Looking for fun things to do in Auckland? We have you covered with the best places to eat, play and stay in New Zealand’s largest city and our old hometown.
Although we now call Australia home we’ve both lived in Auckland for many years before that. It’s New Zealand’s largest city, it’s multicultural, diverse and idyllically situated on a narrow isthmus of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.
With all that sea around it’s not surprising it also has a wide variety of beaches, bays and islands to spend time on. From black sand to white, challenging surf to sheltered swimming beaches, volcanic islands that resemble a moonscape and lush predator-free wildlife sanctuaries, Auckland really does have it all.
But if the beach isn’t your thing there are plenty of parks, gardens, shopping, restaurants and entertainment to satisfy most visitors and locals.
Table of Contents
- Top 25 fun things to do in Auckland
- 1. Viaduct Basin
- 2. Wynyard Quarter & Silo park
- 3. Mission Bay
- 4. Devonport
- 5. North Head
- 6. Climb an extinct volcano
- 7. Waiheke Island
- 8. Takapuna & the northern beaches
- 9. Murawai
- 10. Wētā Workshop Unlimited
- 11. The Auckland Domain and Museum
- 12. Waitakere Ranges
- 13. One Tree Hill & Cornwall Park
- 14. Auckland Zoo
- 15. A day trip to Matakana
- 16. The Regional Parks
- 17. Aotea Square
- 18. Bastion Point
- 19. Sky Tower
- 20. Hop on hop off bus
- 21. Tititiri Matangi
- 22. Fish Market
- 23. Parnell and the Rose Garden
- 24. Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s
- 25. Kayaking on the Waitemata Harbour
- 26. Soak up the village atmosphere in St Heliers Bay
- Getting to Auckland and getting around
- When to visit Auckland
- In summary
Top 25 fun things to do in Auckland
1. Viaduct Basin
The Viaduct Basin is a Marina, dining precinct and accommodation hub in central Auckland. Its waterfront position is one of our top picks for a lazy summer afternoon of eating and drinking. In this area, you’ll also find the Maritime Museum, there’s always something happening as you stroll around and a variety of boat tours out on the Hauraki Gulf such as this sailing experience on a genuine Americas Cup yacht depart from here.
2. Wynyard Quarter & Silo park
From the Basin head out in a western direction over the Wynyard Crossing. A drawbridge lifts up to allow boats to pass out from the inner basin, you might need to wait a few minutes for the bridge to lower but this is the way across on foot. On the other side is the Wynyard Quarter. Built on reclaimed land it includes some fabulous cafes and restaurants, North Wharf, a community garden, a park, some of the best views of the Sky Tower and the Auckland fish market.
Auckland city is now trialling a Lime e-scooter scheme and the wide flat spaces along here make it an ideal place to test them out. If you like them they can be a fun option for getting around the inner city and fringe areas like the Auckland Domain and up to Ponsonby.
3. Mission Bay
As you head east of the city along the waterfront there are a number of city beaches. One of the most popular is Mission Bay for family days at the beach, a swim, a walk along the promenade and lunch. We love to sit upstairs at De Fontein Belgian Beer Cafe with family and friends enjoying the views, a cold glass of wine and pots of their wonderful mussels. It was somewhere we would often take visitors and now we still love to head here when we’re back in town.
Devonport is a scenic 12-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and an easy way to include a trip across to the North Shore into your visit. Walk down the heritage main street, stop in at the many bars, cafes and restaurants, relax on the beach and stroll the Queens parade waterfront. There are also some great galleries and gift stores to browse through.
If you’re considering heading over to Devonport make sure you check out our post on Devonport and North Head for all the extra info you need.
5. North Head
If you’ve made it as far as Devonport make sure you have your walking shoes on and head up North Head, the views from here out to the city and out to the islands and sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf are spectacular. This was always our favourite lookout to take visitors to the city so they could really see it at its best.
