Auckland was my first experience traveling. I got there in 2012 with nothing but my backpack and a head full of dreams. Of course, I loved it. The city, the harbor, the volcanoes, the relaxed atmosphere... and all the wonderful places to explore around.
You don't come in New Zealand to explore the cities, but the nature. Although Auckland really worth a stop! It not only hides some beautiful neighborhoods, but also stunning beaches, surf spots, hiking trails and waterfalls less than an hour drive from the city center. If you travel in New Zealand, I'd recommend a week stay in Auckland region -you'd be surprised by the wonders awaiting you there! I was based in Albany, which was perfect : close to the beach, far from the crowds, and near a bus station to get to the city center without the traffic hassle.
Discover 10 things to do in Auckland region, and please share in the comments your must-do in Auckland, as I'm always happy to find new excuses to come back in this incredible country!
10 Things to do in Auckland region
#1. Explore Kitekite Falls & surf on Piha beach
This 1.5h hike to the falls and back makes me discover the typical New Zealand bush for the very first time. The lush green forest hides trees I've never seen before, with exotic birds and insects noises. We're in the tropical jungle -I feel like walking into a scene from a Disney movie!
The Kitekite Falls are stunning, and even though it's a popular place for hikers in NZ, we're alone on the trail. That's the magic of New Zealand -but I just got there, so I haven't realized that yet.
After our gorgeous hike, we get to Piha beach, nearby. It's a complete different atmosphere here : we go from the wild bush to food trucks on the beach, surfers running to catch waves and reggae music on the background.
Kitekite Falls and Piha Beach from Auckland: 35kms
#2. Get lost in Parnell & Ponsonby neighborhoods
First time I get to the city, I don't take a map. I just want to get lost, follow the flow and discover. Somehow, I arrive in the lovely neighborhood of Parnell. It's charming, with streets lined with vintage shops and giant trees. Oh and this dark chocolate & passionfruit sorbet will make me love this place even more!
I continue my walk all the way to Ponsonby, another lovely neighborhood of Auckland. It's full of old vinyles shops, where by some miracle, I manage to buy an audiotape for my old car -this "best of Eagles" will accompany me during my 6 months road trip in New Zealand. There're also plenty of great design and decoration stores -but no shopping for me, unless I decide to stay and settle down forever... which I might!
#3. Watch the sunset & the moonrise from Long Bay
Staying in Albany, I discover a lifestyle light years away from what I've known so far, which consists on living near the city without the crowds -and with beaches and dolphins instead. Every morning, people walk their dogs or run on the beach, and at night, they go for a sunset walk. That's their routine.
Long bay is a gorgeous beach north of Auckland which offers some great hiking trails on farm lands, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The marine reserve protects a variety of coastal habitats. You can sometimes spot dolphins playing around, so keep an eye on the water...
Sunset is truly a magical moment, especially if you have the chance to be there on full Moon. Then it transforms into a wonderful moonrise that makes the ocean sparkle.
Long Bay from Auckland city: 25kms
#4. Visit the gannet colony & surf in Muriwai
The North Island West Coast has a lot to offer, starting with Muriwai's impressive gannet colony. Imagine thousands of birds nesting on a cliff. I'm usually not so much into birdwatching but this is a pretty cool experience. There are so many birds, you could stay and observe them for hours -if they weren't so smelly.
Down the gannet colony view point is Muriwai Beach, famous for its black sand and massive waves. There's a surf school on the beach, so if you want to learn, it might be your chance. It's also a great place for hiking and biking.
Muriwai from Auckland: 42kms
#5. Go wild in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is ENORMOUS, and goes all the way from Bethells Beach to south Piha. With over 250kms of walking tracks, the ranges are a great place to explore on foot, surrounded by a spectacular nature. We went on a wonderful hike through the pristine bush, to discover the giant Kauri trees -the kind of perfect tree to build a kid's dream tree house on!
After a rewarding picnic on the grass, we got to Bethells Beach for a swim. It's spacious and rugged, with the West Coast's typical volcanic black sand.
Bethells Beach from Auckland: 36kms
#6. Discover Devonport's colorful houses
Devontport, c'est très très chic. This peaceful seaside village situated across Auckland harbor offers gorgeous views over the city skyline, especially from the Mount Victoria. In this rich neighborhood, you will find beautiful houses, tranquil cafes, second hand bookshops, art galleries, public barbecues in the parks, beautiful beaches and -like everywhere in New Zealand- and lovely hiking trails.
Devontport from Auckland: 15kms
#7. Climb up Mount Eden, the city's dormant volcano
A trip in Auckland isn't complete without a stop in Mount Eden! One of the city's highest natural point, it offers panoramic views of the surroundings, all the way to Waiheke Island on clear days. The volcano might be dormant, but it's still pretty impressive to see this massive crater so close to the city.
On your way to the crater, you'll pass by Mount Eden Road, a charming neighborhood that reminded me a bit of Nothing Hill in London. It's colorful, very relaxed with many nice cafes.
This is a very windy place, so don't forget to be properly dressed if you don't want to get cold.
#8. Travel to pristine Rangitoto island
Rangitoto is a mysterious 600-years-old volcano that you can see pretty much from everywhere in the city. I haven't had the chance to go there, and it's one of the (many) reasons I will go back to New Zealand one day!
A day trip to Rangitoto is a fascinating thing to do in Auckland. You can get to the summit in an hour climb through lush nature, to get the most amazing views on the crater, the Hauraki Gulf and the city. The island also has some stunning lava caves worth exploring and other beautiful hiking tracks. To resume, it looks like a perfect day trip from Auckland.
Getting to Rangitoto Island from Auckland: 25 minutes ferry journey, 30$ return for adults and 25$ for children.
#9. Meet the kiwi wildlife in Auckland zoo
I'm not a big zoo fan, but arriving in such an exotic country, I wanted to discover the wildlife -and no, I would have NEVER imagined I'd have the chance to surf with dolphins 5 months later. Auckland zoo is a colorful place to explore with 150 animal species, 500 animals, and a number of endemic species, such as the legendary kiwis -they're very hard to spot into the wild, so it might be your only chance!
Auckland zoo is open 364 days a year (except Christmas Day), from 9am to 5pm (5:30pm in summer). Entrance fee is 28$ for adults and 12$ for children. It's situated on Motions Rd, just west of downtown Auckland and next to the Western Springs Reserve.
#10. Attend an All Blacks rugby match at Eden Park
Still on my New Zealand bucketlist! At the time of my trip I was solo and in a budget, so it wasn't really an option... But seeing the legendary rugby team do the famous Maori Haka and play at Eden Park surely is a must in Auckland!
Auckland, in a few words...
Auckland is not the capital, but the largest and the most populated city in New Zealand: it accounts for about one third of the country's total population.
I visited the city in 2012 and loved it. According to the locals, it's growing and changing very fast. It's still has its vibrant vibe and great quality of life, but I wouldn't wait too long to go there.
In 2017, according to international surveys, the city is still on top 3 for quality of life, behind Vienna and Zurich. :)