Auckland is New Zealand’s only true metropolis and the vibrant economic heart of the country. Known as the “City of Sails,” Auckland sprawls out in helter-skelter fashion between Manukau Harbour (to the west) and Waitemata Harbour (to the east) with the compact central city district right beside the waterway. For most visitors to New Zealand, Auckland is the point of arrival, and a few days soaking up the cultural and outdoor attractions here should be on every tourist’s to-do list. The monuments, museums, and art galleries here are some of the finest in the country, the suburban coastline of the city is speckled with fine beaches, and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf provide a taste of New Zealand’s spectacular national park scenery right on the city’s doorstep.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Auckland is at the end of fall (May) and the beginning of spring (September). These shoulder months offer pleasant temperatures and thin tourist crowds.
Top Places to Visit in Auckland
1. Auckland Sky Tower
Auckland’s needle-like Sky Tower is the city’s most prominent landmark and at 328 meters high, New Zealand’s highest building. If you’re looking for a place to snap the perfect city panorama then the observation deck here (reached by zooming up to the top of the building in a glass-elevator) is just the place to get your camera out, with views spanning into the distance for 80 kilometers on a clear day. For many Sky Tower visitors though, it’s about more than the view. New Zealanders are renowned for turning attractions into thrill-seeking opportunities, and the Sky Tower doesn’t buck the trend.
2. One Tree Hill
For many Aucklanders, the volcanic cone of One Tree Hill is the symbol of their city. The 182-meter-high hill sits amid the lush Cornwall Park with a series of flower beds and stands of mature trees set amid walking trails. One Tree Hill takes up the southwest corner of the park, and the slopes contain remnants of a Maori Pa (fortified village) located here during the pre-European era. At the top of the hill is a lone obelisk built over the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell who gifted this swath of greenery to Auckland to be used as a city park. There are fantastic views across the cityscape from the hill summit.
3. Waiheke Island
Of all Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke Island is the most popular to visit. Around 8,000 people live on the island year-round, and the island’s villages are home to art galleries and a thriving café culture, while the coast hosts plenty of white sand beaches. For keen walkers and hikers, a variety of trails wind along the coastline and through the island interior. For spectacular views and a challenging hike, the Church Bay Circuit is an excellent three-hour walk that showcases the best of the island.
4. Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium
One of Auckland’s top attractions for visiting families, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium allows you to get up-close-and-personal with life under the water. A series of huge aquariums containing aquatic life can be observed from the tunnel walkways with aquariums devoted to sharks, tropical fish, and stingrays. Kelly Tarlton’s also houses an Antarctic Encounter gallery, complete with a snow-filled penguin enclosure, highlighting New Zealand’s close association with Antarctica’s international scientific communities. Adrenaline-junkies are catered for as well with the aquarium’s Shark Dive and Shark Cage Snorkel experiences.
5. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands are a lush slice of nature right on Auckland’s doorstep. Ruggedly beautiful Great Barrier Island is a must-visit for wilderness fans with a multitude of camping, hiking, mountain biking, and sea kayaking opportunities. Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano and home to the world’s largest forest of pohutukawa trees. Hiking to the island’s summit rewards walkers with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf. Tiny Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary for some of New Zealand’s most endangered birdlife with a variety of easy walking trails winding through the island’s interior.
6. East Coast Beaches
The city’s eastern coast is speckled with gorgeous forest-rimmed beaches that are top swimming and sun-bathing spots for locals during summer weekends. Takapuna Beach, overlooking Rangitoto Island across the water, is one of the finest sandy strips in the city and deservedly popular. Nearby are both Milford Beach and Cheltenham Beach, which tend to be less crowded. A short drive out of the city though, brings you to even more spectacular beaches. To the southeast is lovely Maraetai Beach with its calm waters, an excellent swimming spot even for little ones, while a short journey north from Auckland is the golden sand of Orewa Beach.