This sport is also rich in both Maori and wartime history and it’s worth finding a bit of time to walk the trails, explore the tunnels and take in the fabulous views. We have our post on Devonport and North Head
6. Climb an extinct volcano
Auckland is built on a volcanic plateau of 53 volcanos that have erupted over the last 250,000 years. The most recently active was Rangitoto, an island in the Hauraki Gulf, that last erupted around 600 years ago. Rangitoto Island is symbolic of the city but it’s a deceptive landmark as it’s virtually symmetrical and looks the same wherever you view it from on land or in the water.
It’s a 25-minute ferry ride from the city or you could try something a little different like making the crossing in a kayak before climbing to the summit. The Waitemata Harbour is a fabulous place for kayaking, we used to own a couple of sea kayaks when we lived here and it’s a fabulous experience being out there on the water under your own paddle power.
On the island, it’s about an hour’s walk up to the summit and the views from the top are stunning. On a clear day, you can see all the lush green islands in the harbour west as far as the Waitakere and the Hunua Ranges to the east. Along the way appreciate the world’s largest forest of Pohutakawa trees, in summer they are covered in brilliant red flowers and are known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree and bring a torch if you can to explore the black lava caves you pass.
7. Waiheke Island
Another highly recommended island to visit from Auckland is Waiheke. This is a popular spot for family holidays and weekend retreats but it’s equally good for a day trip from the city. It takes around 40 minutes on the ferry to get out there and there’s a bus to get around major stops on the island.
In addition to the gorgeous beaches and walks, there are some excellent wineries on the island, the Mudbrick being one of my personal favourites for its harbour views in addition to the food and wine. If wine tasting and stopping off at the various vineyards is something you’d like to do including a delicious (and generous) platter lunch plus the island’s key sights then this Waiheke Island tour is highly recommended.
8. Takapuna & the northern beaches
Head across the Harbour Bridge you find yourself in North Shore City, this is an alternate route to Devonport and North Head if you have a vehicle but if you’re staying in the city the ferry is a quicker and picturesque way across. There are many great beaches on the North Shore, the largest and best known is Takapuna.
Buses run regularly from the city to Takapuna and take around 20 minutes. Here you’ll not only find extensive beachfront and parklands but shopping, restaurants and cafes.
From the Takapuna depot or the city, you can get a bus to most of the beaches that run north from here including Milford, Mairangi Bay, Browns Bay and Long Bay.
Long Bay is a favourite, the beach is around a kilometre long, behind it is a Regional Park and the waters offshore are a marine park and offer safe swimming. From the end of the beach, you can follow the walkway up over the sandstone cliffs to some areas of native forest and fabulous coastal views.
Auckland is located on a narrow isthmus of land, the beaches and islands we have looked at so far have been on the east coast but it’s only a short hop across to the west coast and some quite different landscapes with the black sand surf beaches.
At Murawai there’s an excellent clifftop walkway and a large mainland gannet colony. The surf is good but best for experienced surfers and the sunsets from the beach are stunning, well worth picking up a picnic and taking a drive out here.
10. Wētā Workshop Unlimited
This was a great wet weather option in the city. We love the work done by Wētā Workshop on the Lord of the Rings films of course and in person at the Gallipoli exhibition in Wellington. They are a real success story of Kiwi ingenuity, creativity and determination.
Wētā Workshop Unlimited is an interactive tour that takes you behind the scenes through an imagined creative workshop. As you would expect, work done for movie studios and other clients is prepared under both tight confidentiality and copyright so they can’t just take you into the actual workspace while the artists are at work brainstorming and building their creations. Instead, the tour creates a story scenario around the workshop having been evacuated due to an escaped monster but your hapless guide sneaks you in the back for a look around.
Inside you will see props, costumes, sets and characters reminiscent of your favourite movies that Wētā has worked on but it’s not actually from those sets. The main genres are represented, horror, fantasy and science fiction.
Inside it is hands-on and interactive, you can touch the latex costumes, work the multiple levers that create expressions on the intricate character’s mask or move and manipulate the creatures. You can flip through the artist’s sketches, and see fantastical creatures come to life a few feet away from you through animatronics. You’ll learn how some of the magic is created too, through scale, alternative materials and sheer dedication to their art.
