Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and, as the site of the major international airport, most visitors’ first view of the country. Planes bank over the island-studded Hauraki Gulf and yachts with bright spinnakers tack through the glistening waters of the Waitemata Harbour towards the “City of Sails”. The downtown sprouts skyscrapers and is surrounded by the grassy humps of some fifty-odd extinct volcanoes, and a low-rise suburban sprawl of prim wooden villas surrounded by substantial gardens. Look beyond the glitzy shopfronts and Auckland has a modest small-town feel and measured pace, though this can seem frenetic in comparison with the rest of the country.
Auckland is one of the least densely populated cities in the world, occupying twice the area of London and yet home to only 1.5 million inhabitants. It is also the world’s largest Polynesian city. Around eleven percent of the population claim Maori descent while fourteen percent are families of migrants who arrived from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and other South Pacific islands during the 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, the Polynesian profile has traditionally been confined to small pockets, and it is only now, as the second generation matures, that Polynesia is making its presence felt in mainstream Auckland life, especially in the arts.
Many visitors only stay in the city long enough for a quick zip around the smattering of key sights, principally the Auckland Museum, with its matchless collection of Maori and Pacific Island carving and artefacts. A better taste of the city is gleaned by ambling around the fashionable inner-city suburbs of Ponsonby, Parnell, Newmarket and Devonport, and using the city as a base for exploring the wild and desolate West Coast surf beaches and the wineries, all less than an hour from the city centre. With more time, head out to the Hauraki Gulf islands: craggy, volcanic Rangitoto, sophisticated Waiheke, bird-rich Tiritiri Matangi and chilled-out Great Barrier.
Auckland’s climate is temperate and muggy, though never scorching hot, and the humidity is always tempered by a sea breeze. Winters are generally mild but rainy.Read More
Auckland harbour activities
Auckland harbour activities
Though most visitors head out into the “real” New Zealand for a little adventure, Auckland has plenty on its doorstep. The city is so water-focused that it would be a shame not to get out on the harbour at some point, either on a ferry to one of the outlying islands, a cruise, a dolphin and whale safari or a sea-kayaking trip. You can also do a bridge climb and a bungy jump off the Harbour Bridge.
Cruises and sailing
America’s Cup Sailing t 0800 724 569, w explorenz.co.nz. Head around to Viaduct Harbour to crew on America’s Cup racing yachts NZL41 (raced by Japan in the 1995 cup) and NZL68 (used as a trial boat by New Zealand in 2007). There’s a chance to grind the winches or take the helm as you get a real sense of power and speed.
Auckland Harbour Cruise t 09 367 9111, w fullers.co.nz. Fullers offer a two-hour cruise that leaves the Ferry Building, briefly visiting the Harbour Bridge and Rangitoto Island. You can stay on Rangitoto and return on a later cruise, and the ticket gives you a free return ferry ride to Devonport.
Pride of Auckland t 0800 724 569, w explorenz.co.nz. Leisurely sailing trips, a lunch cruise, a dinner cruise and a sail to Waiheke Island with a ferry trip back.
Dolphin and whale watching
Whale & Dolphin Safari Viaduct Harbour t 0800 397 567, w explorenz.co.nz. There are stacks of common and bottlenose dolphins out in the Hauraki Gulf year-round, often forming huge pods in winter and spring when Bryde’s whale and orca sightings increase. Educational and entertaining trips head out on a fast, 20m ctamaran which also undertakes marine mammal reserach. Dolphins (which are seen on ninety percent of trips) are often located by the cluster of gannets spectacularly dive-bombing schools of fish. If you don’t see any marine mammals you can go again, free, either here on in the Bay of Islands.
Kayaking and kayak fishing
Auckland Sea Kayaks t 0800 999 089, w aucklandseakayaks.co.nz. Great guided kayak tours including an easy paddle over to Browns Island, a longer trip to Rangitoto with a summit hike, a Rangitoto evening/night trip with sunset from the summit and excellent food along the way, and a range of overnight trips including camping on Motuihe Island, where there are Little Spotted kiwi.
Fergs Kayaks 12 Tamaki Drive, Okahu Bay t 09 529 2230, w fergskayaks.co.nz. Offers guided trips 7km across the Waitemata Harbour to Rangitoto Island, hiking to the summit, then paddling back. Alternatively, opt for their 3km paddle to Devonport with a hike up North Head. In both cases, the later departure gives you a chance to paddle by moon or torchlight. Single sea kayaks, doubles, or slightly cheaper sit-on-tops are also available to rent; trips to Rangitoto and Devonport are not generally allowed for rentals.
TIME Unlimited t 0800 868 463, w newzealandtours.travel. Gorgeous bays and islands are the focus of these trips. Groups are generally limited to six and (unusually for kayak operators) single kayaks are available. They even run an overnight trip with lots of fishing and camping out. Fishing takes precedence with full-day kayak-fishing tours on which you might expect to catch snapper, kingfish and John Dory, and swim after lunch on a gorgeous beach.
Auckland Bridge Climb and Bungy
Auckland Bridge Climb t 0800 462 5462, w aucklandbridgeclimb.co.nz. Take in the excellent city views from the highest point on the city’s harbour, crossing some 65m above the Waitemata Harbour. There’s no actual climbing involved, just 90min strolling along steel walkways while harnessed to a cable as guides relate detail on the bridge’s fulcrums, pivots and cantilevers. Reservations are essential and anyone over seven can go. Cameras are not allowed but there’ll be someone on hand to take a snap and sell it to you later. Free transport from Viaduct Harbour.
Auckland Bridge Bungy t 0800 462 5462,w bungy.co.nz. The place to go for an adrenaline rush, a 40m leap and a water touch. There’s free transport from Viaduct Harbour and you get the free bragging T-shirt.
The Hillary Trail
The Hillary Trail
In honour of the 2008 passing of New Zealand’s mountaineering hero, Sir Edmund Hillary, Auckland has linked a series of existing walking tracks through the Waitakere Ranges into the Hillary Trail (70km; 3–4 days; w arc.govt.nz). Running from the Arataki Visitor Centre via Whatipu, Karekare, Piha and Te Henga to Muriwai, it gives a great sense of the region – regenerating rainforest, stands of kauri, rocky shores, black-sand beaches and historic remains. The highest point is only 390m but it is an undulating track and moderate to good fitness is required. Occasionally slippery, steep paths and unbridged streams can make it a good deal harder in winter, and in any season the last 27km day takes most people at least 10hr.
Nights are generally spent in primitive campsites ($5; book on t 09 366 2000), though you can stay under a roof in Whatipu, Piha and Te Henga. The best source of on-the-ground information is the Arataki Visitor Centre.