Auckland, known as the “City of Sails” is New Zealand’s largest city. It’s surrounded by sea and is studded with volcanic mountains, and is a very pleasant place to live or visit — it ranked third in the 2011 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey, up from previous years.

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Layout

Auckland is a very spread-out city, with a land area almost equalling that of Los Angeles — but it spreads north and south rather than in all directions, as it’s situated on a narrow isthmus. Auckland’s four main regions recently merged to create a “super-city” with one governing body, but the geographical divisions remain: across the Harbour Bridge from the central city is the North Shore, to the west is Waitakere (with the Waitakere Ranges parklands behind the suburban sprawl), and South Auckland (the ex-Manukau City) is, surprisingly, to the south.

The central business district is centred around Queen Street, which runs from the harbour south (up) to Karangahape (“K”) Road. Quay Street runs along the waterfront, with Viaduct Harbour at its western end and Britomart Transport Centre a little to the east of Queen Street. At the top of Queen Street, following K Road to the east will take you to to the Auckland Domain, and westwards is trendy Ponsonby.

Fact box

Name: Auckland, New Zealand
Place: North Island, New Zealand
Population:1.4 million
Languages: English. Maori and New Zealand Sign Language are also official languages
Known for: The Sky Tower, hosting the Americas Cup, scenery
Temperatures: Summer 14-24, winter 7-15
Airports: Auckland International Airport (AKL), 20km south of city. Find airfare to New Zealand.
Price of a pint: NZ$8
Price of a dorm bed: NZ$20-25
Price of a public transport ticket: NZ$1.80 (one stage on the bus)

Accommodation

Auckland has the full range of places to stay. High-end options include the Hilton, the Stamford Plaza, and the Skycity Grand Hotel at the base of the Sky Tower. For budget hotels, try Jucy Hotel, or see what wotif.com has to offer.

There are a wide range of hostels to choose from, most of which have both dorm beds and private rooms available. Be aware that you might be charged extra for linen, as many hostels expect you to bring your own sleeping bag.

Food

As a vibrant multi-cultural city, Auckland has quality food on offer from all over the world. Takeaway options include sushi, kebabs, pizza, Chinese, Korean and a whole lot more. Make sure you drop into a bakery or dairy (convenience store) and try a hot meat pie — it’s traditional. Another great cheap eat is fish and chips — you’ll find a fish and chip shop in every suburb, and a feast on the beach is a great way to start the weekend.

The meat in New Zealand is second-to-none, so make sure you have a juicy steak or dig into some lamb shanks if you’re so inclined — animals in New Zealand have a good life before they hit your plate, so there’s no guilt required.

Check out what to eat and drink in New Zealand.

Transport

Sadly, Auckland’s public transport isn’t the most comprehensive, since the population density is so low. You’ll be fine walking around the city, but if you want to venture further afield you’re better off hiring a car. Taxis are generally safe and well-priced, though it’s usually easier to call ahead for one than trying to hail one on the street.

auckland-harbour-rangitoto
When you arrive, you’ll likely arrive at the Auckland International Airport. Getting away from there is an expensive enterprise unless you get someone to pick you up. The Airbus is probably your best bet — to the city it’s $16 one-way, $26 return. A taxi could be a little cheaper if there’s three or more of you, depending on your destination.

If you decide to brave the public transport, you’ll probably be catching the bus. The train network has improved recently, but doesn’t cover very much of the city. Buy your ticket for the bus from the driver — just state your destination and the driver will tell you the price. A day pass will probably save you some cash if you’re planning to do a lot of travelling in one day, and if you’re staying in the city for a while it might be worth getting a Hop card. It’s a tag-on, tag-off card that you load with money and can also use to make small purchases in some shops. You get a discount off the cash fare and can travel for free on the red City Link buses with a Hop card. Check out maxx.co.nz for more information.

Auckland transport information

Hire a Spaceship in Auckland

And find out why Spaceships are the swiss army knife of campervans.
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Attractions — free

Auckland’s a city where a wander around will be rewarded. Explore posh Ponsonby, edgy Kingsland and the always-busy Viaduct and brand-new Wynyard Quarter, then head further afield to a suburb of your choice. Mission Bay is worth a visit, for a swim in summer or a coffee any time. There are a lot of parks to explore and relax in, or choose a beach you like the look of — Piha being the best-known surf beach.

ascension-winery
Head out to the Waitakere Ranges (west) to do some short day walks, have a picnic at the top of one of Auckland’s many volcanic hills, and visit Otara markets (south) for fresh fruit and veges, clothes and knick-knacks.

