Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, a vibrant multi-ethnic place of 1.4 million people strung around two harbours with the islands of the Hauraki Gulf as its playground. As the country’s main gateway almost all visitors pass through, but don’t be in a hurry to leave. The city’s urban attractions are only really rivalled by the capital, Wellington, and the New Zealand of popular imagination starts right here with a wonderful collection of intriguing islands, pretty coves and thumping surf beaches. They’re neither as wild nor as remote as the natural wonders in the rest of the country, but they are within striking distance of a comfy bed and a great meal.
The central city highlights really demand a couple of days, but can be knocked off by following our Auckland in a Day itinerary. If you’ve the slightest interest in Polynesian culture you can’t miss the Auckland Museum, with the country’s best display of Maori and Pacific artefacts including a 25-metre-long war canoe designed for a hundred, chanting, tattooed warriors and the Hotunui meeting house. The museum nicely complements the Kiwi art on display in the Auckland Art Gallery. Exhibits change every few months but you can always see the work of the country’s top artists in an architecturally gorgeous modern rework of the original French-styled gallery. At the waterfront New Zealand Maritime Museum, the country’s illustrious yacht racing tradition sits alongside the history of a nation surrounded by sea and peopled by seafarers.
Weave visits to these three indoor highlights with time out in the elements, perhaps catching the early morning light illuminating the downtown skyscrapers from Maungawhau / Mt Eden, or gabbing picnic supplies in Devonport and lunching on Maugauikia / North Head where gun emplacements from several wartime defences overlook the islands of the Hauraki Gulf.
Get Started with these Auckland Itineraries
For the best examples of how central Auckland has been revitalised over the last decade, visit Britomart, home to the city’s greatest concentration of chic shops, stylish restaurants and lively bars. Britomart turns its back on the nearby waterfront, but that can’t be said for the Wynyard Quarter, where the still-working fishing port and low-key ferry terminal give a slightly raffish air to the line of cafés and restaurants.
Aucklanders after stylish clothes and good cafés make for vibrant Ponsonby, where mainstream shops and restaurants are trying to work their way into the established fabric of high-end boutiques, cutting-edge restaurants and cool bars. For more of an edge, continue along the ridge to Karangahape Road, where, despite threats of impending gentrification, tattoo parlours and vinyl emporia still mix it with slightly seedy bars and gay clubs.
For many, the city’s highlights are found among Auckland’s Islands, Beaches and Bush. Three very different islands require separate short cruises from the city. The closest is the black lava cone of Rangitoto Island with city and harbour views from its forested summit, lava tube caves to explore and a few intriguing ramshackle holiday homes along its coast. Tiritiri Matangi Island is your best chance to see New Zealand’s unique, endangered birdlife among regenerating bush that echoes with the chatter of saddlebacks and stitchbirds. Waiheke Island actually has people living on it, and justifies more of your time to sample the winery restaurants and delightful beaches.
Back on land, explore Auckland’s west where the low, undulating Waitakere Range separates the suburbs from the surf-pounded black-sand beaches of the west coast. In a land where gorgeous beaches aren’t in short supply, Karekare ranks high in the pantheon for its raw beauty. Over a couple of headlands to the north, the houses dotting the steep hills and smattering of places to eat give Piha a more civilised feel, though the surf is just as wild. Take a break from the sea by ambling through a gorgeous patch of kauri forest at Cascade Kauri, or push on north to Muriwai, where the cliffs behind yet another surf-torn, black-sand strand are alive with nesting gannets. The day is perfectly wrapped up with a fine selection of microbrews and top end pub food at Hallertau.
As in the rest of the country, Auckland’s main tourist season is November to April. The weather is warmest and rainfall is lowest. Visiting as either end of this season trades potentially poorer weather for smaller crowds and cheaper accommodation. Staying between May and October is by no means out of the question. You might not want to go the beach but everything else is open and usually quiet. Set aside a day to get a flavour of the place and see the best of the sights, but you really need a couple of days to also take in the best of the local beaches, the native bush of the Waitakere Range and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. You can easily devote a couple of nights to Waiheke Island alone.
If you really want to pack things in, you can see most of Auckland’s essential city sights in a day, preferably two. But to really appreciate Auckland you need to explore its hinterland of wonderfully wild black-sand beaches and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A couple of days gives you a good taste, but leave a couple more if you also want to explore Waiheke Island.
