresh clams and oysters.
A bastion of timeless British style, The Langham Auckland offers choice digs in a premium city-center location. With 411 plush, classic rooms – choose the Park Suite for a real treat – a luxe Afternoon Tea with Wedgewood, and indulgent treatments at the onsite Chuan Spa, you’ll be hard-pressed to venture out.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific offer daily flights between Hong Kong and Auckland. Once there, the city center’s best navigated by foot, but if you’re venturing further afield – and aren’t driving – buses, trains and ferries provide plenty of options.