Known as the 'city of sails', Auckland is New Zealand's largest city and one of its most striking. The North Island metropolis is blessed with a spectacular waterfront, a magnificent skyline, and more beaches than many of the country's coastal resorts.
It's also a family-friendly destination with attractions such as Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium, where you can see the world's biggest Antarctic penguin colony. Or plan a day trip to Hobbiton, the stunning film set from the Lord of the Rings movies, just a few hours away.
Auckland has dozens of unique places for you to discover, from the pristine beaches of Waiheke Island to Auckland Domain, an extinct volcanic crater that is the city's oldest park. Visit the elegant suburbs of Ponsonby and Newmarket or learn more about the city's history at the Auckland Museum in Parnell or New Zealand Maritime Museum on the waterfront.
Enjoy a taste of the luxury yachting lifestyle with a cruise on Hauraki Gulf, the dazzling expanse of water that stretches from the waterfront to Great Barrier Island. Cruises are available from the waterfront and you can explore the gulf or stop at Waiheke Island, an artist's haven that's known for its quirky shops and galleries and award-winning vineyards like Mudbrick and Obsidian.
The enchanting volcanic cone that is Rangitoto Island is an Auckland landmark. Take a Fuller's ferry from the waterfront and wander the island on foot or take the road train to see lava caves, shipwrecks, and the magnificent crater itself.
You're always near a fantastic beach in Auckland. The city center extends to the water's edge and from there, you can follow the coastal walkway as it meanders along the shore. Dominated by Lion Rock, the black sand of nearby Piha beach is popular with surfers while bustling Mission Bay with its waterfront cafes and stores is ideal for families.
Auckland's magnificent skyline is dominated by the Sky Tower, the Southern Hemisphere's highest free-standing tower. Dine in style in the Orbit revolving restaurant or be daring and try the Sky Walk, a walkway with no handrails that circles the tower over 300 feet from the ground.
Auckland is a whale-watching destination, a waterfront paradise, and a cultural and artistic center. Sports enthusiasts can surf, sail, swim, cycle, hike, and climb, while more laid-back types can soak up the rays on the city's superb beaches. Shop till you drop, dance the night away, or take part in exciting annual events and festivals like New Zealand Fashion Week, Pasifika, or the Auckland Arts Festival.
The tallest manmade structure in the southern hemisphere, this observation tower is an icon of the Auckland skyline. There are endless opportunities for entertainment on the various levels of the tower, from gambling to dining. There is a casino at the base, an observation deck, a 360-degree restaurant higher up, and most thrillingly, the SkyJump. The 630-foot bungee-jump from the 52nd floor of the tower is for the greatest of dare-devils, but witnessing the experience is a must.
Auckland's hub for eating, socializing and entertaining is down on the waterside at Viaduct Harbour. Options for oceanfront dining and going out with friends are never-ending in this bustling downtown paradise just beyond Victoria Park. During the day visitors also love to explore the Maritime Museum and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Yacht cruises can be booked for a trip out onto the Harbour, and trips to Waiheke Island or the Rangitoto Reserve are never disappointing.
This central square is a vast public crossroads and the perfect start to any day of tourism. Queen Street runs straight through the hub, the address of the famous Civic Theater, alongside countless other entertainment venues. Nearby, the Art Gallery, Toi o Tāmaki, is the largest arts institution in the country, celebrating both local artists and hosting international exhibitions. Just beyond, Albert Park is the perfect place to blow off steam amidst native plants in gorgeous gardens.
Controversially labelled the "coat-hanger" by locals for its less than desirable design, the Harbour Bridge offers thrilling activities. For most, this 8-laned motorway is simply a commuter route, but for tourists, more exciting opportunities await. A 130-foot bungee jump plunge can be made into the water below, soaring through unbelievable views. Or you can climb to the tallest point of the metal structure for epic views of the city and across the gorgeous bay.
A volcanic peak rises out of the center of Cornwall Park, evidence of New Zealand's geological formation smack dab in the center of Auckland. Climb to the top for panoramic views of the city, including the chance to view both of the city's harbors at the same time. Indigenous Many Māori roots can be traced back to this hill, and an obelisk stands as a historical monument at the peak. Throughout the rest of the parklands, entertainment abounds - from the planetarium to the lazy cafés.