New Zealand is well-known for its wines and there are four wine regions within day-trip distance from Auckland. Matakana to the north, Kumeu to the northwest, Clevedon to the south, and Waiheke Island — a 45-minute ferry ride away. Most wineries won’t charge you for tastings (except on Waiheke), but it’s polite to buy something if you can, especially if there’s a large group of you.

Attractions — seasonal

In summer, Auckland is buzzing with free events, mostly held in the parks which dot the city. Music in Parks tends to be held in smaller reserves, while the big events like Christmas in the Park are held in the enormous Domain.

In summer, Auckland is buzzing with free events.

Auckland University’s annual Summer Shakespeare is also held outside, on the grounds of the University ($25 per person), and the Lantern Festival to celebrate Chinese New Year is held just across the road in Albert Park.

Other events that are held at various times throughout the year include the Pasifika Festival in March, the Comedy Festival in May, and the Film Festival in July. Plus, there are many sporting events to attend, from school competitions to premier events — notably the Rugby World Cup, which took place in 2011. And hopefully the America’s Cup yacht race will be held here again soon! Check out the Auckland Council website for event listings.

Attractions — paid

craig-bungy
Auckland has the regular offerings — a good museum and art gallery (recently refurbished and reopened), an aquarium (Kelly Tarlton’s) and an amusement park (Rainbow’s End). But its real attraction lies in its natural beauty, so spend your sightseeing money on seeing the sights. Catch a ferry to Rangitoto Island ($27 pp return) and hike to the top of the volcanic peak. Or you could visit Waiheke Island ($35 pp return) or Great Barrier ($85 pp return, $120 during holiday season) but each of these really require more than a day. The zoo is worth a visit if you’re travelling with kids, and while you’re out there drop into the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

A trip to the top of the Sky Tower is a must (NZ$28), and you can even bungy off it if you want ($195 for backpackers). The Harbour Bridge also has a bungy option (NZ$150), or you could do the Harbour Bridge Climb (NZ$120) if you think you’d look good in their attractive jumpsuits.

See more things to do in Auckland

Guidebooks

Lonely Planet’s Auckland guide is compact and useful, and you’ll find comprehensive information in their New Zealand guide as well. Rough Guides has a New Zealand guide, and Wallpaper’s Auckland guide is beautiful and informative. And Offbeat Guides will create a personalised guide for you using information sourced online.

Where to next?

You’ve probably flown in to Auckland from overseas, so you definitely need to see more of New Zealand. Hire or buy a car and head north for a few days then go south to explore more of the North Island. You need at least 10 days to see the North Island, and you can take your car on the ferry across to the South Island — allow two weeks minimum. You can fly out of Christchurch, so leave your car there and head to Australia or a nice Pacific Island such as Fiji or Samoa.

Where next?

Your thoughts on "Travel in Auckland, New Zealand podcast"

  • thanks for this timely article. i've just planned my rtw trip to include NZ. its nice to know that the month i have planned will be sufficient to see both the North and South islands. :)

    on May 23, 2009 at 1:42 am Reply
  • Excellent writeup! I'm headed to NZ in mid June and will be traveling solo. May not get to spend too much time in Auckland but this is helpful for sure. I just discovered your site so let me keep exploring. I will be spending about a week in the South Island and hope you have as helpful info about places there as this one for Auckland. Cheers Raul

    on May 24, 2009 at 10:20 pm Reply
  • Hi guys, Great tour! I was wondering if you would mind adding your tour to Walk With Me, it's a site I set up for sharing audio tours. Keep up the good work! Adam

    on May 25, 2009 at 7:26 pm Reply
  • Glad to help, guys. We've just finished a 3 week tour in a Spaceship van and that was really good for us. You might want to check out one of our older episodes, Independent travel in New Zealand and keep an eye out for our review of Lonely Planet's South Island guidebook in the next few weeks. Of course, you can always flick us an email - mail at indietravelpodcast.com

    on May 25, 2009 at 7:11 am Reply
  • Hi There. This is a very informative post. We will be passing this along to our readers. Very useful for Jet Set Travellers who have plans of travelling to New Zealand.

    on May 27, 2009 at 2:11 pm Reply
  • Hi guys, thanks for your positive feedback. Make sure you check the archives for several other city guides.

    on May 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm Reply
  • We just re-recorded this podcast and updated the shownotes here, as at 16 January, 2012.

    on January 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm Reply

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