Auckland City Guide
As of May 1, 2022, vaccinated visitors from visa waiver countries (including the U.S.) will be allowed to enter New Zealand without the need to quarantine, and you may be looking for a guide to Auckland as you prepare your trip. Here is our detailed Auckland city guide to make your perfect trip dreams come true!
The information in this post may help readers navigate Auckland and vicinity, which was the second destination in our epic 34,498-mile odyssey (CLT-JFK-HEL-OSL-DOH-AKL and back). To read about what prompted us to take this circuitous path from the 4th northernmost country in the world (Norway) to the 4th southernmost country in the world (New Zealand), read my destination report on Oslo.
This is a guest post from Jim at WINEtineraries.
Getting from Auckland’s Airport (AKL) to the Central Business District (CBD)
Before we get int our Auckland city guide, we need to get to the city from the airport. AKL is 13.1 miles from the CBD. If your plans include travel within New Zealand but beyond Auckland, renting a car will be your obvious choice. If, however, Auckland is either your final destination or a stopover, everything in this report was done without renting a car.
Super Shuttle offers 24/7 shared transport services between the airport and the CBD, where most visitors will be staying, for about half the cost of a taxi: $30 NZ ($20.42) for the first person and $10 NZ ($6.81) for each additional passenger. Uber (NZ $40.79/$27.77), Ola (NZ $41.06/$27.95), or Zoomy (NZ $39.89/$27.16) offer faster and more private options but also cost a bit more. There is also a combination bus/train option that is fairly straightforward and also the least expensive by far. Take Bus #380 (also called the Airporter) from the airport to Papatoetoe train station. From there, trains leave about every 10 minutes for the Britomart Transport Centre at the foot of Queen Street in the CBD.
It’s hard to beat Skybus if traveling with a family, since up to 4 children (up to 16 years old) ride free on a family pass. Unfortunately, its Airport Express services, which offered convenient transport between the airport and Auckland’s CBD, have not resumed operations after an extended hiatus due to COVID. Check Skybus’ “Service Update” page as conditions in New Zealand change.
Where We Stayed
It’s hard to imagine a more ideal location for one’s stay than the Hilton Auckland. At the end of Princes Wharf in the CBD, it is less than a 5-minute walk to the Ferry Building, the New Zealand Maritime Museum, and stop #1 on the Auckland Explorer Bus (see below). I happened to be sitting on a sizable pile of Hilton Honors points, so our 5 nights cost us $0 out-of-pocket + 232,000 points–about 20% less than what we would have paid in cash.
Thanks to a status match, I was a Diamond member when I made our booking, and even though I was “only” a Gold member when we checked in, we still got upgraded to an oversized Harbor View room–very nice! The hotel’s generous breakfast buffet often ended up being our largest meal of the day. The ground level lounge offers “Auckland’s most indulgent afternoon tea” from 11am-4pm Friday-Sunday for NZ $60/$40.85.
Other Lodging Options in the CBD
The only hotel in New Zealand to earn a spot on Conde Nast’s 2021 “Hot List” of favorite new hotels around the world, The Hotel Britomart (4.5 stars) is also New Zealand’s only 5 Green Star hotel–a testament to its commitment to sustainable design, building and operations. Conveniently located next to the Britomart Transport Centre, rooms begin at NZ $287/$194.94 per night.
Fable is a New Zealand chain of boutique hotels focused on delivering “the best of contemporary world-class hospitality, combined with artful details…and twists of local…flavor.” At the time of writing, the 79-room Fable Auckland (4.5 stars), situated near the foot of Queen Street, was offering 25% off its “classic Fable rate,” bringing the price per night (including continental breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant) for as low as NZ $195/$132.35 (queen) or NZ $203/$137.79 (king) per night.
Bed and Breakfast
Braemar on Parliament Street (4.5 stars) is a late Victorian bed and breakfast less than a mile from the Britomart Transport Centre. It offers free Wi-Fi, free parking, and includes a full, hot breakfast every morning. Rooms range from NZ $280/$190.62 to NZ $450/$306.35 for a 3-room suite with private TV lounge.
