Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world, a swirling international metropolis where people from all over Asia and the South Pacific meet and mix with the native Maori traditions, British influence, and a bit of shoulder rubbing (and ribbing) with the Aussies. Combine the unique culture that results with the laid back, inclusive vibe of the New Zealanders, and you get a pulsing heart in the middle of a country of rugged isolation and incredible natural beauty.
The City of Sails sits between two great harbors, the Waitemata and the Manukau, and the Aucklanders take advantage of their geographic luck: over one-third of them own some sort of boat. Shoes are optional in the “Big Smoke” where dozens of beaches are only a thirty minute bus ride away and almost fifty volcano cones raise their sleepy heads around the cityscape.
Auckland’s neighborhoods are all easily accessed by the Link Bus, which runs in a loop around the city both ways and costs 1.60 NZD per trip, an inexpensive city tour!
Queen Street/CBD (Central Business District): Auckland’s business district and city center is home to the ferry terminal, cheapo souvenir shops, the Aotea weekend market at Aotea Square, and the Warehouse (a big Target-like store). Go to the Viaduct, the waterfront area full of fancy sailboats, excellent seafood restaurants and is THE place for nightlife in Auckland. Don’t miss Lenin, a communist-themed vodka bar; or Minus 5, a frozen bar where everything is made of ice, from the glasses to the sofas to the bar itself. Most major hotels and all big backpackers are in the CBD, and for a nice breakfast go to Vulcan Lane, a pedestrianized street with several neat sidewalk cafes right off the middle of Queen Street.
- The Auckland Art Gallery (Toi O Tamaki) is free and provides a great first glimpse into New Zealand culture, just two blocks off Queen Street on the edge of hilly Albert Park. Pop in to see Goldie’s portraits of the Maori people, amazing renditions of Maori people of the past.
- The Auckland Harbor Bridge is the site of A.J. Hackett’s first trial run of the bungee jump (he was prompted arrested and then followed it up the next year by jumping off the Eiffel Tower). You can follow in his footsteps and jump yourself, or do the free bridge climb and watch all the other idiots flinging themselves off a bridge.
- The SkyTower at SkyCity is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, and you can base-jump off the top of it!
- Ponsonby Road: Chocka with cute boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and hip bars, Ponsonby is the place to go for a hot Friday night date, and is right around the corner from the daily Victoria Market.
- K’Road: Turn the corner from Ponsonby to K’Road and the scene completely changes: fantastic vintage clothing stores, dark hookah lounges, sex shops, and tattoo parlors. The gay center of Auckland, gritty and interesting K’Road is a nightlife hot spot and THE place to go for late night dancing.
- Parnell: Parnell has some good shopping but is most interesting for the colonial architecture of the stores and coffee shops. From Parnell you can access the Auckland Domain (the big city park) and the Auckland War Memorial Museum which has a great view over the city and one floor each devoted to South Pacific Culture, the geological history of New Zealand, and war.
- Newmarket: This is where all the Aucklanders go to shop the big name brands. There are lots of clothing stores here, but skip it unless you really love to shop.
- Mission Bay: Sunbathe and swim in the shadow of Rangitoto, shop at the Saturday market, eat fish and chips next to the surf and finish it all off with an ice cream cone. My favorite place in Auckland, hands down, and best around high tide. You can take a bus to the beach and then join the walk back to the CBD along Tamaki Drive with the rollerbladers and dogwalkers, a lovely coastal stroll which takes one to two hours.
- Northshore: Home to a long stretch of beautiful beaches including Long Bay, Takapuna (with weekend market) and Milford, all with panoramic views of Rangitoto.
1 Ferry to Devonport to explore a quaint neighborhood with cute pubs and restaurants, neat shops, a quiet beach, and two volcanic cones to climb
2 Ferry to Rangitoto (Bloody Skies), Auckland’s iconic volcano which last erupted only six hundred years ago, and hike up lava floes to lava tunnels and 360 degree views of Auckland and its watery environs
3 Ferry to Waiheke Island to visit wineries, tramp through vineyards to clear beaches, and enjoy the arts and crafts scene of the island.
4 Piha: Dangerous surf beach with insane scenery, featured in the movie The Piano.