Things to do in Auckland, New Zealand

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Discover the Best Activities in Auckland, New Zealand

A visit to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, grants travelers a glimpse into an adolescent metropolis grappling with maturity. Multiculturalism continually plants its seeds, as the world’s largest Polynesian population interacts with the products of 150 years of European settlement and the arrival of large Asian communities. With the advent of widescale tourism and immigration – not to mention the fleeting 2000 America’s Cup growth spurt – urban planners have not quite discovered the most effective way to allow the city to flourish.

Auckland is home to several distinctive neighborhoods. Central Auckland’s downtown thrives on the energy of the corporate future. Parnell’s Victorian boutiques and vast estates stand as a self-conscious testament to years of British colonization. Mt. Eden plays host to artists and heavenly culinary delights, while hipster Ponsonby, home to Auckland’s vibrant gay and lesbian community, jolts visitors to life with late-night caffeine fixes. The lands of the Waitemata Harbour, which dazzles with their unique serenity and beauty, are a short ferry ride away. Most visitors use Auckland as a launching pad to visit the rest of the country, but this city is on the rise as a destination in of itself. With droves of tourists and cash flowing in at an increasingly high level, Auckland is already moving out of adolescence and coming of age.

Top Things to Do in Auckland, New Zealand

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Get to Know Auckland, New Zealand

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Get Oriented

Auckland and its environs stretch across a narrow isthmus that connects Northland to the main landmass of North Island. Waitemata Harbour and the Pacific Ocean lie to the east of the city, while Manukau Harbour extends southward with the Tasman Sea to the west. SH1 (the Southern Motorway) shunts traffic up from the south, becoming the Northern Motorway north of the city and converging with SH16, which stretches west to the Waitakeres and north to Ninety Mile Beach.

Teeming with modern buildings, banks, and businessmen, Central Auckland is the commercial heart of the city. Queen Street, the main drag, runs north-south toward the water where it meets Queen Elizabeth II Square (known as QE II Square). Victoria Street, another major thoroughfare, crosses Queen St. and goes east-west from Victoria Park (the west side of town) to Albert Park (east side).

The Waterfront is at the bottom of Queen St. by Waitemata Harbour. The American Express New Zealand Cup Village, a dense tangle of bars and restaurants built for the 1999-2000 America’s Cup, fans out from Viaduct Basin near Hobson Wharf along the waterfront. Quay Street also runs along the water, while Customs Street is parallel to the water and one block inland. The Ferry Building is right off Quay St., across from QE II Sq. south of Aotea Square. Off of Queen St. lies Karangahape Road (known as K’Road), the gritty side of bass-heavy clubs. Just west of Central Auckland, K’Rd. leads to the trendy neighborhood of Ponsonby, filled with hip cafes and a substantial part of the city’s gay and lesbian community.

To the east of the city center is the upscale area of Parnell, the neighborhood of old money estates and stylish boutiques. Auckland residents go to Newmarket, just south of Parnell, to do their shopping. Home to a large number of artists, Mt. Eden lies on a hill two kilometers south of the city center. Running east of Central Auckland, Quay St. turns into Tamaki Drive, which then swoops along the stunning coast. Take a look out at Orakei Basin, off Hobson Bay, at Bastion Point along the ocean, or at Mission and St. Heliers Bays – top spots for sunbathing. A short ferry ride to the north lies Devonport with its many beaches and spectacular vistas of Mt. Victoria.

See & Do

What to do in Auckland

It comes to no surprise that the waterfront is one of the busiest and most commercial areas in Auckland, the “City of Sails.” Head to the bottom of Albert St. to find Waitemata Harbour, site of the renowned America’s Cup regatta. Once there, turn left on Quay St. and continue to Viaduct Harbour (just west of QE II Sq.) to reach the American Express New Zealand Cup Village for numerous restaurants, bars, hotels, and a summer open-air cinema series.

Top attractions in Auckland

There are plenty to see in New Zealand’s largest city, so let’s make sure you make the most of your time here. Here are our recommendations. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.