High season is summer, basically December to February with a tail extending into March and even April. Accommodation prices generally rise with demand and are definitely highest in December, January and February.
The winter low season is July, August and September.
Auckland isn’t a particularly seasonal destination. Its latitude and the surrounding oceans dictate a temperate / sub-tropical climate which rarely gets above 30degC and almost never freezes. Typical daytime high temperatures from December to March are 20–25degC (68–77degF). Night time lows hover in the high teens (60–65degF). In winter, roughly July–September, expect daytime highs around 14degC (57degF) with nights typically dropping to 9degC (48degF). Humidity is relatively high, though not up to tropical standards. The average annual rainfall is 1100mm (43 inches). It falls throughout the year with the highest levels between May and August.
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 2: Day After New Year
Monday closest to January 29: Auckland Anniversary Day
February 6: Waitangi Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
June 6: Queen’s Birthday
October 24: Labour Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
Additional holidays are observed if a public holiday falls on a weekend, usually on the next Monday. On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. Each region also has its own provincial anniversary day. In the northern half of the North Island this is Auckland Anniversary Day.
To check the local time in Auckland, click here.
New Zealand keeps it simple: the whole country is on the same time zone! The time zone is called New Zealand Standard Time, and in summer the whole country also observes New Zealand Daylight Time. Daylight Saving begins on the last Sunday in September, when 2am becomes 3am, and ends on the first Sunday in April, when 3am becomes 2am.
In winter, New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of UTC (GMT) but during Daylight Saving it is 13 hours ahead of UTC.
Go casual. In fact a lot of Kiwis are so casual that visitors are surprised and the number of non-vagrant people walking around city streets barefoot. We’re not really recommending you follow their lead but the fact remains the Kiwis dress casually and expect others to do the same.
There is almost nowhere you’ll feel obliged to wear formal attire. Even the finest restaurants eschew dress codes, though obviously you’ll want to look smart and the best places.
The weather can be changeable so come prepared. Some form of rain protection is a good idea in any season.
Raincoat or umbrella
New Zealand is a moderately expensive country to visit and as the biggest city Auckland tends to be a touch pricier than elsewhere. That said, there is a huge range of things to do, places to eat and places to stay, so you should be able to find something to match your budget. Prices for sights and activities, tours, rooms and meals are all grouped into three price codes.
Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense. The top end is dominated by inner-city business hotels and B&Bs which are mostly in the prettier inner suburbs. Motels are considerable cheaper, and it is another big step down to the hostels, which can be great value. Those in the city centre can be pretty frenetic, though there are more relaxed places in the inner suburbs of Ponsonby and Parnell.
Sights such as museums and galleries are often free or moderately priced. Your spend goes up when you venture on adventure activities and tours which can soon blow your budget.
How much you spend on eating depends very much on your preferences. Auckland offers a huge range of places to eat from takeaways for a few dollars to some of the finest restaurants in the country.
Generally, the price quoted is what you’ll end up paying. The 15% GST is almost always included in the price and tipping is not expected.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $NZ?.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around New Zealand, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to New Zealand, operating only in Auckland and Wellington. In New Zealand, Uber drivers must pass a police background check and work with partners who are fully licensed by the New Zealand Transport Association to operate as a Private Hire service.
Uber rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Hopefully, your trip to New Zealand will go without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to New Zealand.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
New Zealand dollars come in $1 and $2 coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.
Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1, 2 or 5 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.71), a relic from the days before 1-cent, 2-cent and 5-cent pieces were phased out. In these cases, prices ending in 1 to 4 cents are usually rounded down to the closest 10 cents and prices ending in 6 to 9 cents are rounded up. For prices ending in 5 cents, it is up to the retailer which way to round!
Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in New Zealand. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest NZ$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.
New Zealand imposes 15% GST (Goods and Services Tax) and in shops and restaurants this will always be included in the price quoted. Most accommodation will also include GST in the quoted price, the exceptions being some hotels used almost exclusively by business travellers.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re travelling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Auckland is a spread-out city where the car is king. The city’s residents are always lamenting the slowness of traffic and the poor quality of public transport, and while these are valid points for commuters, it isn’t at all bad for most visitors. The city’s bus, train and ferry services have improved a great deal in recent times and should continue improving for a few years yet. The roads are definitely clogged at peak times, but if you avoid those you won’t have much problem.
