The Best Things to Do on Your First Trip to Auckland

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When talking and writing about New Zealand, I usually list Wellington as my favorite city, Queenstown as the “most fun” city, and places like Rotorua and Mount Cook and Milford Sound as must-visits.

But what about Auckland? people ask.

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, and usually the city most international visitors will find themselves in first. And while I've often overlooked Auckland in the past, the truth is that it's still a really cool city with lots of things to see and do.

If you're visiting New Zealand for the very first time, here are the things you should definitely do on your first trip to Auckland.

The best things to do in Auckland

Get a view from the Sky Tower

Auckland, New Zealand
You can't miss the Sky Tower in Auckland's skyline.

Just like the CN Tower in Toronto and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Auckland, too, has a famous tower in its skyline: the Sky Tower. Used for both telecommunications and tourism, the Sky Tower rises an impressive 328 meters (1076 feet) over the Auckland city center as part of the SKYCITY entertainment complex. Fun fact: It's currently the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.

At the very least, you should visit the main observation deck at 186 meters and the Sky Deck viewing platform at 220 meters – tickets to visit both of these are $29 NZD for adults. From here, you get an incredible view over the city of Auckland and its harbors, and on a clear day can see all sorts of nearby islands.

View from the Auckland Sky Tower
View from the Auckland Sky Tower

Some other things you can do at the Sky Tower include:

  • Having dinner at Orbit, the only revolving restaurant in New Zealand (reservations definitely recommended).
  • Doing the Sky Walk, where you walk around an outdoor platform 192 meters above the ground.
  • Or, for the real daredevils, you can jump off the Sky Tower by doing the SkyJump.

>> Get Sky Tower tickets here. <<

Sky Walk at the Sky Tower in Auckland
Doing the Sky Walk

Get to know the Auckland waterfront

Auckland Harbour in New Zealand

Once you've gotten a lay of the land from the Sky Tower, I recommend taking some time to walk along Auckland's extensive waterfront. If you start near the ferry terminal at Queens Wharf, you can walk all the way along the waterfront past Viaduct Harbor and into the Wynyard Quarter.

Along this route you'll pass a ton of restaurants, cafes, and bars, along with plenty of cool boats – and even a building *shaped* like a boat. You'll get an idea of why Auckland is nicknamed the City of Sails.

Boat building in Auckland

The Wynyard Quarter especially is worth exploring, with parks and public spaces and lots of events, music, and activities going on. On a nice sunny day, this part of Auckland absolutely comes alive!

Taste the best ice cream in NZ at Giapo

There's lots of ice cream to be found throughout New Zealand (and even in Auckland), but if you want the best and most innovative ice cream experience, you need to head to Giapo. Here, the ice cream creations are more like art than food – you can get all sorts of intricate creations, from a colossal squid to a replica of the Auckland Harbour Bridge on top of your cone.

Giapo Ice Cream in Auckland
An assortment of amazing ice cream creations at Giapo
Giapo Ice Cream in Auckland
Giapo Ice Cream in Auckland

You'll most likely have to wait in line here, but I promise that the wait is worth it. Every order is hand-crafted, and the ice cream is made in-house using organic New Zealand milk. (And it's not just me saying they're good – Giapo frequently tops lists of the best ice cream shops in New Zealand!)

My favorite flavor was the Kofe Samoa (and it's vegan-friendly!), while my husband Elliot really loved their take on hokey pokey, which is a New Zealand specialty.

Visit an Auckland museum

Speaking of art… if you run into bad weather in Auckland, there are plenty of museums you can check out to pass the time.

Museums like:

  • Auckland Art Gallery – The largest and most extensive art museum in New Zealand, with more than 15,000 works in its collection. ($20 NZD)
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum – This is both a memorial and museum, with the museum housing collections focusing on New Zealand's cultural, natural, and military history.
  • New Zealand Maritime Museum – Located right next to Viaduct Harbor, this museum covers maritime history from the first Polynesian explorers all the way up to New Zealand's recent success in ocean races like the America's Cup.

Get out of downtown

Takapuna Beach in Auckland, New Zealand
Takapuna Beach

Auckland's downtown area is where a lot of tourists end up, but the truth is that it's Auckland's *other* neighborhoods that really shine the most.(If you insist that you don't like Auckland, then you probably never left the CBD!) Make sure to hop on a bus at least once to explore another neighborhood.

You'll find hip bars and cafes and cool boutiques in Ponsonby; upmarket stores and a nice garden in Parnell, Auckland's oldest neighborhood; and some of the city's nicest beaches in Mission Bay. I also love the history and architecture in Devonport, as well as the beach in Takapuna.