11. The Auckland Domain and Museum
The Domain is a 200-acre park established in 1880, from duck ponds to native forest, cricket grounds, the historic Wintergarden and the Auckland War memorial museum can be found here.
The museum sits on the explosion crater and remains of the tuff ring that was once the ancient volcano Pukekawa. Auckland is made up of around 50 volcanos that last erupted between 100,000 and 600 years ago and Pukekawa is one of the older ones.
Growing up in Auckland you are aware that you live on a volcanic field but I learned far more about them on my latest visit than I ever had before with a trip to the volcano exhibit here at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The interactive display is excellent and worth doing if you have some time and interest. The only reason I hesitate to recommend it fully is that museum entry is now priced on a sliding scale based on whether you are an Aucklander, New Zealander or overseas visitor which I found quite embarrassing. If you’re a visitor then entry at $25 an adult is quite steep especially if you are only planning on staying to visit one or two exhibits. I contrast this to the excellent Te Papa museum in Wellington which is free for everyone.
Upstairs in the museum is the war memorial. It’s an emotional experience seeing names from our family and so many others up on the wall but an important place to remember, pay respects and be thankful. It was encouraging to see children being taken through and having it explained to them.
Outside again in the Domain, if you head down to your left and past the sports grounds, the Wintergarden will be on your right. This pair of ornate glasshouses, one a tropical house and the other temperate were built in the early 1900s and include some rare and interesting specimens. The two houses are joined by the courtyard with a pond and vine-covered walkway. Entry to the Wintergarden is free. The Hop on Hop off bus circuit passes through the Domain and we saw a few of the Lime scooters around with people clearly making use of the zippy alternative for inner-city commutes.
12. Waitakere Ranges
The Waitakere Ranges National Park is a 40-minute drive west of the city. This is an amazing place to go for anyone who enjoys time out in nature. There are 16,000 hectares of native bush and coastline here crisscrossed with 250 km of walking tracks suited for all ages, interests and fitness levels.
On a scale of maximum impact and minimum effort the 10-minute easy walking track to the 30-metre high Karekare Falls is hard to beat but if you are out to earn your outdoor cred then the 4-day hike (or tramp as the locals call it) along the Hilary Track is the one you are looking for.
13. One Tree Hill & Cornwall Park
The two distinct parks are fully joined and it’s unclear when you move from one to the next, with 670 acres between them there is plenty of room to spread out and aside from the cafe and the hilltop it rarely feels busy. Maungakiekie or One Tree Hill is another of the city’s volcanic peaks that erupted with 3 craters, one remains complete the other two were breached by lava flows. The site is important to both Maori and European settler history and the obelisk that stands on it recognises that. On its face is a statue of a Maori Warrior, beneath it is the grave of John Logan Campbell.
The site is an important one to Aucklanders, together with Rangitoto sitting offshore it’s an instantly recognised landmark of the city and one we love but it does have some angst in its recent history. Today One Tree Hill has no tree, it was attacked by Maori activists in 1994 and again in 2000 to bring attention to the treatment of Maori by the government following the Treaty of Waitangi. Sadly the distinctive tree didn’t survive the second attack.
You need to walk part of the way to the top now, this photo was taken a couple of years ago when the road was still open but it’s worth doing it for the 360-degree views from up there on a clear day.
Cornwall Park next door is still used as farmland in its suburban landscape, you’ll be sharing it with a few sheep and rabbits but it has plenty of open space to get some fresh air or host a bit of a get together on a sunny Auckland day. There’s an impressive stand of Kauri trees, children’s parks, a cafe and the Stardome Observatory is on the grounds too.
14. Auckland Zoo
Auckland Zoo makes a great day out for the whole family. We’ve been here many times over the years and appreciate their commitment to conservation, research and ensuring a safe and quality environment for the animals. With 135 species in natural enclosures over the 16-hectare park, there is a lot to see and do.
You can read more about our recent visit and pick up your tickets online.