Eat & Drink

Fusion is the word in Central Auckland. Takeaways and food courts – the cheapest choices for backpackers – dot the city center, but supermarkets are mostly located in Newmarket and Ponsonby. Central Auckland options cluster around the middle stretch of Queen St. or along K’Rd. Ponsonby and Mt. Eden feature affordable hipster spots, while Parnell caters to a more upscale set.


Enjoying Auckland’s vibrant cafe scene is a popular way to pass an afternoon or to jumpstart a long night. In Central Auckland, the narrow paths of High and Lorne St., as well as Vulcan Ln. and nearby K’Rd., are brimming with coffee sippers, while the main roads in Parnell and Mt. Eden feature a wide selection of java points. Stylish Ponsonby wins the caffeine crown for the highest concentration of great cafes. In addition to coffee, most cafes serve light meals and alcohol, and some feature occasional live music.

Traditional Fare

In the tradition of the earliest inhabitants’ dinner of roast moa and kumara (sweet potato), New Zealanders still maintain a largely meat-and-potatoes diet. While vegetarian and vegan options are becoming trendy, traditional New Zealand food tends to be meaty.  The national dish is hot meat pie loaded with lamb or beef and gravy in flaky pastry. Seafood is always an abundant alternative; fresh fish, prawns, crayfish, shellfish, and more overrun coastal towns. Fruit-flavored ice cream with chunks of fruits is consumed in vast quantities, though hokey pokey (vanilla ice cream loaded with bits of toffee) is a national favorite. Not only does New Zealand proudly produce the most ice cream per capita in the world, it also rivals the US for most ice cream consumed per capita.

Local favorites

In small towns, the tendency toward the basic can be seen in the Main St. triumvirate of fish ‘n chip dives, cafes, and ever-present Chinese restaurants – all serving fried, greasy goodies. Ethnic restaurants, such as Thai, Malaysian, and Indian are no longer few and far between. Middle Eastern kebab joints, usually a good deal, have been proliferating. Keep in mind that ordering an entree will often get you an appetizer or starter in New Zealand; main courses are listed as mains.


While Kiwis serve excellent beer, with various national lagers and draughts (e.g., Steinlager, Speights, and Tui), it’s the wine that takes the cake. The wines of the Marlborough of Hawke’s Bay regions are world famous, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir varieties. New Zealand white wines challenge the French hold on the market, and red wines are improving. For non-alcoholic refreshment, try Lemon and Paeroa (L&P), a popular carbonated lemon drink that is “world-famous in New Zealand.” For a more refined thirst-quencher, you can enjoy a British-style Devonshire tea.

The late afternoon meal traditionally consists of tea, scone with Devonshire cream or jam, crumpets, and other delectables. A lighter Kiwi treat, often served for dessert, is the pavlova, a tribute to egg whites and kiwifruit. New Zealand offers a range of exotic fruits and veggies, including feijoas, nashi, persimmons, and of course kiwifruit. In 2000, the golden kiwifruit, a yellow, sweeter version of the traditional kiwi, was engineered for worldwide consumption.

Arts & Culture


Entertainment in Auckland means more than handles at the corner pub. From ballet to underground theater, its local art scene makes Auckland the culture capital of New Zealand. Live music energized many local joints through the week. When big bands pass through Auckland, they take the stage at the North Shore Events Centre.

The highbrow highlights of Auckland’s entertainment scene cluster around centrally located Aotea Sq. off Queen St.; known as the Edge, the complex includes the Aotea Centre, the Civic, Auckland Town Hall, and the Force Entertainment Centre. In the Aotea Centre, the ASB Theatre is the regal home of the New Zealand Royal Ballet, the New Zealand Philharmonic, and world-class productions; the 186-seat Herald Theatre is also on sight. Oppose Aotea Centre, classical music emanates from the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, home to the Auckland Philharmonic.