Climb a dormant volcano

Want to get active in Auckland? There are plenty of green spaces and parks to enjoy throughout the city, and even some volcanoes you can hike. There are actually 53 volcanoes in and around Auckland (there's a reason New Zealand is so geothermally active, after all!), and you can climb several of them. The most popular is Maungawhau/Mount Eden, which takes only about an hour to climb.

Go to a nearby island by boat

Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Waiheke Island

My last Auckland must-do will take you out of the city center for at least half a day, but I really think this one is worth it! From the ferry terminal, you can hop on a ferry to several different nearby islands. My top two picks are:

  • Waiheke Island, where you can rent a bike, visit beaches, and taste some delicious wine (Cable Bay Winery was my favorite!).
  • Rangitoto Island, which is a volcano! There's a walking track that circles the island, which will take you across lava rock and through native New Zealand bush.

Both of these take less than an hour to get to, and make for fantastic afternoon trips from Auckland. (And if you want to visit these on a tour, here's a Rangitoto Island tour, and a Waiheke Island tour.)

Cable Bay winery on Waiheke Island
Vineyard on Waiheke Island

RELATED: A Day Trip to Waiheke Island

Where to stay in Auckland

I've stayed in quite a few different neighborhoods in Auckland over the years, including hotels in Takapuna and the CBD, an Airbnb in Ponsonby, and even a hostel once in Parnell. For your very first trip to Auckland, though, I recommend staying somewhere central so you can walk to most places (though ride share services like Uber are available in Auckland, too, along with public transport like buses).

My favorite places to stay in Auckland include:

Grand Millennium Auckland – This upmarket CBD hotel is clean and comfortable, and has a lovely staff. Elliot and I stayed here on our New Zealand honeymoon, and they even surprised us with champagne! There's an indoor pool, a bar, and two restaurants on-site, too. You can walk to the Sky Tower and harbor in about 15 minutes. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

The Spencer on Byron Hotel – This one is in Takapuna, meaning it's north of Auckland. If you're looking for a nice hotel in a quieter neighborhood and within walking distance to the beach, then this one is for you! (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)

Other top-rated hotels in central Auckland include:

Boats in Auckland, New Zealand

How long should you spend in Auckland?

In order to do all the things listed here, you really need at least 2 or 3 days in Auckland – especially if you decide to visit some of the islands!

You can also base yourself in Auckland for a couple additional days if you want to do some day trips to places like the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the Hobbiton movie set, or the Coromandel Peninsula, though I highly recommend renting a car to visit other places on your own!

Who is ready to visit Auckland now?

 

Pin it for later:

The best things to do in Auckland, New Zealand
The best things to do in Auckland, New Zealand

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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24 Comments on “The Best Things to Do on Your First Trip to Auckland

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  1. Good stuff Amanda! Flying to Wellington from Christchurch in a few hours, and we will hit Auckland for a day before flying back to the US in 3 weeks. We did spend 1 night in the city after flying in from Thailand. Loved it.

    Ryan

      Well maybe this post can give you a few ideas of what to do there!

    I’ve heard so much about Giapo! Now I’m even more excited to try it with your recommendation. Was the Colossal Squid good?

      It’s soooo delicious! The squid is made out of hand-made chocolate, which is very tasty (and you can get it with any flavor of ice cream).

        That sounds too delicious to be true. Next time I am in Auckland (heading home to Australia soon :>) I might pop in. That is the upside and downside of having a sweet tooth! You want to eat everything sweet, but shouldn’t! But it’s oh so tempting.

    Somehow your photos and description of Auckland remind me a bit of Capetown! The vineyards & beaches close by and the waterfront look really similar. I love Capetown, so I’m sure I would like Auckland as well 🙂

    That is a spectacular view from the Sky Tower.

      It certainly is, especially on a clear day!

    I really didn’t like Auckland! 🙁 I did get out of the city for a day and went to Piha beach which was really cool! But considering my highlight was getting out of the city… haha. I do wish I’d got out on the water though, or got a nice view of the city. Plus I’d probably go back just for that ice cream, holy hell! I remember going to a delicious bakery, too.

      I mean, when you compare Auckland to other cities in New Zealand, other cities have way more character. But you can still enjoy Auckland if you know where to go!

    OMG! The ice-creams look crazy! 😀 Auckland does sound like a cool city. However, I think I’m gonna explore more Wellington or Queenstown. But, I agree with you one needs to go beyond CBD and explore the other neighborhoods of Auckland to be able to appreciate it.

      I think a couple of days in Auckland is fine, and you can see the highlights in Wellington in a couple of days, too. But if you want to do lots of crazy activities in Queenstown, I recommend more than just a couple days!