15. A day trip to Matakana
Not technically in Auckland itself but only an hour’s drive north is Matakana and as a bit of a foodie, I had to put this one on the list. This is a great day out, and a quick pro tip here is to always pack the chilly bin just in case you are tempted by something perishable, I know I always am.
Matakana Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 8 am until 1 pm in Market Square and there are many fabulous finds here. From market fresh fruit and vegetables to artisan products, the most incredible honey and ready-to-eat treats you will find it all here. Stop by, eat up and pick up some treats for later.
If you’ve missed the market then Matakana Market Kitchen is a cafe nearby serving up seasonal, local and creative dishes in a relaxed environment.
There are a number of wineries in the area, you can stop in for a tasting, breath in that fresh vineyard air and enjoy a platter or meal at some of them. Ascension Wines has been a long-time favourite and many a weekend afternoon has been spent here with family and friends.
Nearby you’ll find Point Wells and Omaha Beach, these areas have grown up a lot in recent years but are still rugged and beautiful. There’s now a cycleway that connects Matakana with them both, it’s mostly offroad but does include a couple of gravel and road sections. Along the way, you can stop off at vineyards, cafes and the well-known local pottery, Morris and James. Bikes can be hired from Matakana bicycle hire if you don’t have them.
The Sculptureum on Omaha Flats Road is on the way to Point Wells and has something to keep most people entertained with 3 sculpture gardens, 6 art galleries, a vineyard, an events space and the delicious menu of Rothko restaurant and bar.
16. The Regional Parks
Auckland has 8 Regional Parks that make for a great day out. If you are looking to see why Auckland is such a livable city, the proximity to these great beaches and nature areas really factor in. The parks are:
- Ambury Regional Park is a coastal working farm on the Manukau Harbour. There are remnants of historic Maori stone mounds here that were traditionally used for gardens showing it was used for farming well before European settlement. Walks here are popular with birders too with many species of migratory birds seen here each spring and summer. We have an article on the site with more information to help plan a visit.
- Awhito Regional Park south of the city has 2 white sand beaches, picnic and BBQ facilities and shared trails for walking, cycling and horse riding.
- Duder Regional Park is near Cleveland and has several beaches, safe swimming, good fishing, walking tracks and great coastal views.
- The Hunua Ranges are the largest native forest in the Auckland region with diverse wildlife and walking tracks to suit all levels. While you are here make sure you don’t miss Hunua Falls.
- Long Bay Regional Park we’ll skip over a little as I’ve covered it in the North Shore Beaches section above but the combination of the regional park and marine reserve makes this one you should try to see, and bring your swimmers.
- Shakespear Regional Park is on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula north of the city and is an open sanctuary, it serves as both a pest-free conservation area and public space. The sheltered beaches are family-friendly and bird watchers will love them. Most of NZ’s native wildlife are birds, there were no mammals in New Zealand before the Moriori and Maori settlers arrived.
- Tapapakanga Regional Park is another working coastal farm like Ambury, this time on the Firth of Thames. This one is great for kayakers to explore the extensive coastline and there is a campground here, it’s also popular with walkers and bird watchers.
- Tāwharanui Regional Park for me might be the jewel in the crown, it is absolutely beautiful. Located north of the city on the Tāwharanui peninsula it has options for swimming, snorkelling, diving, walking, mountain biking or a day relaxing on the beach.
17. Aotea Square
Aotea Square is a large paved gathering point in the central city. It’s the destination to go to for festivals, performing arts, open-air concerts and markets. It’s positioned about halfway up Queen Street, adjacent to the heritage town hall and the modern Aotea Centre.
The Auckland Town Hall is a heritage building in the Neo-Baroque style but is only open for performances, you can’t wander in to take a look. The Aotea Centre is a purpose-built convention centre and theatre.
18. Bastion Point
A good landmark to include with a visit to Kelly Tarltons Underwater World and Mission Bay as it sits between the two. There are wonderful views of the Waitemata Harbour and the inner islands from up here and the coastline out to St Heliers in one direction and the city in the other.
