Some travelers skip Auckland altogether in a rush to get to Queenstown or other parts of New Zealand. I think this is a mistake, as Auckland and its surrounding area have much to offer travelers looking for culture, the best dining in New Zealand, art, outdoor pursuits, and more. I highly recommend spending at least two days in Auckland – one to explore the city, the other to visit Waiheke Island, West Coast Beaches, Hauraki Gulf, and nearby vineyards.
Auckland is located between two harbors, a privileged setting with water nearby no matter where you are. The city is built over and around a series of dormant volcanoes that dot the metropolitan area and give Auckland its hills, unique character, and plenty of great vantage points for photos. Within an hour’s drive from the city, you will find black sand beaches on the west coast, thermal springs, vineyards, and a nature reserve, and that’s just for starters. Auckland is also notable for being the metropolis of the South Pacific and home to the biggest Polynesian population of any city in the world. About one in three New Zealanders lives in Auckland, with a population of about 1.6 Million.
A few highlights in & near Auckland:
- Start your visit of the city center at Auckland’s Town Hall and Aotea square. Continue to Auckland Art Gallery and Khartoum Place, which commemorates New Zealand’s becoming first in the world to give women the right to vote. Visit Albert Park, Old Government House, University Clock Tower, and the older pubs of Vulcan Lane. Continue your visit with a walk through the Britomart district and Wynyard Quarter, with many great bars and restaurants. (See below for restaurant recommendations).
- Great Views. I recommend either going to the summit of Mount Eden (Auckland’s highest dormant volcano), or going to the top of The Sky Tower, almost 1,000 feet/328 mts high and the southern hemisphere’s tallest structure. Another idea: Catch a ferry at the main terminal (Britomart district) and head for Northcote or Bayswater, for great views coming & going.
- Auckland Museum. If you visit only one museum in Auckland, this is the one to see. The museum is housed in an enormous neoclassical building in an area called Auckland Domain, a vast green space that spans about 200 acres. Auckland Museum houses displays of Pacific island and Maori cultural treasures on the ground floor, and a war memorial on the second floor. New Zealand’s ANZAC commemorations take place outside this building every year, on April 25th. A short walk from Auckland Museum is the Wintergarden, two large greenhouses with temperate and tropical vegetation and beautiful flower displays, built about 100 years ago.
- Bar Hopping and Dining in fashionable Ponsonby Road.
- Waiheke Island. This beautiful island, just 40 minutes away by ferry from central Auckland, is a favorite getaway for residents. Enjoy many great beaches, visit one of 30 vineyards on the island, hike, or just enjoy the views as you have drinks or lunch.
- Western Beaches. Visit the rugged black sand beaches of Karekare or Piha, for the beautiful views, less than an hour’s drive from central Auckland. On the way there/back, stop at The Hunting Lodge or The Riverhead Gastropub for lunch.
- Outdoor Pursuits. As always in New Zealand, the outdoor adventures are always nearby. Kayak Auckland Harbour, climb Auckland Bridge (and Bungy Jump if you are crazy enough), sail on a genuine America’s cup yacht, hike coast to coast, surf, or jump/walk/scream on the outside edge of the Sky Tower (don’t worry, you will have a safety harness!).
Restaurant Recommendations: Here are a few recommendations from local experts and concierges whom I trust. Full disclosure: I personally dined at Amano and Soul Restaurants – both excellent.
- In the North Wharf, try Baduzzi, the Italian restaurant on Jellicoe St.
- In the Viaduct Harbour Basin, try Oyster and Chop, Headquarters, Soul Bar & Bistro, Euro Bar and Restaurant, or Dr. Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Co.
- Near the Ferry Building, try Botswana Butchery
- In the Britomart Quarter, try Amano or Ostro, both on Tyler St.
- Fine dining: try Sid at The French Café (210 Symonds St.), Cassia (5 Fort Lane), or Sidart (283 Ponsonby Road). Note – Book way ahead, as these 3 are very popular, especially on weekends.
Where to stay? Signature has two great partner hotels in Auckland.
- Sofitel Auckland is in the heart of Viaduct Harbour district, convenient to the city center. The hotel is next to a marina, and offers 172 spacious bedrooms and suites, all with floor to ceiling glass and balconies. The hotel has a bright, light, feel to it, and is surrounded by water. The starting room category offers 376 square feet of space, with large bathroom. My favorite room type was the junior suite category, with separate living space and about 550 sq. ft. The most requested view is the ‘marina view’, overlooking the harbor and city center. Sofitel Auckland has a great restaurant in the ground floor, as well as a spa, pool, and gym.
- Park Hyatt Auckland will open fall 2019 and will be THE premier luxury hotel in the city. The property is located on a pier on the Wynyard Quarter, with water on three sides, and 75% of rooms will have views of Waitemata Harbour. Park Hyatt Auckland has a seven story atrium and will offer 195 guestrooms, including 23 suites. Guestrooms will start at about 500 sq. feet/47 sq. meters, making them the most spacious starting category in Auckland. The hotel will have four restaurants and bars, a 75-foot long infinity pool, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center. Every guestroom will have a balcony or French balcony. Here are two images to give you an idea of the new Park Hyatt Auckland:
Courtesy of IGNACIO MAZA / Signet