For a lot of travellers arriving in New Zealand, Auckland will be your first port of call after you get off that long flight! The misconception, I know we certainly had when we first visited NZ was that there wasn’t a lot to do in Auckland, the longer we lived (1.5 years in total!) in Auckland the more we discovered this wasn’t quite true.
Auckland certainly is a great place to base yourself for your first 2-3 nights in NZ as you adjust to a new country and time zone. Or if you’re like us and just want to visit the city for the weekend (something we did recently now that we live in Wellington) we do have a few suggestions of what you can do during a long weekend in Auckland:
Friday – You long weekend in Auckland starts here, Welcome to The City of Sails!
If you’re coming from the airport, its easier to just jump in a taxi upon arrival, the new motorway from the airport to the CBD (which opened in 2018) has sped up the time it takes getting to the city. Yes, you could wait around for a shuttle, but you would be roughly paying around the same price, and the shuttle doesn’t take you to the door!
On this occasion we decided to travel the slow way to Auckland from Wellington, we decided to take the Northern Explorer, the North Islands only rail service.
Why? Did I hear you ask! Well, we had time on our hands and thought it would be a good way to see some more stunning scenery of the North Island that we had not yet done before. I wouldn’t recommend it if you were a visitor to this country for a few weeks as you would be skipping out on a lot of the best bits of the North Island, but it is certainly a great way to travel for domestic tourists.
The journey in total was 10 hours and it was the most incredibly relaxing way to reach Auckland in our opinion, we were more tired on our return journey flying back to Wellington with Air New Zealand. It must be something to do with airports, they can be just too stressful! Here is a little video of what we got up to on the North Explorer!
For us, the best place to stay in our opinion in Auckland is either in a centrally located Air B&B (close to the harbour) or one of the Waldorf Apartment Hotels (the one in the link is the best of the bunch). They are cheap, (but not too cheap), comfortable, clean and central.
Use your arrival day to get acquainted with the beautiful waterfront of Auckland. From the ferry terminal, you can walk all along the water’s edge, past the beautiful Wynyard Quarter (lots of great cafes and bars to choose from here) around to Silo Park (in the summer they put on free movies here, its great) and around towards Westhaven Drive and the Harbour Bridge. An even better idea would be to hire a bike and cycling the fully pedestrianized route in half the time.
Other great central parts of Auckland that are worth exploring on this day or another day would be Auckland War Memorial Museum, a must for any history lover and Auckland’s Sky Tower (you can’t miss this from the skyline of Auckland!). The telecommunications and observatory tower is home to SKYCITY entertainment complex with many bars and restaurants and even a casino. There’s a lift that will take you to the top to check out the incredible views of Auckland and if you want you can also jump off the building and walk around the top of the tower!
For dinner and drinks, we suggest anywhere in Britomart. It’s not just a train station anymore! This area has been revitalised with a small shopping mall and lots of bars and eateries overlooking the water. If you want somewhere romantic check out XuXu Bar, it’s quite hidden and down a side alley, their cocktails are incredible and the dumplings are just the perfect match!
Saturday – Explore the Hauraki Gulf:
No trip to Auckland is complete without getting out on the water and exploring the harbour. We certainly think you have to visit Waiheke Island. We LOVE Waiheke Island, when we lived in Auckland we would always jump at any opportunity to visit the island. The island is just a short 35 minute ferry ride away but offers you a completely different pace of life! If you want a taster of what NZ is like outside of Auckland then visit Waiheke Island. To check out what to get up to on Waiheke click on our article here.
Another great island that we love is Rangitoto Island. It is basically an extinct volcano in the middle of the harbour. Fullers ferries will get you there is less than 20 minutes, take a packed lunch (as there is nowhere to buy lunch on the island) and go off and explore at your own pace. The most popular thing to do here is to climb to the top (takes about an hour) to the lookout spot, but we also love taking the detours to other sections of the island, don’t worry though, you can’t get lost!
Other ways to explore the harbour would be by the Americas Cup sailing experience (we are yet to try, but hear it’s great) or by getting out west to The Riverhead Tavern. An awesome pub/restaurant that offers some really great outdoor seating. Every Saturday they run a cruise that departs from the ferry terminal, it’,s a great way to see the harbour in all its glory!
Do what the locals do We personally love heading to where the locals go whilst we are on vacation and this boat cruise and an afternoon at their restaurant really does tick those boxes!
For evening activities, we would suggest staying late on Waiheke Island if possible to enjoy dinner at one of Waiheke’s best vineyards (we love Mudbrick and Cable Bay) or restaurants as the last ferry returns at 10 pm or if you chose one of the other harbour options above, then dinner and drinks at the Wynyard Quarter would be a good alternative!
Sunday: Discover More – Get Further.
The one thing we miss about Auckland now we live in Wellington really has to be the beaches! We never even knew that Auckland had some spectacular beaches until about 6 months into our 1.5 year stay in Auckland. We suggest using your last morning/afternoon in Auckland to get further out of Auckland and explore the surrounding areas of this beautiful region. Our favourite beaches are:
Devonport, North Shore: This is a lovely little settlement just opposite the ferry terminal, the other side of the harbour bridge. The best way to get there is by jumping on the Fullers commuter ferry to Devonport which takes around 20 minutes. The white sandy beaches right next to the ferry terminal is a great spot to watch the world go by for a few hours!
Mission Bay: Mission Bay is a very popular place with the locals of Auckland. You can get here by taking bus number 61 from the ferry terminal. Or better yet if you hire a bike you can cycle along the waterfront (there are cycle lanes) to Mission Bay in under 20 minutes. The white sandy beaches here are swimming friendly as well as family friendly. We also love this place as it has our favourite bar just across the road, a Belgian beer bar!
Out West, Piha, Bethalls Beach and Murawai: If you have a car then West really is Best! If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city this is a great option, it is just 40 minutes from the city centre. It has some of the best black sand beaches in the region and is very popular for surfing. Every time we head out this way we get reminded why we love Auckland’s beaches so much!
Do you have a tip to share from your long weekend trip to Auckland? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
For more activities based in Auckland check out this awesome city guide on the link below. You can book them direct via the link for ease.