The thriving city of Auckland usually makes it onto every New Zealand itinerary. With a population of more than 1.4 million (that’s more than a quarter of the country’s population), Auckland is easily the biggest city in New Zealand. Some say this fact detracts from Auckland, stripping it of the charm and character that some other New Zealand cities and towns possess. But ask any Aucklander, and they’ll tell you that their city is the best in the country, and has plenty of character.
Auckland is a great city to start any New Zealand adventure from, since it’s also the location of the country’s major international airport. Buses and shuttles run frequently from the airport to downtown, meaning you can easily spend a few days here without a rental car.
Conversely, Auckland is also a great jumping-off point for other New Zealand adventures. From here, you can fly to anywhere else in the country, take buses north to the Bay of Islands and Northland or south to Rotorua and Wellington, or rent a car and explore the North Island.
In general, Auckland can be done in a few days — a week at most. If you find yourself with 3 days in this northern city, here are some suggestions on how to spend your time.
Day 1 in Auckland
Most international flights arrive in Auckland early, meaning you’ll have plenty of time today to explore. Start out downtown on Queen Street (which is also where you should stay, if possible), walking Auckland’s main drag in order to get a feel for the city.
No matter where you are in Auckland, chances are you’ll be able to see the Sky Tower. At 328 meters (1,076 feet), this tower is the tallest in New Zealand, and offers fantastic views of the whole city from the observation deck. Take the glass-fronted elevators to the deck to snap photos and stand on a see-through floor. The daredevils may also want to sign up to do the SkyWalk around the outside the tower, or SkyJump off it.
The tower is open 7 days a week, and a general admission pass to the main observation deck costs $25 NZD.
A great introduction to both Auckland and New Zealand, the Auckland Museum would be a great place to visit on your first day in Auckland. Located within the Auckland Domain (a huge downtown garden), the building serves as both a museum and war memorial. Here you can learn about everything from Maori culture to New Zealand’s native flora and fauna.
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The museum is open daily, and a $10 donation is suggested for adults.
Like many cities in New Zealand, Auckland is a city built on the water. Viaduct Harbor is a great place to while away an afternoon or evening, with a great selection of bars and restaurants, and a vibe that’s a bit different from other parts of the city. From here you can also catch site of the Auckland Harbor Bridge, and you’re only a short walk away from Westhaven Marina, one of the largest marinas in the Southern Hemisphere which will help you understand why Auckland is nicknames the “City of Sails.”
Day 2 in Auckland
Because Auckland is known as the “City of Sails,” it’s (unsurprisingly) the perfect place to go sailing in New Zealand. Charter yachts (and even a tall ship) cruise the Waitemata Harbor daily, including some America’s Cup sailing yachts.
Climb a volcano
After a morning of sailing, head southwest of downtown Auckland and climb to the summit of Mount Eden, an extinct volcano. The top of the cone is the highest natural point in Auckland, giving great 360-degree views of the city. Afterwards, spend some time exploring Mount Eden Village, which often called the “Home of the Arts” because of its creative population.
If you happen to be in town when the national rugby team, the All Blacks, will be playing, definitely pick up a ticket and head over to Eden Park Stadium for the match. In New Zealand, rugby is the national sport and akin to a national religion — nearly everyone follows the sport, and there is fierce loyalty among All Blacks fans.
Day 3 in Auckland
Use Day 3 to take a day trip outside of Auckland.
Perhaps take a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland out to Waiheke Island, where you can rent a scooter or bike, lounge on a beach, or go wine-tasting on this “Island of Wine.”
If you want more adventure, head to Piha Beach in West Auckland, which is one of New Zealand’s top surf beaches. Walk along the black sand, snap plenty of photos of Lion Rock, and just enjoy the atmosphere as the Tasman Sea crashes onto the shore.
If you want a true day trip a little further afield (and if you are a “Lord of the Rings” fan at all), consider booking a tour with Red Carpet Tours to the farming town of Matamata. This town 2 hours south of Auckland in the Waikato Region starred as Hobbiton in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and a tour here will allow you a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into New Zealand filmmaking. At the Alexander farm in Matamata, you’ll get to climb into hobbit holes, dance on the Party Field, and enjoy a hobbit-sized lunch at a themed on-site cafÃ©.
Dinner in the sky
When you return to Auckland after whatever day trip adventure you choose, round out your time in the city by splurging on dinner at Orbit, the revolving fine-dining restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower. You will have to dress up, and reservations need to be made well in advance, but you really can’t beat Orbit’s location, especially after dark.
Photos all are by Amanda Williams