There are few cities in the world where you can be zip-lining over wineries in the morning, hiking up a dormant volcano in the afternoon, and drinking beer at a craft brewery in the evening. New Zealand’s largest hub, Auckland, however, is just such a place – and it’s only a three-hour flight from the east coast of Australia.
Though some of its charms are already world famous – its harbour and bustling waterfront areas being a great example – Auckland is a city with plenty to offer those willing to dig a little deeper. From cultural to physical, gastronomic to tectonic, this is a place in which you never get bored of exploring.
EcoZip Waiheke Island
It’s just a 40-minute ferry ride from bustling downtown Auckland to laidback Waiheke Island, a popular spot filled with wineries, restaurants and great beaches. What’s not as well known, however, is that this is a perfect spot for the thrill of zip-lining. EcoZip Adventures has three 200-metre zip-lines that perfectly capture – from above – everything the island has to offer: soar high above a vineyard, an old-growth forest, and check out the best views of the surrounding islands.
The Kitekite Track
Drive 45 minutes in many large cities and you’ll find that you’re still in the city. Drive 45 minutes from Auckland, however, and you’ll find yourself at the beginning of the Kitekite Track, a 1.8-kilometre walking trail through some of the most spectacular forest in the Waitakere Ranges. This is adventure for all ages, with a gentle gravel pathway leading along the Glen Esk Stream up to Kitekite Falls. If you’re visiting in summer it’s worth taking a towel – you’ll definitely want to jump in for a dip.
There’s been a proliferation of cosy small bars popping up throughout Auckland in recent years, but few have the charm of Freida Margolis, in the suburb of Grey Lynn. This is all South American bodega style, with bar seating, warm, soft lighting, a great drinks list including a few local craft beers, and a solid collection of vinyl records to keep the evening flowing. Grey Lynn is one of Auckland’s creative, artsy hubs, and you’ll find plenty of the people driving that culture enjoying a drink every night at Freida’s.
Whatipu sea caves
Those fancying a break from city life for an afternoon can take a short drive to the Whatipu Caves Track, a 2-kilometre walking path on New Zealand’s west coast that makes its way past numerous old sea caves at the base of the cliffs that hug the ocean. These sights aren’t just of interest for their natural history – one of the caves, Te Ana Ru, was a well-known venue for dances and concerts in the early 1900s, and the kauri dance floor remains there, buried under a few metres of shifting sands.
It’s amazing to think that there are three distinct wine regions within easy striking distance of the central city: Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown; Kumeu, just a 20-minute drive to the west; and Matakana, 50 minutes north of the city. The beaches up in Matakana would be attractive enough to warrant a visit – however, when there are plenty of boutique wineries to call into, and a few excellent restaurants, you can see why the area is a local favourite.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki
You might say this is one of those local gems that is hiding in plain sight. There’s nothing too secretive about the Auckland Art Gallery – it’s there for all to see. However, it seems only those in the know realise there’s a huge collection of more than 15,000 artworks on display here, from New Zealand and Pacific Islander artists to European old masters. It’s free to get into Auckland Art Gallery, and it’s the perfect activity for those days when you just don’t fancy going outside.
There’s a rugged, brooding beauty to Auckland’s black-sand beaches on the west coast, made all the more attractive for the fact that they’re so close to the city, and yet they feel like they’re on a completely different planet. You’ll rarely bump into another soul at windswept enclaves like Te Henga, just an hour from the city, or Piha, or Karekare, beaches of volcanic black sand that are perfect for a summertime picnic, or a walk on well marked tracks during the cooler months. There’s also a large colony of gannets at Muriwai from August to March.
La Cigale markets
Aucklanders are fortunate to have a huge amount of high-quality fresh produce available to them from the agricultural areas that surround the city, and one of the best ways to get your hands on it is with a visit to La Cigale markets. Billed as “A slice of France in New Zealand”, these weekend markets in the suburb of Parnell have a distinct European vibe, from the smell of freshly baked baguettes and French pastries, to the bright colours of the fruit and vegetable stands, to the huge array of imported French cheeses on offer.
Sawmill craft brewery
The Matakana area, to the north of Auckland, is well known for its wine. What it’s not as well known for, however, is its beer – but the Sawmill Brewery might be about to change that. Leading the way among a swathe of Auckland-based craft brewers, Sawmill offers the whole package, from high-quality beers such as their India Pale Ale and pilsner (or, for the more adventurous, the Euro-style saison and gose), to one of the area’s best new restaurants, serving up modern cuisine that pairs perfectly with one of Sawmill’s refreshing ales.
One Tree Hill
There are some 48 volcanic cones dotted around the Auckland area, ancient summits that very often make amazing viewpoints. And after all, when you arrive in a new city it’s nice to be able to take in the whole thing from above, to understand its contours and its reliefs. Ask any Auckland local and they’ll tell you the best place to do that is One Tree Hill, a modest volcanic summit accessible via a two-hour round trip walk from Cornwall Park in the city’s south. From here you’ll be able to gaze at Auckland in all its glory – and plan the rest of your stay.
Auckland. One city. Two worlds.
Auckland is a city unlike any other. With incredible natural wonders on the doorstep of a world class city, Auckland is the perfect short break destination. Start planning your trip now at