I lived in New Zealand for a total of 7 months. Although I didn’t technically live in Auckland full time, I spent a lot of time there (sometimes two weeks at a time). So I considered the city my base while in New Zealand. Although the city isn’t so big, Auckland is home to more than one-third of New Zealand’s population (Auckland’s population is around 1.5 million). I really liked the vibe of the city – it’s vibrant enough, but it’s still laid back. And if you’re a foodie, you won’t be bored in the city: from cheap eats, to hip cafes, to world class restaurants, Auckland has a lot to offer. Since it is the biggest, it is also the most multicultural city in the country.
Auckland has a desirable geographic location, so the surrounding areas are also worth visiting. The city faces Hauraki Gulf which includes several beautiful islands (Check out my Waiheke Island post to see what I mean). On the West Coast, you can check out the black sand beaches of Piha and Karekare. The city itself is home to around 50 dormant volcanoes which makes for an interesting landscape, with several cones providing spectacular views of the city. Auckland is also known as the “City of Sails, so visiting the harbour is a must, even just to watch the boats sail by.
This post is a quick guide, meant to give you a short overview of what the city has to offer. I hope this helps you plan your next trip to Auckland!
- This observation and telecommunications tower dominates the city’s skyline. At 1076 ft, it is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can do the SkyJump or the SkyWalk at the tower. There is also a casino and an entertainment complex at the base of the tower.
- Auckland Art Gallery is the largest art institution in New Zealand. They host a diverse collection of local and international art exhibits, as well as historic and modern arts. The building itself is an impressive mixture of old and new architectures. Did I mention the admission is FREE?!
Wynyard Quarter and Silo Park
- Wynyard Quarter is Auckland’s newest waterfront neighbourhood that used to be an industrial and port area. Now, it is one of the city’s most exciting districts. Here, you’ll find waterfront facing restaurants and bars, weekend markets, plazas, playgrounds, and parks. Be sure to check out Silo Park when you’re in the area.
Auckland Domain and Wintergardens
- I’ve mentioned that Auckland is a city of volcanoes. Well, this massive park has been developed around an extinct volcano. Today, several sports fields occupy the crater of the volcano. Wintergardens is also located within the park. It contains two large glasshouses, a beautiful courtyard and a large fernery. Auckland Domain is also the venue of some of the city’s biggest events such as various music festivals and the Auckland Lantern Festival.
- This neoclassical building that sits on the crater rim of the extinct volcano in Auckland Domain is one of the icons of the city. The museum has a large collection of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts. The museum also stands as the city’s war memorial. In front of the building is the dedicated ground of the Court of Honour and the Auckland Cenotaph.
Karangahape Road, better known as K’road used to be the red-light district. Although the area has seen some gentrification, K’road still retains some of its rough around the edges character, which makes for an interesting place to check out. The area is known for its diverse mix of independent cafes and restaurants as well as second-hand stores.
Queen Street and High Street (Central Business District)
Queen Street is the main street of the city that stretches from the harbour all the way to K’road. As such, you can find a lot of major businesses on this street, from big retailers to souvenir shops.
Britomart is the city’s premier shopping, dining and entertainment district, thanks to its location above the city’s main train station. When the weather is nice, you’ll be sure to find a lot of locals and tourists hanging around the area.
Best cheap eats:
These are the places I went to several times while in Auckland, and they never failed to satisfy me.
Better Burger – I would say the best burger in Auckland! The burgers are simple but so good. They now have multiple locations within the CBD and that says something!
Food Alley – It’s a food court where you’ll find a wide variety of Asian stalls. The food here offers great value. Just a heads up, lunch time on a weekday is usually busy.
Il Buco – A tiny pizza shop in Ponsonby. But don’t let the size of the store fool you, the pizzas here are full of flavours. Some pizza toppings are simple, but others are more elaborate.
Hansan – This authentic Vietnamese restaurant is located right next to Albert Park. The dishes are delicious and the prices are inexpensive. I’m glad I saw this in the Lonely Planet guide, otherwise, I wouldn’t have found this spot.
Renkon – My favourite Japanese restaurant in the city. The menu is simple; I think they only have ten main items on the menu. My go to order is the chicken karaage. They also have multiple locations in the city.
Where to see the best views:
I’ve mentioned that Auckland has an interesting geographic makeup: the city is built on top of volcanoes. Because of this, some of the volcanic cones offer incredible views of the city.
Mt Eden – this is Auckland’s highest volcanic cone and the crater is considered highly sacred by the Maoris. You have to hike to get to the top, but it’s a relatively easy hike depending on which path you take.
Mt Victoria and North Head – located in Davenport, these volcanoes provide fantastic views of the city from across the harbour. The views of the sunset here are breathtaking. North Head is a historic reserve that contains a military tunnel complex with gun emplacements and fortifications. You also get an unobstructed view of Rangitoto Island from here, Auckland’s largest volcano.
One Tree Hill – wide open green spaces and sheep are what will greet you when you visit One Tree Hill. Although this peak is a bit further from the CBD, the panoramic views at the top of the volcanic cone are worth the hike.
Best value accommodation:
YHA Auckland City was my base whenever I was in the city. This YHA was recently renovated so the rooms and the public areas feel new and fresh. They offer a variety of room types, from private rooms with your own bathrooms, to dorm rooms. If you’re lucky, you might even get a room with a great view of the city. The shared kitchen is spacious and the lounge and TV rooms are also roomy. This hostel also offers free Wi-Fi, which is great since that is not always the case in New Zealand.
If you’re going to be traveling in New Zealand for an extended period, I highly recommend getting a YHA membership. I saved a considerable amount of money while traveling there because I mainly only stayed at YHA hostels where I got 10% discount on every stay.
(Disclosure: I ended up working at the YHA in Franz Josef but I came up with this conclusion long before I got a job there.)
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