The pub scene in Auckland picks up in the late afternoon when revelers spill out of the cafes and into happy hour at the nearest watering hole. Wednesdays finds the young crowd packing the posh lounges of Parnell, while the Waterfront bars are popular on weekends.

While Auckland’s surrounding neighborhoods light up with lively bars, Central Auckland dances until dawn. Up on K’Rd., style reigns supreme as clubbers don their favorite shade of black and join the line. Adding color to the scene are the drag queens who come out night and stay until the next day. Gay nightlife is well integrated into the Auckland Scene, and most K’Road clubs are gay-friendly.


In mid-July, the Auckland International Film Festival captures the attention of movie buffs with two weeks of screenings from all over the world. Toward the end of summer, the city comes alive with the art during the annual Auckland Festival. Performance throughout the month-long festival include dance groups, concerts, drama, comedy, visual exhibitions, family events, and “fringe” happenings. Many are free, but a few events require expensive tickets

Maori Arts & Culture

New Zealand society is largely bicultural, comprised primarily of British, Pakeha, and Maori New Zealanders. The world maori was originally used to distinguish “ordinary people” from strange European explorers. In fact, many Maori did not self-identify as Maori until well into the 1830s. Maoritanga, loosely translated as “the ways of the Maori,” serves as an umbrella term for the cultural traditions and organization of Maori life. Although many Maori now live off the traditional grounds in an urban environment, New Zealand has experienced a renaissance of Maoritanga as more Maori look to their rich heritage for identity.

Basic Concepts

The most fundamental idea of Maori custom is the notion of tapu and its lesser-known counterpart, noa. Tapu, roughly translated as “sacred” or “spiritual restriction,” indicates the presence of supernatural power (whether good or evil) and commands respect and attention. Ignoring tapu is a great taboo – yes, that is the root of the English word – across New Zealand. Noa underscores the absence of such power and thus deserves no special caution. For example, a man has the tapu responsibility in a tribe to oversee ceremonial duties and give speeches at a marae, but he cannot look respectable without the help of the female’s noa duties of preparing food and singing songs. Personal relationships within and between tribes also require an understanding of mana. Translated literally, the word means “prestige” or “responsibility,” but the meaning is more of an essence that grants seniority to a worthy individual. Traditionally, the amount of mana in an individual depends on his or her ancestry, experience, and seniority in a tribe. Nowadays, mana is instead often influenced more by one’s success and achievements.

A Maori tribal structure

In New Zealand, tribal association is not an official designation; there are over 40 recognized iwi in New Zealand. Within the iwi exist smaller regional communities called hapu. These communities were originally groups that owned land within the tribe. Today, each hapu seldom owns more land than a marae reserve. For this reason, the hapu generally has more significance for rural populations; city-dwellers generally tend to identify less with their hapu.

The Marae

The marae are sacred grounds around a Maori whare tupuna (ancestral meeting house) and the site of the powhiri (formal welcome), receiving visitors into the community. The ceremony consists of four basic components. Upon arriving at the marae, a warrior from the village will greet visitors with a haka, an elaborate set of body movements and a tongue-protruding facial gesture (it’s exceedingly uncouth to return such a gesture). The wero (challenge) ends when a teka (peace offering) is offered and accepted. After this step, a female elder will issue the karanga, a chant of welcome and mourning for the visitors’ great ancestors. As your group crosses the marae, pause and bow in respect for the ancestors of the tribe before congregating in front of the whare. In response to the chief’s whaikorero (speech of welcoming), the designated chief of your group will deliver a brief speech in return (preferably in Maori as well, but protocol varies). To seal the bond of friendship, both chiefs press (but do not rub) noses together in the traditional greeting known as the hongi.

After the hongi, the separate groups finally mingle and are called to dine in the whare kai. Shoes are not worn inside the whare kai, and pictures may not be permitted, depending on the tribe. After a karakia (prayer) is given, the hangi (dinner), is prepared – sweet potatoes, meat, and other goodies roasted in a pit of stones.

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