The beautiful ‘City of Sails’ earns its name thanks to the hundreds of sail boats that circle downtown’s wharfs as well as Auckland’s surrounding islands. This modern city offers ample opportunities to explore shops, parks and adrenaline pumping adventures. The flexibility of the city allows you to simply spend a day hitting the highlights or spend a week exploring every neighborhood and surrounding island. What you chose to do depends on what type of traveller you are.
If you’re looking to sit back relax and explore Auckland at your own pace, it’s easy! If you worry you’ll miss something on your own and want to ensure you take in all the major sites, it’s simple as well! If you fall into the latter, whether you have a car or not, the best option may be to grab a ticket and hop aboard Auckland’s big bus. It stops at all 14 of Auckland’s ‘major’ sights including Auckland Zoo, Auckland Museum, Sky City, Mt. Eden, etc. and your 40.00 nzd (90.00 nzd family) all-day pass allows you to get on and off the bus whenever you like so you can move at your own pace. The problem is there is so much more to this great city than simply seeing the tourist attractions. Wandering the city streets will give you a new appreciation for Auckland. It’s some of the streets tucked from view, and select neighborhoods, that are packed with cafes and chic bars, restaurants and shops.
The city itself is clean, but there is an air of grimy, big city about it, and it most definitely has become an international hub. More foreigners and transplants, fill some streets in downtown Auckland more than Kiwi’s themselves. The main artery running east to west through downtown, Victoria Street, is packed with currency exchanges, souvenir shops and international fast food favorites like McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s and Burger King. Each one is packed with those lugging suitcases and looking for a taste of “home”.
Just up the hill lies Albert Park, a beautiful place to rest with views looking out toward downtown. From behind, the clock tower at the University of Auckland stands above it all. The park, along with the nearby wharfs, offer great reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Along the waterfront you’ll find both Queen Victora Wharf and the slightly trendier Prince’s Wharf cloaking either side of the ferry terminal. Depending on the time of day and the ferry schedule, the terminal can be either overflowing with travelers headed to nearby islands or virtually empty.
Princes Wharf is a display of modern thinking at its finest. At the head of the wharf stretching out as if it were starting a grand voyage sits the Hilton Hotel Auckland, a solid white structure designed to mimic a large ship. Nearby some of the world’s grandest sail boats and yachts are docked. Trendy restaurants and chic cafes line the wharf, which is adorned with modern art, a playground, a training facility and a series of basketball courts. One could easily spend half a day here indulging in the local cuisine, lounging by the water and simply people watching. The nearby Queens Wharf is equally interesting although different. Queens Wharf boasts Shed 10 and The Cloud, two unique and modern event venues. For more on Queens Wharf click here. For more on Princes Wharf click here.
The nearby Ferry Terminal is where you’ll catch the passenger ferry to a number of surrounding islands including the extremely popular Waiheke Island. The quiet, beautiful, vineyard-filled island is a quaint settlement near Auckland that is flooded with tourists by day as they scour the countryside in search of the best winery and accompanying restaurant. If you want to explore for more than a day, there is a wide range of places to stay, as many who live in Auckland head to the island for a weekend getaway so can you. Once you’ve taken the ferry, you can rent a bike, scooter or car for the day – or arrange one of the many bus tours of the island in advance. We were told by a Waiheke resident on the flight to Auckland, it’s the number one thing he would do while in the city, but consider the source.
If you’re looking to get out on the water without heading to a surrounding island, simply hire a jet boat and hang on for one heck of a ride. They’ll speed, spin and splash you around Waitemata Harbour. You can also hire a guide and sail boat to explore the waters around the harbor or spend a little more time on a whale and dolphin cruise – they are offered through Explore NZ.
If you’re more into shopping, look no further than the high-end shops lining High Street or head to Britomart’s area, which is full of fun boutiques, funky art galleries and neat restaurants. Auckland Seafood School caters to those who are tired of just trying the food and would rather try their hand at making it. You’ll find them inside the Auckland Fish Market just off Princes Wharf.
Take a walk on the wild side at the Auckland Zoo or the Sea Life Aquarium or relax by gazing at the stars at the Stardome Obseravtory and Planetarium or unwind with a stroll through Auckland Botanic Gardens – the options are endless. If you’re looking for adventure Auckland is the perfect stop. You can kayak, kite surf, dive or snorkel nearby. If it’s towering heights that get your adrenaline pumping head to Auckland’s Skytower where you can view the city from above inside a perfectly save glass-enclosed tower or walk around the edge of New Zealand’s tallest building hooked to nothing more than a wire. Sky Tower also offers Sky Jump the only experience that will let you leap from the side of the building and land safely below.
If you don’t have much time, my top picks include walking the city streets, spending time wandering around Princes Wharf and seeing the city from above at the slightly cheesy and definitely over-priced sky tower. If extra time allows meander through a couple of the city’s several museums and window shop along High Street.
If you’re traveling via camper van, it can be difficult to park in the city itself. As you pull into downtown use a lot or street parking on the outskirts and don’t chance getting caught on a busy (and steep) downtown street. You’re first stop should be the i-site (located at Sky City) to pick up an Auckland A-Z as well as several other city guides to help you plan your day or more.