Where We Ate
There’s no shortage of wonderful eating establishments in Auckland, and I simply can’t cover every restaurant in this guide. Those listed below are all found in the CBD. A peculiarity of dining in New Zealand is that your server may not bring a bill to your table. Instead, you may be expected to go to the register when you are ready to pay for your meal. Your tab will be linked to your table in the restaurant’s POS system. Also, tipping, per se, is not expected; it is, however, customary to put your spare change in the “charity jar” near the register.
Best Ugly Bagels–set in a funky, restored factory at the corner of Wellesley and Nelson Streets–is a 7-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from Princes Wharf. The Montreal-style bagels served here are hand-rolled, simmered in sweet honey-water, and baked in a custom-made stone oven. Their “Butter Up” bagel (served “with a lick of butter”) is NZ $5.90/$3.98 The most expensive item on their menu is the “King Salmon,” consisting of smoked regal king salmon, Zany Zeus cream cheese, red onion, capers, dill, and lemon juice (NZ $17.90/$12.09).
The website for Federal Delicatessen, opposite Sky Tower, Auckland’s iconic landmark, describes it as “…an old school NYC Jewish delicatessen.” Here, you can order everything from “schticks” (pea and pastrami croquettes with “Old Yella” mayonnaise, NZ $16/$10.81) to matzo ball soup (NZ $12/$8.10) and Montreal poutine (NZ $10.20/$6.89).
Better Burger (the name says it all), around the corner from The Hotel Britomart, serves up straightforward and tasty cheeseburgers (NZ $8/$5.40 for a single, NZ $12/$8.10 for a double), fries (NZ $5/$3.38), shakes (NZ $6/$4.05), and more from noon on daily.
The website for Café Hanoi, located a few doors down from The Hotel Britomart, describes this modern Vietnamese restaurant as “inspired by the faded elegance of Hanoi.” Specialties here include wok-seared fish with turmeric, ginger, beans, peanuts, and rice noodles (NZ $32/$21.61) and grilled Wagyu beef with caramelized fish sauce, watercress, and fried shallots (NZ $39/$26.34). Save room for “Dear Miss Xu,” a liquid desert of Armagnac, premium chocolate liqueur, orange liqueur, coconut cream, and a shot of fresh espresso (NZ $18/$12.16).
Mexican Café, diagonally opposite Sky Tower, serves jugs of margaritas (NZ $17/$11.48) and chicken, beef, or vegetarian soft shell tacos for NZ $7/$4.73 each during its daily happy hour. If you’re really hungry, their “Mexican Fiesta” (set menu) for NZ $35/$23.64 (2 appetizers, 2 “classic” menu selections, 1 house specialty selection, and 1 desert) or NZ $40/$27.02 (3 appetizers, 2 “classic” menu selections, 2 house specialty selections, and 2 deserts) are an amazing value!
Odette’s Eatery–set in the City Works Depot complex along with Best Ugly Bagels (see above)–is only open Thursday through Saturday evenings from 5:00pm but serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. This trendy, stylish restaurant focuses on Mediterranean- and North African-inspired dishes like Baba Ghanoush (NZ $22/$14.90) and braised lamb shoulder (NZ $45/$30.47).
Hugo’s Bistro, a 7-minute walk from either Britomart Transport Centre or Braemar on Parliament Street (see above), “…serves European classics with a modern twist.” Open for dinner Tuesday through Friday, dishes here often feature “big punches of flavor”. Options include red deer served with spinach, smoked bone marrow, and horseradish (NZ $39/$26.41) or ricotta ravioli in a parley and walnut pesto sauce with freshly grated parmesan (NZ $36/$24.38).
Note: At both Odette’s and Hugo’s, a 1.7% surcharge is added for credit card payments.
What We Did
Rather than attempting to cover every single thing you can do in Auckland, my guide will highlight the things we actually did and what we thought about them.