Peak season runs from November to March and the city is busy in summer as people flock to the beaches, parks, and waterfront. Albert Park is a riot of light and color for Auckland Lantern Festival and the Chinese New Year celebrations early in the year, while Auckland Pride attracts thousands of visitors in February. Choose the shoulder months of May and September when it's still quite warm for more attractive hotel rates and fewer crowds, or visit in winter from May to July for whale watching and shopping.
Most people fly to Auckland Airport (AKL), which is 13 miles south of the city center. It's New Zealand's busiest airport and there are regular direct flights to Auckland from all over the world. Take the SkyBus to reach the city in 40 minutes. Tickets cost NZ$16. A taxi from the airport costs NZ$80-100.
Travel by train from Wellington and enjoy one of the Southern Hemisphere's most scenic journeys. The Overlander train service travels through volcanic peaks and mountains, lush farmland, and rugged bush country on the 423-mile trip. A single ticket starts at NZ$119.
The Northern, Northwestern, and Southern Motorways all run through the city so it's easy to reach Auckland by car from anywhere in North Island.
Several companies run buses to Auckland from various North Island towns like Wellington, Rotorua, Tauranga, Taupo, Hamilton, and Whangarei. InterCity buses stop at the InterCity Sky City Bus Terminal in Hobson Street, while ManaBus and nakedbus services stop at the downtown Ferry Building in Quay Street. Each terminus is close to the city's most popular hotels and attractions.
Basic hotels include City Garden Lodge and Kiwi International Hotel. Families may prefer mid-range hotels like Best Western Newmarket Inn & Suites, the Langham, or Stamford Plaza Auckland. For a truly memorable vacation, try the landmark SkyCity Grand or splash out with a room at Delamore Lodge on magical Waiheke Island.
Downtown CBD - you'll find most of Auckland's major attractions and hotels in or near the Central Business District. The district includes the trendy Vulcan Lane/High Street area, prime shopping streets like Queen Street and Albert Street and Victoria Viaduct.
Ponsonby/Herne Bay - the city's bohemian quarter and where a lot of the best bars, restaurants and cafes are. Its beautiful wooden houses and exclusive shops are popular with celebrities and sports stars, while Karangahape Road off Ponsonby Road is famous for its many nightclubs, tattoo and piercing studios, and restaurants.
Newmarket - one of the city's most elegant suburbs. Known for its eclectic range of boutiques and one-of-a-kind stores, many locals prefer it to Queen Street.
Ferries from the waterfront can take you to the islands or suburbs like Devonport while buses are a convenient way to get around the city. Link buses have three lines; red CityLink buses cover seven stops in the CBD while green InnerLink buses take a circular route around the city center. OuterLink buses are orange and travel to the suburbs. Purchase an AT HOP day pass for NZ$16 to 22 for unlimited travel on Link buses, trains, and ferries for 24 hours.
Taxis are a readily available but expensive option. A typical five-mile trip during the week costs NZ$32.
Many people choose to hire a car so that they're able to fully explore the beaches and other parts of North Island. Car hire companies such as Budget and Thrifty have outlets at the airport and a compact car starts at NZ$80 per day.
Fashionistas will love O'Connell Street and High Street where you'll find New Zealand designer Karen Walker alongside major international brands. Parnell is home to lots of unusual stores selling local arts and crafts while Ponsonby Road Market is a treasure trove of handmade jewelry, clothing, collectibles, and antiques.
Countdown is New Zealand's leading supermarket and there are lots of branches in Auckland where you can pick up food and everyday items. Other supermarkets include Scarecrow and New World Metro or try Nosh Food Market for gourmet foods and drinks. Expect to pay NZ$7 for a dozen eggs and NZ$1.90 for a quart of full milk.
Kiwi cuisine means fresh, locally sourced ingredients like seafood and lamb. Try Depot Eatery in the Britomart precinct for bluff oysters and green-lipped mussels, or eat at Everybody's Bar and Bistro, which is in a 200-year-old cinema complete with plush seating booths. Cafe Hanoi is great for casual meals, or you can dine on the best local fare at Sidart Restaurant. Don't forget dessert; local favorites include hokey pokey, a mix of vanilla ice cream and honeycomb pieces and Pavlova. A basic lunch in the CBD is NZ$18, while dinner for two with drinks and dessert in an upscale restaurant is NZ$130.