A sunken garden and obelisk dominate the site and are a memorial to Michael Joseph Savage, the country’s first Labour Prime Minister and founder of the Welfare State.
19. Sky Tower
The Sky Tower sits on top of the Sky City hotel and casino complex. It’s been a dominant feature on the city skyline since 1997 and at 328 metres it is (or was because these things change all the time) the tallest tower man-made structure in the southern hemisphere and the 25th tallest tower in the world.
You can see it from many parts of the city and it’s an easy landmark to pick out from the many hilltop lookouts around the city and out on the harbour.
Entry is by ticket up to the observation floor and you can also bungee jump or take a SkyWalk up there. An alternative is to book a meal at the 2-hatted Sugar Club or take a spin in the Orbit 360 revolving restaurant to enjoy the views.
20. Hop on hop off bus
If you’re planning to get out of the central city then the Auckland Explorer Bus can be a good option. There’s a one or two-day ticket option and two loop courses that complete a circuit hourly throughout the day. You can hop on and off either bus as you want to. Tickets also include a return ferry trip across to Devonport.
Stops include the Sky Tower, Parnell, Kelly Tarlton’s, Auckland Museum, Eden Park, the Zoo and Bastion Point
21. Tititiri Matangi
Tititiri Matangi is an island in the Hauraki Gulf around 30 km north of Auckland. This island has been a predator-free sanctuary for New Zealand birds and wildlife for many years now and was somewhere we loved to go when we were living in Auckland. After thoroughly enjoying a visit to the Wellington Zealandia sanctuary on our last trip home, Tiritiri Matangi is back on our list for our next visit and we highly recommend it to anyone who likes to spend time outdoors.
If you have a vehicle to get around you can take the trip across to the island from the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, the boat trip out is shorter and it’s a little cheaper. If you’re visiting and staying in Auckland we think the trip directly from Auckland City is a great choice. It’s around an 8 hour day with 5 hours on the island, the cruise is 90 minutes each way and it’s beautiful out on the water, this is a fantastic way to see for yourself why Auckland is called the City of Sails.
You’ll want to plan ahead and pack drinks, lunch and snacks in sealed containers, the island is a sanctuary so you won’t have access to shops and restaurants over there.
On the island, you’ll have the chance to see many rare native birds including the Takahe, Tui, Fantail and Bellbird as well as penguins around the coastline. You might even spot dolphins on the trip over.
22. Fish Market
The Auckland Fish Market has been providing fresh seafood in the city of sails for over 100 years. Today it’s a modern facility with an astonishing variety available, eat in or take home, and they have an onsite cooking school that gets some great reviews. It’s located in Freemans Bay on the city fringe which is easily reached by car, public transport or walk through from Wynyard Quarter and the Viaduct.
23. Parnell and the Rose Garden
Parnell is an upmarket city fringe suburb. The historic village is a combination of high-end boutiques, cafes and bars but the combination of leafy avenues, lovely old villas and atmosphere make it worth a wander through if you have the time. The Hop on Hop off bus stops here so is convenient if you’re considering stops on the loop.
There’s a chocolate shop I would suggest you try to include, too many coffee and lunch options to list and as the oldest suburb in the city it’s full of Auckland history. Bishop Selwyn selected Parnell as the centre for the Church of England in Auckland and selected the site of the cathedral at the top of the rise in 1842.
The Dove Myer Robinson Park, also known as the Parnell Rose Gardens is another stop worth a look for for those that enjoy a formal garden. The collection of 5000 roses is in spectacular bloom throughout summer and autumn and makes an interesting foreground to the view of the harbour and city.
24. Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s
The Kelly Tarlton underground aquarium is along the city waterfront at Orakei just before you get to Mission Bay. It opened in 1985 and was built making use of the old unused sewage tanks under the road and hillside, it used a process for creating curved tunnels from acrylic that was at the time quite new and innovative.