Auckland’s Free Walking Tour leaves Queens Wharf Village and takes 2-2.5 hours. Julie, who led our free walking tour, was extremely knowledgeable. She shared things about important people and events in Auckland’s history we never would have learned otherwise. With New Zealand just beginning to reopen its borders, reservations for tours (when they become available–follow their website if you’re planning to visit) may be required, and there may be limits on the number of reservations accepted.
I also put together a half-day self-guided walking tour that included a visit to Silo Park, some public art installations, Auckland Town Hall and Aotea Square, art galleries, and some beautiful churches (pictured above). Readers of Miles to Memories may contact me for a complimentary map and annotations for this 16-stop self-guided walking tour which starts at the Auckland Fish Market.
Auckland Explorer Bus
The Auckland Explorer Bus (NZ $45/$30.70 for adults, NZ $20/$13.64 for children) can be a terrific way to see Auckland attractions beyond the CBD without a car. Divided into “red” and “blue” lines which meet at Auckland’s War Memorial Museum, this hop on, hop off narrated bus “tour” includes stops at Mt. Eden, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, and even a ferry ride to Devonport.
- Although described as 2 lines, the “red” line becomes the “blue” line (and vice versa) at the Museum, so you never have to worry about “missing” a connection from one line to the other.
- The buses run in one direction only, according to the chronological order of stop numbers, so backtracking is not efficient.
- Your bus ticket includes discounted admission to the New Zealand Maritime Museum. We hopped off twice to see the following:
The Wintergardens is a garden complex consisting of two Victorian-style glass houses, a courtyard with sunken pool (pictured here), and Fernery located within the Auckland Domain, the oldest and most historic park in the city. Hours are 9am-4:30pm daily from April 1 through October 31 and 9am-5:30pm Monday through Saturday between November 1-March 31 (9am-7:30pm on Sundays). There is no admission charge.
The three-floor Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, from its volcanic origins to the impressive navigation and settlement by the peoples of Oceania to the wars that shaped New Zealand’s identity, plus special exhibitions. All galleries are open. Museum hours are 10am-5pm Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm weekends and holidays. Admission for international visitors is NZ $28/$19.10 for adults, NZ $14/$9.55 for children and youth ages 5-13. Proof of vaccination or a medical exemption is needed for all visitors over the age of eleven. Masks, contact tracing, and social distancing are all required (at this time).
Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari
Auckland’s harbor (a portion of which is visible in the picture of the Hilton Auckland on Princes Wharf above) opens into the Hauraki Gulf – a 3-million-acre marine park. The Gulf is where the competing pressures of population growth (in 80 years, Auckland’s population has mushroomed more than 514%), tourism, shipping, and conservation concerns converge. This is a truly unique ecosystem; “(n)early one-third of all the planet’s marine mammal species have been spotted in the gulf’s waters” (taken from My Guide Auckland website). This includes a semi-resident population of critically-endangered Bryde’s whales.
We went out on a 4.5-hour “Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari” (AWADS) with the company by the same name (NZ $129/$88 per adult, NZ $109/$74.35 for seniors, and NZ $89/$60.71 for children 14 and under). AWADS, New Zealand’s only research-based marine mammal experience, strives “to provide an environmentally responsible travel experience where…customers can enjoy and appreciate nature with minimal impact on the environment.” I can happily recommend them in my Auckland guide.
Tip: Schedule your safari as early as possible during your stay in Auckland. If you don’t see marine mammals on your first outing, AWADS will give you a voucher for a free sailing on a later day.
Some of the most amazing experiences in/from Auckland don’t require a car at all, and no guide to the city would be complete without mentioning the more than 50 islands in the Hauraki Gulf. We visited just two.
This island, whose name means “a place tossed by the wind”, is a wildlife sanctuary you can visit Wednesday-Sunday and holidays most of the year. Tiritiri Matangi Island is home to one of the rarest birds in the world: the critically-endangered takahe (pictured here). It was thought to be extinct until the discovery of a small colony in 1948.
