Popular Things to Do in Auckland
Food and Drink in Auckland
Waterfront dining: Auckland is set on one of the prettiest harbours in the world and it's well worth exploring its restaurants, bars and cafe scene. Start by following sure-footed caffeine junkies to Mojo (20 Viaduct Harbour) where you can sit and philosophise over a piccolo or two and plot your next move on your Auckland offline map app. Head over to the Viaduct to The Crab Shack (137 Quay Street), where NZ seafood -- and especially the crab -- is sacred and you can twist and crack to your heart's content with no judgment from your fellow seafood lovers.
Sit amid the cool kids, drinking and gossiping, at Saint Alice, a waterfront bar and eatery looking over the Viaduct Harbour (Level 1, 204 Quay Street). Kaimoana (seafood) here is king so do order the fried oyster McMuffins with woodfired king prawns. Nearby at Hello Beasty (95-97 Customs Street West) is where you will find award-winning chef Stuart Rogan plating up pan-Asian cuisine that roams the globe from Japan to Korea and China then back to North Island New Zealand.
Masterchef NZ judge Simon Gualt presides over Euro (Shed 22, Princes Wharf), where locals swoon over dishes such as fresh crumpets with pastrami and salmon caviar and Hawke's Bay lamb rack. Gault knows his way around a bar menu, too, with fried chicken the go-to at sister restaurant, Giraffe (85/89 Customs Street West).
The Mexican wave has well and truly arrived in Auckland with a plethora of colourful places to choose from, hidden amid Auckland's extravagant rejuvenation plans. Frida (85-89 Customs Street West) is also on the waterfront and primed to charm: settle around a table in the colourful courtyard, which draws a lively crowd for its reinvented Mexican street cuisine. Try classic dishes of enchiladas and ceviche and indulge in a few Jalapeno-infused tequilas from the lengthy list of bebidas (drinks).
The Maori Kitchen (89 Quay Street, Queens Wharf Village) has its own hangi pits onsite and draws on this 1000-year-old tradition to deliver traditional indigenous Maori cuisine. Here, food such as fish, chicken, and kumara (sweet potato) have been cooked in a pit dug in the ground. Try the hangi tuturu (the works) or a hangi burrito, a mash-up of Maori and Mexican cuisine.
The 2011 Rugby World Cup gave the City of Sails a bit of a nudge in the right direction, prompting the redevelopment of the Auckland Art Gallery and revitalisation of the Britomart neighbourhood. If you do nothing else in Auckland, have lunch at Ortolana (33 Tyler Street, Britomart), which means "market gardener" in reference to the fact chef Jo Pearson sources the best local, seasonal produce from the restaurant's own farm. Try the crayfish ravioli, which is served wallowing in a shellfish bisque.
There are so many amazing eateries around the Auckland waterfront that the best bet is to choose what feels right for you in the moment. Amano is one of Auckland's top restaurants and the Italian-themed restaurant, bar and artisan bakery is where to go to see and be seen.
Bar bites are also big in Auckland. Settle in for the afternoon at Saint Alice (Level 1/204 Quay Street), a sun-soaked space down by the water, to enjoy share plates of woodfired broccoli or a roasted butternut salad. Expect a soundtrack of squawking gulls at Soul Bar & Bistro (cnr Lower Hobson Street and Customs Street West), a popular spot to have a beverage while watching the sun set. Vegetarians are made to feel more than welcome with a set menu of veg-led dishes such as the brassica bowl or salt-baked kumara.
To discover what's fuelling Aucklanders, visit The Parasol & Swing Company, which won an Outstanding New Venue award in 2018 and has a killer view over the marina. Yes, you can wolf down burgers and waffles, but it's the cocktail menu at this rooftop watering hole that makes this bar a must for merrymaking. Chat to the barkeeps: they love to tell a few tales over a tipple.
HeadQuarters Viaduct (115 Customs Street West) is a semi-permanent pop-up that aims to stick around long enough to see the America's Cup successfully defended in 2021. There are DJs here Wednesday to Sunday and crowds of sports fans fidgeting while watching their team on an oversized LED screen. But it's the white yachts bobbing on the water and gulls dancing and reeling that is the real lure. Fight for a table by the window and order Wakanui Scotch fillet alongside a Tuatara Kapai NZ Pale Ale.
