As locals, we don’t always appreciate all that Auckland has to offer. Somehow, we don’t see the attractive architecture of the city centre or the green spaces that appear everywhere you look. We’re blind to the white-sand beaches and the clean air. But a city that has one of the highest standards of living in the world also has a lot to offer the casual tourist – and a lot of it is cheap or free.
1. Have a drink at the Viaduct or Wynyard Quarter
Auckland’s harbour area was freshened up in the late nineties to host two America’s Cup regattas, and is now a pleasant place for a drink in the evening. Plus, over the past few years, the Wynyard Quarter area of the Viaduct has been developed too, to make for even more options.
Take your pick from dozens of bars and restaurants, all with sea views.
2. Visit one of the many markets around the city
Every Saturday, thousands of people congregate in Newbury Lane, in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, to buy fresh produce, clothes and arts and crafts. It’s a great place to experience Polynesian culture – if you’re lucky you’ll be treated to an impromptu concert or two.
One Sunday a month in summer, one of Auckland’s historic houses plays host to a pleasant little market full of tasty food and handmade items. It’s located in the fairly central suburb of Mt Albert, so it’s pretty easy to get too.
La Cigale French market
The French market is held in the even-more-central suburb of Parnell on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and there’s also a sister market held right in the city centre on Saturdays too. If you’re looking for French cheeses or pastries, this is the place to go.
Clevedon farmers market
This Sunday event is one of our favourite markets for its range of fresh produce and delicious lunch food. We usually find something surprising there too — last time, we bought a mini mushroom farm, to grow mushrooms in a plastic cup. Plus, you can easily create a day trip out of a visit to the Clevedon markets by adding in a hike or some wine tasting.
Although it’s about 90 minutes drive north of Auckland, a trip to the Saturday markets in Matakana is worth the journey. Add in a wander around the town and some wine tasting, and you’ve got a perfect day.
Heavy on food, the night markets around Auckland are a great choice for a street-food-style dinner. Find the one that’s closest to you here.
3. Attend a concert or watch a movie in a park
In summer, Aucklanders head outside, and so does the music. The biggest event is Christmas in the Park held in Auckland’s immense Domain, but other, smaller concerts are held in parks throughout the city all through summer.
Movies in parks are also a summer staple, with free films being shown in parks and public spaces of all sizes. There are also ticketed outdoor movies for newer releases.
4. Have a coffee in Mission Bay or Takapuna
These beachside suburbs are packed on weekends, as people come to enjoy the sun or have a drink if the weather isn’t favourable. Both Mission Bay and Takapuna feature a range of bars and restaurants, a nice beach, and a playground for children, and both are easy to reach by public transport from the city centre.
Check out Mission Bay’s iconic fountain and have an informal game of soccer, rugby, and frisbee in the park alongside the beach.
5. Go for a walk
Auckland is a great city for walking. If you’re up for a challenge, we recommend the 16km Coast to Coast walk, which stretches from the Viaduct Harbour to Onehunga.
There are lots of urban routes to follow, which will help you learn a bit about Auckland’s history. Check out the list on the Auckland Council website or drop into a library to pick up a paper brochure.
The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, a vast stretch of native bush, is situated about half an hour’s drive from the city centre and boasts an impressive range of well-maintained walking paths of various lengths. Unfortunately, many of these walks are currently closed to stop the spread of Kauri Dieback disease, which has killed many native trees already. Some walks are still open though — stop in at the Arataki Visitor Centre to pick up information on the tracks.
Alternatively, head south to the Hunua Ranges Regional Park for a range of good hikes, including to the iconic Hunua Falls. Please remember to clean your shoes and keep to the tracks to help with the control of Kauri Dieback.
6. Visit Rangitoto
Rangitoto Island’s profile is another symbol of Auckland, and this relatively new volcanic formation (it burst out of the sea about 800 years ago) can be seen from many parts of the city. If you’re feeling up for a bit of exercise, take the ferry across and climb to the top. Be aware that there’s almost no infrastructure on the island – take everything you need with you and be prepared to carry rubbish out again.
7. Go secondhand shopping in Devonport
If you’d like to get out on the water but don’t want to head to Rangitoto, Devonport is a good option. This North Shore suburb is just ten minutes from the city centre by ferry, and boasts some really nice secondhand bookstores as well as a range of opportunity shops. There are also some great restaurants and cafes, as well as a brand-new library.
Add a walk on to your trip by visiting Mt Victoria and North Head. North Head is full of tunnels dug out during the Second World War, and exploring them is a rite of passage for Auckland kids — join them, and take a torch if you can.
8. Go wine tasting
There are several wine regions within a short drive of the city, and most wineries don’t charge for tastings – though it’s good form for at least one of your party to buy a bottle at each stop. Head north to Matakana, northwest to Kumeu, or south to Clevedon and sample some of what New Zealand has to offer.
You’ll also hear of wine tasting on Waiheke Island, but pricy ferry tickets and tasting charges means that Waiheke wine tasting isn’t really a budget option!
9. Eat fish and chips on the beach
Fish and chips could be called NZ’s national dish, and eaten fresh and crispy from the paper, smothered in tomato sauce – ah, there’s nothing better. Wash it all down with a can of L&P, the national soft drink.
10. Surf or swim at Piha
Head out to the west coast to burn your feet on the black sand and get in amongst the waves.
There’s a lot more to do in Auckland than just these ten things – Waiheke Island, the restaurants of Ponsonby, the quirky atmosphere of K Road. But I don’t want to give too much away — go and discover Auckland for yourself.
This article was originally published in 2010, and was recorded as a podcast in 2019.