Kelly Tarlton who came up with the concept and whose name is still associated with the aquarium was a Kiwi diver and marine archeologist. A visit here has been a favourite with families for over 30 years and we won’t do the math but I remember how exciting it was when it opened. Today the aquarium is owned by the same group as the Sea Life we visited in Mooloolaba in Australia last year.
25. Kayaking on the Waitemata Harbour
The Hauraki Gulf is perfect for kayaking and it was something we loved doing when we lived here. There’s a great day trip out to Rangitoto Island where you paddle out and then climb to the summit, not as hard as it sounds but heck will your friends and family be impressed at your stamina.
For those that want a gentler introduction to Auckland kayaking but still enjoy some fun time out on the water, there are several other options. Mission Bay Watersports hire boats by the hours and Auckland Sea Kayaks in St Heliers rent by the day and run a variety of tours.
26. Soak up the village atmosphere in St Heliers Bay
As a teenager we lived in St Heliers so spent a good amount of time on and around this beach and still have a soft spot for it. The beach is flat and not overly busy, it’s safe swimming and the village just behind it has evolved into quite the hub of good cafes and bars.
The beach is less than 10 km from downtown Auckland along the scenic waterfront and 2.5km from Mission Bay. A walk along the beachfront promenade between the two beaches is highly recommended and an excellent justification for trying out some of the cafes at either end. When you’ve had enough it’s easy enough to pick up a bus back to the city anywhere along the way.
The Porch Bar or La Fourchette for brunch or lunch would be good options.
Getting to Auckland and getting around
Most visitors arrive through Auckland Airport, only 15 km from the city centre. A taxi from the taxi rank out front will cost approximately $50 – $60. Shuttle bus options are also available with drop-off at city hotels for around $25.
A more affordable option is the Skybus which costs $16 and takes around 40 minutes into the city but it won’t take you door to door so remember to ask the driver to tell you which is the closest stop to where you are staying.
All the major rental car companies have airport and city collection and drop-off points, if you are planning on going far from the city centre having your own transport at least for a few days is ideal. Public transport is functional for suburban destinations and will get you to places like the zoo, Kelly Tarltons and Mission Bay reasonably easily but it’s not ideal for seeing the sights further out.
Around the city the hop-on hop-off city bus is another alternative that stops in at the major sights and destinations, it’s not for those seeing the city on a tight budget but is a time-efficient way to see many of the sights around the city.
Trains from the city depart from Britomart for suburban routes and a dedicated station for the NZ Rail intercity trains. We recently wrote about our Northern Explorer Scenic Rail trip from Auckland to Wellington and this is an interesting option for transit and a tour rolled together. The New Zealand countryside really is beautiful and you get some great views from the train including transiting through the Tongariro National Park.
When to visit Auckland
As New Zealand’s largest and most populated city there is plenty going on here all year round.
In summer between December and February, the beaches and harbour are at their best for time out in and on the water, there’s a good portion of sunshine and less rain. This is the most popular time for visitors and the schools are on holiday in New Zealand for a good portion of the summer. Airfares and accommodation prices are higher due to summer demand.
The shoulder seasons of spring (Sept-Nov) and autumn (Mar-Apr) are a good option for many. There’s still a good amount of sunshine days, temperatures are mild and rainfall is low.
In winter from May until August you will usually get the best deals in Auckland and you won’t be contending with crowds at attractions but temperatures can be cold and the days frequently wet.
Need to stay connected when overseas? We travel with the WIFI2GO router to keep us connected when away from home. If you want to try them out WIFI2Go has offered our readers a discounted price of $8 per day if you mention 2 Aussie Travellers when you book.
Auckland is still one of our favourite places in the world and we love to return regularly. It’s big enough that there’s always something going on. There are some great restaurants and cafes, so many beaches and natural diversity all around. It can be tempting to skip a city in favour of getting further out when the time is limited but Auckland does have its share to commend it to any visitor.
We hope you have a fabulous time when you visit and if you have any questions please ask in the comments below. If you’re already familiar with Auckland we’d love you to share your city highlights and spots you like to take visitors to the city.
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