One weekend in Auckland

The City of Sails provides the perfect base for travellers looking to explore the rugged coastline and hidden coves of New Zealand's north island.

The City of Sails provides the perfect base for travellers looking to explore the rugged coastline and hidden coves of New Zealand’s north island.

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Regularly rated one of the world’s foremost cities in terms of quality of life and liveability, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and economic powerhouse. Encircled by two harbours that frame a narrow peninsula connecting to the northernmost part of the North Island, the city boasts a wealth of ruggedly-beautiful beaches, shimmering bays and a dramatic volcanic coastline.

According to its Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau, which translates to “the city of many lovers”, it’s hard to imagine not falling for this incredible urban gem of the South Pacific. From its plethora of natural charms or the laid-back atmosphere of its sprawling city centre, there’s plenty to keep you entertained on a weekend in Auckland.

Watery wonders

Thanks to the fact that Auckland is home to more boats per capita than any other city on earth, it certainly lives up to its moniker “The City of Sails”. The city’s blissful geographic location, nestled on the edge of Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf, means that exploration of its varied seascape is a must for any visitor. While many visitors choose to cruise the waters of Waitemata Harbour in an ex-America’s Cup Yacht, kayaking is growing in popularity for those seeking an eco-friendly way of getting up close with nature. The sheltered waters of Waitemata Harbour provide the perfect playground for beginners, many of whom opt to paddle out to the city’s iconic Rangitoto Island to gaze across at Auckland from an alternate perspective. Rangitoto is the largest and youngest of all of Auckland’s volcanic summits, and a trek to the peak takes approximately one hour. Hikers are then rewarded with panoramic views of the entire region before paddling back to shore.

An evening off Queen Street

After a day spent soaking up the natural delights of the Auckland region, it makes sense to head into the city’s CBD to enjoy the bright lights and buzzing atmosphere. Queen Street forms the central hub of the city, and is home to an abundance of hip shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. Food fanatics often make a beeline for the City Works Depot, the latest gourmet hotspot to grab a bite to eat, washed down with a locally-brewed craft beer. For those that have a little more time to explore this area, the world famous Sky Tower is a good place to start, and to get your cultural fix head to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki to wander through its world-class collections.

Historic Auckland

For many visitors travelling to New Zealand, Auckland is the main gateway to the rest of the country. As such, it makes sense to soak up as many of the city’s cultural attractions as you can. While New Zealand’s native Maori people first sailed to the island around 1,000 years ago, European settlement began in the early 1800s. What you see now is a vibrant melting pot of cultures and a captivating architectural scene that brings together shining, contemporary sky scrapers and striking colonial buildings within the same space. In Downtown Auckland, the English-Baroque Ferry Building is a prime attraction. The grand marble façade of the Chief Post Office is also something to look out for. Built in 1848, nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the country’s finest churches. Auckland High Court is another architectural highlight to stop off at in this quarter of the city. Modelled on the UK’s Warwick Castle, this building oozes character and is definitely well worth a look.

Beaches galore

In addition to sampling your fill of Auckland’s urban delights, exploring the city’s gorgeous collection of forest-fringed beaches should also be at the top of your priority list. On the eastern coast of the city you will find the top sun-soaked strips of coastline, including Takapuna Beach, which overlooks the mystical Rangitoto Island in the distance. Takapuna tends to get fairly crowded with locals during the North Island’s warmest months, so for a quieter atmosphere head to Milford or Cheltenham beaches. While the east coast offers an array of golden sunbathing havens, the Western coast is home to some of the most dramatic views. A carpet of volcanic sand makes up the West Coast’s Piha Beach, a popular haunt for surfers seeking the powerful surf of the Tasman Sea. The treacherous undertow currents on this side of Auckland make the volcanic beaches here more suited as stunning picnic spots than locations for swimming and sun bathing.

Panoramic views

Auckland’s sublime geographical position on the Northern Island means that your weekend isn’t complete without a trip up to one of the city’s towering vantage points where each aspect of the region’s natural beauty can be taken in. Soaring at 328 metres, the CBD’s prominent Sky Tower is one of the best places to take in the views – vistas from the observation deck reach as far as 80 kilometres. Dare devils may even choose to tie in a stroll across the 192 metres Sky Walk platform or a sky dive from the platform. If you don’t fancy that, an excursion to the top of Mount Eden at sunset may be the perfect thing to top off your Auckland weekend. This volcanic cone is one of the highest natural summits in the whole of Auckland, and if you get here early enough it’s well worth exploring the traditional fortified Maori village while you’re here.

Top tips

  • Don’t miss the chance to soak up the views of Waitemata Harbour, the famous stretch of water that slices the city of Auckland into two segments. The harbour’s various ferry terminals provide the perfect jumping off point for exploration of the Hauraki Gulf Islands.
  • For many Aucklanders, One Tree Hill is the most symbolic landmark of the city – and therefore well worth putting on your travel itinerary. Nestled amidst the rolling slopes of Cornwall Park, there are plenty of nature trails for visitors to explore before heading up to the obelisk that marks the site of Sir John Logan Campbell’s grave. Campbell gifted this picturesque swathe of land to be used by Aucklanders as a park.
  • Summer in Auckland falls between December and March, so make sure to pack some sun screen to avoid getting burnt – particularly if you’re making the most of Auckland’s outdoor treasures.
  • For stylish dining opportunities, head to the city’s Wynyard Quarter. This attractive waterfront district fills up with exquisite street food stalls during the summer, so you can get your fill of anything from spicy curries to mouth-watering Spanish tapas.
  • If you have a little longer to spend in Auckland, exploring the region’s plethora of stunning Hauraki Gulf islands is a must. Home to around 8,000 people, Waiheke Island is the most popular. There are plenty of dramatic hiking trails to amuse active visitors, while the thriving café culture entices plenty of visitors that simply want to sit and watch the world go by.
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