While it's easy to bounce from one bar to the next in Auckland, you can also settle in for a rowdy session at Dr Rudi's Bowling Alley & Bar (Level 2/204 Quay Street). The two bowling lanes are free for all to use so the rooftop brewery bar can get raucous. Tenpin bowling is a sport that marries well with beer and finger food such as cocktail samosas and spring rolls, making Dr Rudi's one of the most popular venues for hens and bucks parties in Auckland. Those who enjoy a bit of performance art over a beverage or two will enjoy Holey Moley Golf Club (204 Quay Street) for rounds of putt-putt, karaoke and two-for-one hot dogs.**
Downtown (Big Night -- or Day -- Out): Harbourside specialises in seafood and the finest harbour views from its second-floor outdoor deck; definitely try to snag one of those tables on a nice day (or night). Locals unanimously recommend The French Cafe (210 Symonds Street), awarded two hats in the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards. Don't miss out on the gin-cured Big Glory Bay Salmon (and a great local wine list) at the O'Connell Street Bistro (3 O'Connell Street), an Auckland institution.
Downtown's Sky City: This massive entertainment and dining complex houses some of the city's best -- and trendiest -- restaurants. Go to The Grill by Sean Connolly (90 Federal Street). It's got fabulous local seafood (oysters, king crab) and outstanding steaks with duck fat French fries. Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar (86 Federal Street) is a fast-paced oyster bar headed by chef Al Brown that wouldn't feel out of place in New Orleans. And, for romantic evenings, try The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon (53rd Floor, Sky City, cnr Federal and Victoria Streets).
The Neighbourhoods: You really can just stroll up and down the main drag in Ponsonby and pick an eatery based on your mood (they come in all shapes and sizes). After browsing the boutiques, which is in itself a pleasure, head to Prego (226 Ponsonby Road) for wood-fired pizzas. Options in posh-as Ponsonby include Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, regional New Zealand, French, Italian, and on and on. The restaurants are pretty much clustered in the 100 to 200 blocks of Ponsonby Road, which is just 10 minutes from Auckland's CBD. Nightclubbers take note: there's a lot of action here after dinner as well.
Waiheke Island: Waiheke was once famed as a nesting spot for people in search of alternative lifestyles and really gained prominence as a destination for boho tribes in the 1970s. These days, it attracts Auckland commuters and active types drawn to its great beaches and water sports. It also appeals to connoisseurs of food and wine. The ferry ride is NZ$36.50 (AUD$35) return.
VinoVino Restaurant & Bar (153 Ocean View Road) is the only place in the town of Oneroa on Waiheke that offers scenic waterfront dining. Order a dozen oysters, which are plucked from Te Matuku Bay, on Waiheke Island, and the "scallops from hell", which have a roundhouse kick of chilli. For a first-time visit to Waiheke, book The Premium Waiheke Wine & Food Experience with Ananda Tours**
Beaches in Auckland
Best for a Half-Day Visit: Karekare is famous as the location for the 1993 film The Piano. Plan a pre-cruise excursion to the black-sand beach of Karekare, which is famed for its steep cliffs and vast, magnificent Waitakere Ranges. Cue the Crowded House album "Together Alone", which was recorded at Karekare, and admire the North Island in all its majesty. This is not a swimming beach; the rips are unpredictable and this section of the coast is rugged and wild. Lifeguards advise swimming between the red and yellow flags during patrol hours. The beach is more laidback than nearby Piha.
Best for Active Types: Karaka Bay is a secluded urban beach that not a lot of visitors know about. The bay beach, a 30-minute taxi drive, offers beautiful views over the Hauraki Gulf and Rangitoto and Motukorea (Browns) islands. Ask the taxi driver to drop you off at the end of Peacock Street, then follow the bush path down to the water's edge. It's a steep climb, but worth it if you have energetic kids in tow as there are swinging ropes tied up in the pohutukawa trees. The sandy beach is suitable for swimming.
Best on Waiheke Island: Onetangi Beach is located on Waiheke Island, about a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland. While most visitors to Waiheke visit here for the vineyards, and charming villages, Onetangi Beach is a two-kilometre-long white sandy beach that is perfect for a picnic. Stop in at one of the island's cellar doors to pick up a bottle of cab sav (one of the varietals the island is known for) and a few additional picnic provisions.
Best Secluded Beach:Like to travel light? Walk to the far western end of Palm Beach on Waiheke Island and you'll find Nudey Bay, where you can swim and sunbathe in the nude. Both men and women like to get their gear off at the gorgeous beach, which is all turquoise sea and white sands. Lose the buttoned-down shirt and let it all hang out. The Maori name for Waiheke is Motu-Wai-Heke, which means "island of trickling water" and the island is certainly blessed with beautiful coves, bays and beaches.
Don't Miss in Auckland
The Sky Tower (Victoria and Federal streets) is the perfect "I just got to Auckland" place to visit. At 328 metres high, it towers above the city. Its observation deck offers superb 360-degree panoramic views; visual guides are provided. For those afraid of heights, one of the freakiest features of the observation deck is the clear glass floor panels. Step on them and look way down to street level. Don't miss the terrific gift shop at the basement entrance to the observation deck.