    Thank you for saying some nice things about the city that I am lucky to live in – Auckland, New Zealand. You have only mentioned the suburbs close to the CBD but there are some great places further out too. People might like to note that Giapo used to be located on Queen St (the main Street through the CBD) about half-way up. However, it is now on Gore St near to the Britomart train station and the ferry terminal.

      Auckland is a bigger city than I think most people realize! I’ve personally only visited the suburbs that are closer to the city center, but I know the city sprawls out a lot!

    It’s well worth visiting the Waiheke Island to take in its views and vineyards 🙂

      Agreed! The day I spent on Waiheke was wonderful!

      Yes, Waiheke Island is lovely. As Amanda mentioned you can also visit Rangitoto Island. Another option is Tiritiri Matangi Island which is a wildlife sanctuary (no kiwis, sorry)

    This is awesome! I was supposed to go to New Zealand in February but my flight got cancelled 🙁 But I’m sure I will make it there one day so I’ve pinned this itinerary for later. Auckland looks amazing and that ice cream seems unreal!

      I hope you’re able to make it there soon! (And yes, Giapo is amazing!)

    Such a lovely city. Auckland offers a lot to a traveller. It has history, architecture, beaches and everything. Thank you!

      Yup, it definitely has a little bit of everything!

    Nice article! I’m a kiwi from Welly and went to the USA for the first time last year. I was there one month and visited west coast and NYC. I absolutely loved it, and probably what I liked best were the people, the Americans. They were so wonderfully fun, open and generous. While Amtraking between L.A. and san fran, i enjoyed observing the easy and fun way strangers sharing the same train carriage interacted and got along. People introduced themselves to each other and were just so wonderfully noce sbout it. I’m quite a friendly and talkative guy so this suited me. I remember walking into a bar- they call it a dive bar- but reallys it the equilivant of your typical nz pub, not sleazy and weird as the name suggests. Anyway, i walked in, and the place is packed, no where to sit, not even anywhere to rest an elbow. The bar girl who incidentally I’d met the night before (I’d popped in for a night cap) greeted me and immediately found me a seat between two middle age guys in the midst of a rather animated conversation. At the time I was like, i dont know these guys, i don’t want to impose. I’m cool I can sit alone. But these guys, a lawyer and a tech guy, welcomed me and made me feel at home. Super friendly. They stood me alot of drinks that night and we had much warm banter. Best were the jokes that included impersonations of bill clinton the lawyer had- jokes i guess him and his lawyer mates crack in between court sessions to kill time.
    This is an example of just how damn friendly, fun and hospitable americans are. Even though kiwis are friendly I dont think any place in the world people are quite so darn solicitous and engaing as in the USA. Anyway, thats just my two cents. I think there are a hell of alot of misconceptions about america and americans, but you dont really know a place unless you go there. Thats probably true of everything. I know I had a similar experience in china fifteen years ago- misconception proved wrong….

    Another thing I noticed about USA is how integrated and important music is to the people and the culture. Everywhere you go there is music playing. Even in an otherwise mundane office supplies store, in the background, subtly so as not to bother you, music grinds away. Its really good music, too. Not just your typical pop stuff that is played to death, as in the case of nz and Australia. No- really diverse and broad. They have basically way more sophisicated tastes where music is concerned (at least the places i visited) I remember walking around an open air night market in L.A. full of people, and on the speakers cole porter tunes woft through the air, adding a lovely romantic and nostalgic touch to the magical evening. Countless other examples spring to mind but you get the point. What else? Consumerism is very ingrained. There is enormous waste. Everything is big. Homelessness is rife. Its edgy too. My idea of “safety”, a new Zealand perception of what that means, is very different to an americans. At least Americans from large cities. There was a sense of hostility and volatility in the air. People who are mentally disturbed are very vocal about thier situation. I got warned by a woman not to walk further down a busy street as a wacko was assaulting passersby. On a bus in L.A. I witnessed a situation slowly esculate between two seemingly homeless guys, threats and cuss words were exchanged, the situation almost ended in violence. I guess big cities are stressful places to live if you are down on your luck, so maybe its not that surprising.
    Well, I won’t go on any further. I guess i just wanted to share my experiences of your country as you have so many positive and nice things to say about mine. Peace and may your travels remain fruitful and far reaching!

    Hey, Amanda thanks for sharing such a wonderful article. I am planning to visit New Zealand this year with my family. Please guide me the correct time to visit this beautiful country. And also suggest me best cities of New Zealand. Thanks in advance.

      Auckland is nice to visit any time of year. In New Zealand, December-February is summer (and also the busiest time of year), while June-August is winter. I like visiting in spring or fall for decent weather and less tourists. Other cities you’ll want to visit include Rotorua, Wellington, and Queenstown. You can check out everything I’ve written about New Zealand here: https://www.dangerous-business.com/destinations/new-zealand/

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