Almost everyone arrives at Auckland International Airport, a 30 to 60 minute ride south of the city centre. There are also door-to-door shuttle services and the SkyBus to get you where you need to be. Lots of car and campervan rental places are based close to the airport making it handy to pick one up straight away, but if you’ve just arrived on a long-haul flight it may be better to spend a day or two in Auckland without a car and rent one before you leave the city.
Auckland drivers aren’t particularly courteous and many will also be texting otherwise checking their phone (which is illegal). First-timers on Auckland’s urban motorways may be surprised to find vehicles overtaking on all sides as they jockey for position before the frequent exits. The best bet is to avoid trying to get places by car in rush hour, which is at its worst Monday–Friday 7am–9am & 3–6pm. In the centre of the city, parking is best either on the street (which is metered) or in the parking buildings dotted around. Be warned that some close around midnight and you may be unable to retrieve your vehicle before morning without paying a substantial release fee.
Local transportation all comes under the umbrella of Auckland Transport, who cover everything from route information to bike routes and council-managed car parks. The most useful part of their comprehensive website is the Journey Planner: just punch in your starting point and destination and they’ll do the rest. It works well and even considers a short walk as a viable way to avoid a couple of changes of bus. You can buy tickets as you go but an AT HOP card is more convenient and can save you money.
You probably won’t get much use out of the skeletal train service, which centres on the Britomart Transport Centre at the harbour end of the CBD’s main drag, Queen Street. Buses serve far more places you’re likely to want to go but can be confusing as there is no central terminus. There are stops all over the city centre, though many congregate around the Britomart Transport Centre. Check the Journey Planner for the closest stop to you.
Ferries criss-cross Waitemata Harbour from the Auckland Ferry Terminal. Use them to access the inner-city suburb of Devonport or head out to the islands in the Hauraki Gulf.
Auckland is hilly and drivers are still getting used to seeing people on bikes on busy roads so cycling is best saved for a few more pleasurable routes. The network of cycle routes is expanding though and renting a bike is a great way to explore the waterfront along Tamaki Drive.
Direct flights arrive at Auckland International Airport from where there are several transport options into the city. The main direct air routes are from Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Gold Coast), North America (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Houston and Vancouver), South America (Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires), Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou), Dubai and several South Pacific islands.
Throughout summer Auckland’s waterfront is typically dominated by one or two huge cruise ships which picturesquely glide out through the Hauraki Gulf in the early evening. If you arrive by cruise ship you’re immediately right in the heart of things with many of the sights on our Auckland in 1 Day itinerary within easy walking distance.
Auckland has just one inter-city train service KiwiRail’s NorthernExplorer, which links the city to Wellington via Hamilton, National Park, Ohakune and Palmerston North. It is a stately 11-hour run on a good day, though it often runs an hour or more late. There are three trains per week in each direction – Auckland to Wellington on Monday, Thursday and Saturday; Wellington to Auckland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Departures from Auckland and Wellington are around 7.45am.
Buses from other cities in the North Island arrive at two main transportation hubs, the Sky City Bus Terminal and 172 Quay Street hosts all other long-distance bus services, the main one being Nakedbus (which runs in concert with ManaBus).
There is no rail transportation from Auckland International Airport into Auckland city centre, so unless you are picking up a rental vehicle you’ve got a choice between taxis, collective minibuses (aka “shuttles”) and buses.
Taxis wait at the rank outside the terminal and charge $80–100 into the city. This is a ride of about 30 minutes at quiet times but could easily take an hour in rush hour.
Collective minibuses are a popular alternative. These shared door-to-door services congregate outside both the domestic and international terminals. Most go into the city centre with drop-offs along the way, though they will go wherever you want. Ask at the first in line and if they’re not going where you need to go they’ll direct you to one that is. They go once they have enough people and even at quiet times you’ll rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes. The fare is $35 for one person, but each extra person going to the same destination is only an additional $8 (so two people travelling together would pay $43).
Buses also run into the city. The main company is SkyBus which operates 24hr a day, 365 days a year. For $16 they’ll get you into the city in 40–60 minutes. Services run every 10–20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes overnight.
