Auckland International Airport. Despite all the information that I read before, the arrival and immigration process went fairly smoothly. I wasn’t asked to show an exit ticket and got a stamp in my passport with a free visa for up to 3 months without an issue. Biosecurity went fine as well. My hiking equipment was in good shape though. Brand new tent and hiking shoes used only a couple of times in the forest in Poland, therefore the officer just had a quick look at it and told me to move on. Some other guys that had their stuff much dirtier had to wait a couple of minutes until all the things were returned to them washed and clean. Not a bad way to get your hiking shoes polished!
The easiest transport option from the airport to the city centre (also called CBD – Central Business District) is SkyBus. It operates frequently 24/7, the trip takes about an hour, free Wi-Fi onboard. All of these for 17 NZD one way or 32 NZD return. Tickets can be bought either online or directly at the airport.
Short background info
Before I start describing my top places in Auckland, let me mention a few important facts from its history. New Zealand territory is slightly bigger than the United Kingdom, however with only 7% of the population. While driving around the country, you will not pass through many concrete jungles. Well, you will not encounter any at all. Even Auckland, which is the biggest city, has lots of green neighbourhoods with villas and the idyllic Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea background.
Maori called that area Tamaki or Tamaki Makarau which means Tamaki with a hundred lovers. The land was fertile and located at the waterways going in all directions, hence it was very desired by local tribes. As usual in such cases, conflicts followed.
Being the biggest city does not always mean being the capital of the country. Auckland was one from 1842 when New Zealand’s Governor William Hobson selected that land for capital and named if after first Lord of the Admiralty – Lord Auckland. However, in 1865 officials decided that travelling there all the way from South Island was kind of a pain in the ass and moved the capital to Wellington.
Maybe that was a good decision. I’m not a big fan of walking around the town surrounded by embassies and other government buildings with high fences and security. Today, Auckland has quite a relaxed atmosphere with top-quality museums, restaurants, bars and events. Add to this multicultural twist and you get the vibe that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the country.
Here, water is never far away. Hauraki Gulf and its islands are boating paradise and Kiwis know how to make use of it. One in three households owns a boat. It’s more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. All of these could influence the fact that Auckland was voted several times as one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Top 10 places to see
As I arrived in the morning, my room at Nomads Auckland Backpackers was not ready yet. Dropping my backpack there was as easy as pie though and immediately after I went out. Time to start exploring!
Here are the top 10 places that according to me you should check out in Auckland:
- Mt Eden – highest volcanic cone in town (196m). After a short walk to the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Auckland and reminiscence of the last eruption – 50m deep crater. The mountain was once inhabited by Maori and the crater is considered as the sacred site so be respectful and stay on the path. I reached it by public bike from downtown (4 km) which was a pleasant but tiring trip due to numerous hills along the way.
- Walk from Achilles Point to Ohaku Bay – I took an electric scooter to Achilles Point Lookout first and then walked to Ohaku Bay passing by St Heliers Bay, Kohimarama Beach and Mission Bay. The whole walkway is busy with walkers, runners, picnickers and all other types of people spending relaxed time on the beach. If you want to free your mind and especially the body, check out nudist Ladies Bay Beach (men allowed).
- Auckland Museum – beautifully located on Auckland Domain, it shows not only Kiwis’ engagement into wars but also extremely interesting exposition about Maori culture. Entry costs 25 NZD for an international visitor but it’s worth it. Allow enough time so you don’t have to rush through. It is among my top 2 museums in New Zealand together with Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington.
- Mt Victoria and North Head – Two volcanic cones located in a fancy area of Davenport, with well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings around. You will notice gun embankments at both sites and underground tunnels at North Head. These are the remains of threats that New Zealand faced from Russians and later on during WWI & WWII. Fantastic postcard view of Auckland on one side and Rangitoto on another from up there. Cheltenham Beach only minutes’ walk away is also worth checking.
- Sky Tower – The highest construction on the southern hemisphere providing 360 degrees view around the city and Hauraki Gulf islands. The glass floor still excites a lot of people, some of them laying down and taking selfies. But if you ignore that and just jump above their heads, it’s a really nice place to visit especially late afternoon to see the sunset. The ticket is not the cheapest though – 32 NZD for the international visitor. If you are adventurous, try some extras. SkyWalk around platform hanging 192 meters up can give a thrill. If it’s not enough, then SkyJump must be.
- Coast to Coast Track – Did I already mention that you are never far away from water in Auckland? To prove yourself that point you can follow 16-kilometre-long Coast to Coast track Waitemata Harbour by the Pacific Ocean and ending at the Manukau Harbour by the Tasman Sea.
- Pasifika Festival – The big event taking place every year in March at Western Springs Park. Auckland has the biggest Polynesian population of any city in the world so if you are around at this time of the year, check the details on their website and don’t forget to drop by.
- Viaduct Harbour / Wynyard Quarter – both places are connected by a bascule bridge and offer plenty of restaurants, bars, fish market and simply nice opportunity to admire millions floating on the water (yachts).
- One Three Hill – looks like another volcanic cone with sheep on its slopes. However, back in the past, it was the largest Maori fortification in the country with a population of around 5,000. Today there is an obelisk dedicated to Maori at its top. Cornwall Park below the hill is also worth exploring.
- Auckland Art Gallery – main public art gallery in town with emphasize on NZ artists. Current expositions are listed on their website so check if there is something interesting for you. Entry 20 NZD for the international visitor.
These places didn’t make it to the top 10, however, I still consider them as worth visiting:
- St Patrick’s Cathedral – nicely fitted between taller office building in Auckland CBD. Founded by first Catholic bishop in New Zealand – Jean Baptiste Pompallier.
- University Clock Tower – 54-meter tower is the centrepiece and symbol of Auckland University. In the past, it housed various departments, library and University Hall. Currently, there is Student Administration and the Council Room. It was closed when I was passing by but apparently interior is worth checking out. It’s vaulted and consists of floor mosaic.
- New Zealand Maritime Museum – vast museum touching the topics of first vessels of Polynesians explorers, whaling & sealing, navigation, maritime trade as well as the more modern story of America’s Cup.
I would say that 3 days I spent in Auckland were enough to get the feeling of the city. Add some extra if you wanna visit Hauraki Gulf Islands such as Waiheke, Rangitoto or Great Barrier. Stay tuned and contact me or comment below in case of questions about Auckland!