We have listed the top 10 activities in Auckland you should experience. A trip to the top of the Sky Tower is a must for any visitor coming to Auckland for the first time. Included in this list are a few of the lesser known places which also have plenty going for them. As world metropolises go, Auckland doesn’t figure so large on the population front but it spreads out over an incredibly wide area.
Enjoy the views or take a bungee jump from the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower
This iconic telecommunications tower, which forms such a distinctive part of the Auckland skyline, has to be mentioned straight away. No trip to Auckland is quite complete without a visit to the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest free standing structure. Simply feast on the 360° views from a glass floored point (vertigo sufferers beware), take a meal in the revolving restaurant or give yourself extra belly wobbles by experiencing the ‘SkyWalk’ – a circuit around a 1.2m wide platform without any barriers, a dizzying 192m up (they do give you a full body harness and safety lines). There is also the ‘SkyJump‘ bungee experience for the super adventurous.
Kiwis call this historic reserve site by a variety of names so you may have to ask around a bit. Fort Takapuna exhibits elements of all New Zealand’s periods of coastal defence. Explore the crumbling structures, tunnels and underground rooms which once housed big guns, ammunition, soldiers and prisoners of war. Take in the wonderful views of Auckland which are especially pretty as dusk falls and the city’s lights start to wink into view.
Visit Auckland’s Fort Takapuna
Hop-on hop-off bus tour
If you are limited for time or you really have no idea which of Auckland’s many attractions to give your time to then take advantage of the hop-on hop-off buses which take in all the big 14 sights. Buses, which feature audio commentaries, leave every 30 minutes in the summer/every hour in the winter. If you come across something which you feel merits closer attention you can hop off the bus for an explore and then catch another to take you on when you are ready.
Surf lessons, Piha
The west coast, black sand beach of Piha is a Mecca for Auckland based surfers. There is always at least one surf school operating from here which offer complete beginners the chance to learn how it’s done. Piha has a reputation as a fickle beach full of powerful rip currents so, although you will be totally safe in the hands of a skilled instructor, don’t be tempted to try it alone.
Maori guided walks
It is no accident that Auckland has grown and thrived so considerably from its original seed. This is owing, at least in a significant part, to its highly advantageous geographical positioning. When European settlers arrived they identified this significance but before them the Maori had several centuries of their own history of settlement here, often fiercely contested. Today you can take a guided tour with a Ngati Whatua tribe member who will point out to you all the places of cultural and historical importance and/or teach you about indigenous plants and their uses, while regaling you with stories passed down from their ancestors.
East of Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD) lies the beautiful sandy beach and safe swimming waters of Mission Bay. People come here to picnic, stroll in the park (which backs the beach) or spend lazy seaside days escaping from the city’s hustle and bustle (is it really such a short drive away?) Mission Bay is also popular because a coffee, drink or meal can be taken at absolute beach-front – the only place in Auckland where this is possible.
If you are feeling more energetic you can hire rollerblades, a kayak or a bike or take a leisurely stroll to Mission Bay’s western end, Bastion Point for breathtaking views of the Hauraki Gulf.
Stardome Observatory and Planetarium
The skies of New Zealand often hold particular fascination for visitors from the Northern Hemisphere: the moon and familiar constellations are standing on their head while, in addition, a blinking twinkling wealth of never-before-seen constellations, star clusters and gas cloud nebulae are present in all their nightly splendour.
The Stardome is open to Auckland visitors both for scheduled daily programmes in the planetarium (learning suddenly seems fun here, believe me) and for special events, which means if you’ve always wanted to see Saturn’s rings up close and personal or a moon of Jupiter in all its glory now could be your chance.
Whale and dolphin safaris
Rich, abundant wildlife and nature tours aren’t usually things you group together with the big city but the Hauraki Marine Park (the one which forms part of Auckland’s coastal perimeter) lays claim to being one of the most biologically diverse on the whole planet – who would have thought it!
There are more than 22 species of whale and dolphin which either call these waters home or regularly pass through, with common and bottlenose dolphins being the most often spotted along with Bryde’s and pilot whales. Orca (killer whales) are not unusual either.
So confident are the boat tour operators here that you will get your fill (dolphins are spotted on 9 out of 10 trips and whales on 3 out of 4) that most offer another trip for free if you don’t see any whales or dolphins. You may also get to see seals, penguins and many other sea birds.
Set in an old psychiatric institution, Spookers is a live entertainment venue designed to scare the life out of you. As you make your way through theatrically themed rooms and outside sets, complete with spooky props and live scare actors, you play the part of victim trying to escape from zombies, demons, chainsaw wielding maniacs and anything else which might feature in your worst nightmares. Heart pounding terror is taken as such a given here that many of the sets are strictly ‘adult only’ although there are also some family friendly attractions too. Not for everyone admittedly but this place is crazily popular. You choose!
Regular ferries relay tourists from busy Auckland to the instant calm and serenity of this Department of Conservation (DOC) managed island so that the metropolis may as well be a million miles away instead of the incredibly short hop it actually is.
Rangitoto, the youngest but largest in the family of Auckland’s 50 dormant volcanoes, is rich in Maori legend and myth and is also home to the largest Pohutakawa forest in the world. If you’re not familiar with these trees then you soon will be if you spend any time in New Zealand. Also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree because of their bright red blossoms which abound in summer (around Christmas), the Pohutakawa are as iconic in New Zealand as the Sky Tower is in Auckland.
A word of warning to help you avoid a visitor faux pas – although Auckland is the biggest New Zealand city it isn’t the capital as many people think (or not any more anyway) – that distinction goes to Wellington.
New Zealand has an incredibly comprehensive network of tourist information centres known as i-SITES. The Auckland region has 13 i-SITES so they won’t be hard to find. Each i-SITE is bursting with information on local tours, what to see, where to go, accommodation options, smiling knowledgeable staff and lots more. Just browsing the displays and shelves/walls full of information is enough to get you excited about your trip itinerary and give you unlimited ideas. Additionally, i-SITES can book tours and accommodation directly for you.
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