Of course, there's more to the Sky Tower than merely observing the view -- the truly daring can also leap off the Sky Deck during a SkyJump that will see you plummeting more than 192 metres to the ground while attached to a bungee cord. Fees start at NZ$32 (AUD$30) for adults to visit the observation lounge, and escalate rapidly for more adventurous activities: the Skywalk is NZ$150 (AUD$143) while the bungee-jumping fee is NZ$225 (AUD$215). Sky Tower is part of the Sky City complex, which also has a huge casino and some of the city's most popular restaurants, such as The Depot, The Grill and The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon.
Snickel Lane A snickelway is a narrow place to walk that leads from somewhere to somewhere else. Snickelway is a portmanteau of the words "snicket", a passageway between fences; "ginnel", a skinny corridor between buildings; and alleyway, a narrow street. Tucked between Fort Lane and Commerce Street, Snickel Lane is a nod to the snickelways of the English city of York and is an atmospheric arcade with stellar tenants such as the Lord of the Fries (a vegan takeaway), Madriz Spanish Restaurant, which is perfect for pintxos, and the Mad Samurai for sushi, all operating in the shared space. Look for the neon urban art installation at the Fort Lane entrance titled "Eyelight Lane" by Swedish Artist David Svensson and works from students at the ELAM School of Fine Arts, who compete to have their work shown at the Commerce Street end of the lane.
The Auckland Fish Market (22 Jellicoe Street, Freemans Bay) in the Wynyard Quarter is an indoor-outdoor hub for fresh fish. You can buy a dozen oysters shucked fresh to order at Billypot or a fresh lobster roll at Lobster and Tap, a shack dedicated to serving wild-caught lobster stuffed into a buttery bun and washed down with a cold one. Ika Bowl is the Polynesian equivalent of poke, the Hawaiian food that is on-trend around the world. The bowl to go for here is the koko loko with generous proportions of yellowfin tuna. There are several buses that arrive metres from the main Jellicoe Street entry. Catch the City Link bus: No 20 or 75.
The alternative art scene in Auckland is inspired. From the silos painted by Askew One -- which feature poems by CK Stead -- to the vibrant fish mural "Urban Fossil" by Eno on Hereford Street to "Hina" by Jonny 4Higher (cnr Karangahape Road and West Terrace). Take a tour of Karangahape Road -- K Road -- to check out Auckland's street style. If you're after a vintage vibe, you can fossick along K Road at stores such as Smoove and the Vixen Vintage Boutique. Artspace (Level 1/300 Karangahape Road) Aotearoa is a not-for-profit that commissions local artists in New Zealand and has ever-changing exhibitions of contemporary art.
First-time visitors should also book an Aucky Walk, a Hello Auckland Walking Tour, which will steer you toward must-see city sights such as the hidden lanes, picturesque parks and cool vintage stores scattered around the city.
The Auckland Museum (Auckland Domain, Park Road) is not to be missed. You'll spy it immediately from the Sky Tower vantage point: the Greek Revival-style structure makes it easily the most distinctive building in Auckland. Many of its exhibits centre around New Zealand's Maori people, the original Indigenous inhabitants of the island, but it also has displays focusing on colonial history and geography.
For those in search of local charm and character, don't miss a foray into Parnell or Ponsonby, two of the city's most interesting neighbourhoods. Parnell is a bit more elegant; there you'll find jewellery and artisan boutiques, cosy sidewalk cafes and the pretty-as-a-picture Parnell Rose Gardens. Ponsonby is hipper and funkier, with trendy designer shops, sleek restaurants and, for those who overnight in Auckland, the city's swankiest bars and nightclubs.
Kelly Tarlton, New Zealand's most famous treasure hunter, has launched Sea Life Kelly Tarlton's (23 Tamaki Drive), a marine park located harbourside that offers everything from a fisheye view of the sea to an Antarctic adventure. Walk through one of the oceanarium tunnels, learn about turtle conservation at the Turtle Rescue Centre and find your favourite underwater creatures.
Devonport, which dates back to the mid-19th century and was the first settlement on the north side of the harbour, is a very pleasant town in which to while away an afternoon -- particularly if you've succumbed to sightseeing burnout. A small village with a main street of shops and boutiques, Devonport faces Auckland proper from across the bay.
Attractions at the seaside village include the tunnels of North Head and the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum (64 King Edward Parade). You can also enjoy coffee and cake at Corelli's Cafe & Bar (46 Victoria Road), a pub lunch at The Esplanade Hotel (1 Victoria Road), and a spot of window shopping down the main strip.
The more adventurous should head to Rangitoto Island, which emerged as an erupted volcano, and is a great place for hiking through lava fields and into lava caves. You can even stroll around the crater's rim. Fullers Ferries offer year-round departures.