Buses run all over Auckland. They are mostly modern, clean and relatively frequent. Services have improved a lot in recent years and are likely to continue improving as the network moves away from its current rambling routes which wend all over the city. A more focussed approach with direct routes feeding to nodes should lead to shorter overall journey times even if riders have to make more changes. Most services are numbered but several have descriptive titles, the most useful being the Link buses:
CityLink From Karangahape Road in the north, down Queen Street, past Britomart and to Wynyard Quarter and back. $1 fare, but free if you transfer from another bus or train using an AT HOP card.
InnerLink A frequent loop from Britomart through Parnell (for Auckland Museum), and Newmarket, along Karangahape Road, through Ponsonby and past SkyCity to Britomart. $2.50 maximum fare.
OuterLink This wider loop is less useful for most visitors, but visits Parnell (for Auckland Museum), Newmarket and Maungawhau /Mt Eden and runs close to Auckland Zoo.
One handy way to get around the main sights is on the AucklandHop on, Hop off Explorer. You pay $45 for a day’s unlimited rides (or $75 for two days) between sights including the Auckland Museum, Maungawhau / Mt Eden, the Auckland Art Gallery, the New Zealand Maritime Museum, and the Ferry Terminal for ferries to Devonport or Waiheke Island. In summer the most useful services run every 30min, so you’ll need to be vigilant to make the maximum use of your ticket.
Auckland International Airport
Ray Emery Drive, Auckland 2022
All flights land at Auckland International Airport, located in the suburb of Mangere, 20km south of the city centre. There are two terminals, Domestic and International, linked by a frequent bus (or you can walk in 10min).
Britomart Transport Centre
8 Queen St, Auckland 1010
Auckland’s main train station is the underground Britomart Transport Centre, situated at the northern end of Queen St close to the waterfront. There are relatively frequent services to suburban stations, mostly in places you’re unlikely to want to visit. Since there is no central bus station, the Britomart Transport Centre acts as the focus for suburban buses. These leave from various stops mostly clustered outside at the foot of Queen Street. Other buses leave from stops dotted around the city centre.
Sky City Bus Terminal
102 Hobson St, Auckland 1010
Far less grand than it sounds, this is the main stop for InterCity buses, which run long-distance services around the country. InterCity’s subsidiary brand, Great Sights, also use this terminal
around the CBD, with most leaving from, outside the Britomart Transport Centre.
172 Quay Street
172 Quay St, Auckland 1010
Hardly a transportation hub at all, just a roadside bus stop used by long-distance bus services run by Naked Bus and their associate, Mana Bus.
Auckland Ferry Terminal
89 Quay St, Auckland 1010
The bulk of the city’s ferry’s centre on the Auckland Ferry Terminal marked by the distinctive, brick Ferry Building built in 1912. Fron here you can pick up services all around the harbour, but those of most interest are to Devonport, Rangitoto Island, Waiheke Island and Tiritiri Matangi Island.
Auckland Strand Railway Station
Ngaoho Place, Auckland 1010
Because they don’t want diesel fumes clogging up the underground Britomart Transport Centre, the KiwiRail Northern Explorer train to Wellington now leaves from this platform and shed inconveniently sited 1km east of Britomart.
AT HOP card
If you are staying for a few days, or intend to use buses, trains and ferries intensely, it may be worth obtaining an AT HOP card, a stored-value card which you tap-on and tap-off on each vehicle. You’ll save at least 20% on every journey, but the $10 non-refundable purchase price may negate any savings. Cards can be bought from numerous retailers around town then topped-up with enough money for your journeys at retailers, train stations and online.
AT HOP day pass
Once you have your AT HOP card, you may then load it with an AT HOP day pass which gives 24 hours travel on buses, trains and ferries for $16. This is valid on buses and trains anywhere in the city you’re likely to want to go, on ferries to Devonport and includes buses on Waiheke Island but, disappointingly, not the ferry to Waiheke Island.
Tickets can be bought on buses, trains and at ferry termini though it is more convenient (and may work out cheaper) if you have a pre-paid AT HOP card.
Fares for short bus and train journeys you’re likely to make are $2.50 ($1.80 with a AT HOP card). Children under 5 travel free and those aged 5 to 15 pay around 60% of the adult fare.
Ferry fares are higher. The adult trip from central Auckland to Devonport is $12 return ($9 with AT HOP card). Waiheke Island cost $36 for the round trip.