Whether it’s your first entry into the country, a pit stop to make some more cash in the middle of your trip, or your last port of call on the way out, you will most likely spend some time in Auckland during your visit to New Zealand. Though it is not the capital, it is the biggest city in the country and the closest you will come to a cosmopolitan experience on either island.
With hills that will remind you of San Francisco, green parks that call to mind Ireland, a Sky Tower with a striking resemblance to Seattle’s space needle and sporadic dormant volcanoes throughout, Auckland has definitely got a lot to offer visually. It doesn’t always get the credit it deserves in comparison to the rest of the country, where natural beauty abounds, but if you know where to go and what to do, you can really enjoy your time in Auckland. The city itself has some small but quaint beaches at St.Heliers and Mission Bay, but just a 40 minute drive to Piha will take you to epic surf, beaches and camping. You don’t have to go far out of the city to experience the rest of New Zealand.
Where To Stay
Queen Street Backpackers. My boyfriend and I stayed there when we first arrived and always reccommend it to friends. It isn’t the fanciest or coolest looking hostel but it is affordable and has everything you need. Plus, located just off Queen Street in the CBD, you can’t beat the location. It also has a really fun social vibe with a bar located in the lobby and happy hour every night. You will definitely meet some fellow travelers here. Nomads Hostel is located next door and costs a little bit more, but has a proper bar and restaurant and includes dinners. If you are only here for a few days, Auckland Central is the best place to say because you can easily access any other neighborhood.
What to Do
Auckland gets a bad rap sometimes as being a bit more boring than all the other places in New Zealand. First of all, that can depend on the time of year. Its true that the city can feel like a bit of a ghost town during the winter and locals tend to stay inside, even on weekends. But once the sun comes out, so do the people. Restaurants and bars move their seating outdoors, rooftop hangouts sprout up, people start jumping off the Sky Tower, and it’s finally warm enough to enjoy those beaches and parks.
- Mount Eden– dormant volcano (the best one) with an excellent view of the city. It is a bit of a hike to get up, which I love, and is a perfect place to chill in the sun with an epic view on a Saturday.
- One Tree Hill– another dormant volcano, though this one is better to drive up. Has a cool monument at the top and a great view of South Auckland.
- Mission Bay Beach/St.Heliers– one of my favorite things to do is to rent a bicycle for $30 and cycle out to Mission Bay Beach or, if I’m feeling ambitious, a bit further on to St. Heliers. Both are qauint little beach towns. Stop for a beer and some oysters or an ice cream before your cycle back!
- Silo Park-past the Viaduct lies Silo Park. Though it can seem abandoned in the winter, in the summer it comes to life. There are plenty of bars and restaurants along the dock. The park itself opens up with food trucks on Wednesdays and Saturdays and they do outdoor movie showings on Saturday Nights. Bring a blanket for the movie because it does get chilly when the sun goes down.
- Victoria Park- If you want to go for a run, the track around Victoria Park is a great choice. With cricket, football, and all kinds of random team sports going on the massive pitch, you will have plenty to watch while you run. There are also a places to sit in the sun and an epic skate park if skateboarding is your thing.
- Sky Tower– worth a trip up the elevator for the epic panoramic views of Auckland alone. The brave can choose to bungee jump off the top or do a “Sky Walk” where you walk around the rim of the tower. It’s all a bit “Spiderman” for me but I will happily enjoy a glass of pinot from behind the safety of the glass window while watching others participate.
- Ponsonby– Victorian houses settled on little hills and some of the best bars, restaurants and shopping in the city make this neighborhood remind me of my home in San Francisco, so I may be biased. You could easily spend a day here window shopping and sampling all the delicious food on Ponsonby Road (more on that later…)
- K-Road- Located at the top of Queen Street, this road is worth a visit if you like vintage shopping and gay bars. I happen to love both.
- Takapuna Beach– located just a 20 minute bus ride across the bridge from Auckland, Takapuna has the beach side town vibes that you would think you have to drive a lot further to find. Escape the city vibes for a day and lie in the sun on a very beautiful beach with views of the city.
Where to Eat
Auckland. Has. The. Best. Food. Between the fresh local produce, excellent coffee, heavy Asian influence, and eclectic fusion fare, you will not go hungry in Auckland, but you will pay for it. It is worth the splurge every now and again.
- Ponsonby Central– this little shopping center, located smack in the middle of Ponsonby Road, is home to some of the best restaurants in Auckland. Notably, The Blue Breeze Inn, two words: pork buns. Also, Dante’s Pizzeria: authentic Italian wood-fired pizzas that melt in your mouth.
- Auckland Central- any Japanese or Korean restaurant you go to in the CBD will blow your mind. I have had some of the best sushi and ramen ever in some little hole-in-the-wall spots found here.
- Cafe Hanoi– Vietnamese fusion. The rice krispy shrimp will change your world.
- The Bamboo Basket– traditional Vietnamese banh mi made with love by the nicest people you will ever meet.
- Sal’s Pizza– classic New York pizza. Literally, all the ingredients are flown in. Drooling.
- Cafe Melba– excellent coffee and breakfast here. Try the smashed avocado and feta with smoked salmon and poached egg. Enough said.
Where to Drink
Auckland is not really a party city. If you are looking for one, head to Queenstown. Having said that, there are a few bars worth checking out.
- Britomart Country Club– outdoors (smoking!), good food, awesome drinks and a hospitality discount. Whats not to love?
- Sweatshop Brew Kitchen– awesome BBQ and nightclub vibes on Friday and Saturday nights, if that’s what you are looking for.
- The Fiddler– small but great Irish pub. They have Guinness on tap (unlike Danny Doolans) and a pool table/open air balcony on top. Live music is a plus.
- Revelry– cool Ponsonby location, cheap drinks, and sunny seating. You will feel like you are in a sexy medetterranean bar.
- Cassette Nine– teapots and backpacker drink specials. This is a no-brainer. Different themed music every night.
It may cost you a penny (or two, or ten) but Auckland has a few gems that are worth checking out. Whether you are just passing through or making it your home, give it a fair chance. When the weather is good and the Aucklanders are out to play, there are few places I would rather spend a Saturday.