Tip: You can visit on your own by booking passage on the single daily ferry, but you will get infinitely more out of your visit by paying just NZ $10/$6.82 extra to be greeted by a volunteer guide when your ferry docks and led on a 90-minute nature walk. On this guided walk, you will learn the story of how almost 300,000 trees were planted by volunteers over a 10-year period to create “…a forested sanctuary made safe for endangered birds but open to the public” (see the “History” section of the website). Previously, the island had been stripped of 94% of its native bush over 120 years of farming and wartime defense.
As noted in the attribution for this article, I have a wine guiding business which specializes in the preparation of wine tasting itineraries that are fully customized to match one’s taste, interests, and time available. So, I couldn’t visit Auckland without spending a day on Waiheke Island, another island in the Hauraki Gulf. This island is home to more than two dozen wineries. Conveniently, many of these wineries are within easy walking distance from a stop on the route of Fullers’ Waiheke Island Explorer Hop On, Hop Off Bus. This bus meets the ferry where it docks at Matiatia Bay.
Since most wineries don’t open until 11am, we settled in for a leisurely ride across the island and started our winery visits on the return journey.
Tip: Ticket options are confusing! If you want to use the roundtrip ferry and unlimited hop on, hop off bus to get around the island and visit the wineries, purchase the “Waiheke Explorer” ticket on the Fullers 360 website for NZ $68/$46.39 per person.
Wine Tastings on Waiheke Island
Here are some wine tasting experiences I can endorse in this Auckland guide:
Our first stop was #10, Tantalus Estate Vineyard. Our tour and tasting were conducted by Clare Dunleavy, who, literally, has “written the book”–its title is Waiheke Island: A World of Wine–about the owners and winemakers whose vision and passion have made Waiheke Island a world-class destination for oenophiles. A “tantalus” is an open rack that holds liquor decanters (usually crystal), secured by a mechanism preventing the stoppers from being opened unless the device is unlocked. The word comes from the Greek legend of the mythical King Tantalus, who was condemned to stand forever in a pool of water in Hell, the waters of which would recede if he bent over to drink.
Thus, to be “tantalized” is to be tempted by something one can’t have. Tantalus Estate Vineyard appropriates this myth by describing the opening of one of its bottles of wine, in Clare’s words, as “unlocking preciousness.” The chic tasting room and restaurant on premises are decorated with chandeliers made from inverted Sauvignon Blanc vines that were pulled out when the vineyard was replanted with Bordeaux varietals in 1998.
Our next stop was #12, Batch Winery, the highest altitude vineyard on Waiheke Island with spectacular 360-degree views of the island and, off in the distance, Auckland’s skyline. Like Tantalus Estate Vineyard, Batch Winery’s name has an interesting etymology. Each bottle’s label carries a unique “batch” number denoting the vintage and style of the wine within. Also, in New Zealand, the word “bach” (pronounced “batch,” from “bachelor pad”) “…is deeply embedded in the Kiwi psyche” (according to the 100% Pure New Zealand website) to describe a holiday home.
Like typical New Zealand baches, Batch Winery features eclectic architecture in multiple colors but with design elements that belie the simplicity of the lines. The winery features translucent wall panels in the colors of wine–and the colors change with the ambient light throughout the day.
Our final tasting at #17, Jurassic Ridge Winery, was conducted by its colorful geologist/neurologist “founder, viticulturist, winemaker, cellar door pourer, sales manager, tractor driver and odd-job man” (“About Us”), Lance Blumhardt. The vines of Jurassic Ridge are planted atop 155-million-year-old rock formations which gradually break down, giving the wines grown here a flavor profile reminiscent of some of France’s iconic wine growing regions. One of the things that makes Lance’s wines special is his winemaking philosophy. “Jurassic Ridge wines are suitable for all wine lovers including vegetarians and vegans as NO animal products…are used in their production” (“Winemaking”).
I hope that you find this Auckland city guide helpful. As I mentioned, we did all of this without a rental car, which can save you a lot of money on gas, parking, and the rental itself. There is a lot to see and do within Auckland itself, and my guide covered what we thought were the best parts. If you wish to go beyond the city, you may need a rental car, though.