The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.
The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.
The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.
Aucklanders swarm to Waiheke Island in summer to make the most of its stunning beaches, which are some of the safest and cleanest in the world for swimming and water sports like sea kayaking and snorkeling.
Some of the best beaches include Palm Beach, a secluded beach so named for the palms at the east end, which is not to be confused with the clothes-optional Little Palm Beach. Blackpool Beach is popular with windsurfers and the perfectly romantic Cactus Bay, which can only be accessed by boat or kayak, is popular with picnicking couples.
As well as the beaches, the 22 vineyards and numerous olive groves are popular with wine aficionados and gourmets on weekend getaways. Excellent restaurants and cafes dot the island and many offer food that complements the local wines. Settlement on the island goes back 1,000 years to the first Maori settlement. On the island today you will still find scattered remains of Maori sites, including cooking pits and terraced.
Perched on top of a dormant volcano, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of New Zealand’s finest museums. The Museum is the place to explore Maori and Pacific Island history with the largest collection of artifacts in the world, including buildings, canoes, carvings and around 1.2 million images.
An extensive permanent exhibition covers the wars in which New Zealand has been involved both at home and abroad. Exhibits include Spitfire and Mitsubishi Zero airplanes and models of Maori pas (earth fortifications).
Children will have fun exploring in the Stevenson Centre where they can get up close with bugs and birds and even touch a real elephant tooth. The Walk on the Wild Side self-guided tour explores the evolutionary history of New Zealand’s plants and animals giving kids the chance to see dinosaur bones and fossils.
Waitmata Harbor, often referred to as Auckland Harbor, is one of two beautiful harbors surrounding Auckland. Its name refers to 'obsidian glass' in Maori language and its spectacular waters are said to sparkle like the dark volcanic glass that early settlers found in the area.
The harbor made a stunning backdrop for the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup and for the sailing enthusiast there is the opportunity to live the experience and sail an America's Cup yacht. The Motu Manawa Marine Reserve covers an area in the southwest of the harbor surrounding Pollen and Traherne Islands. The reserve covers salt marshes, mangrove swamps and shellbanks. It is best viewed from a sea kayak.
Tiritiri Matangi Island is an open wildlife sanctuary devoted to the protection of local endangered species. The island is tightly controlled to keep out predators such as cats and mice, which hunt fragile bird species, including the tiny kiwi birds you’ll see running around the island.
With about 80 species of birds, Tiritiri Matangi is a must-see for birdwatchers, and the air is rich with varieties of birdsong rarely heard on the mainland. Guided walks can help you spot and identify the various types of birds, and you can find the trailheads of walking tracks at the visitor center. The Kawaura Track winds through coastal forest and 1,000-year-old pohutukawa trees, while the Wattle Track leads to the oldest working lighthouse in New Zealand. Head to Hobbs Beach, just a short walk from the ferry dock, to take a swim and spy on blue penguins in their nesting boxes.
Auckland is famous for many different things, although volcanoes aren’t usually one of them.
While the sailboats, wine, and iconic waterfront are just a few of the city highlights, there nevertheless sits a volcanic island just minutes from downtown Auckland. Symmetrical, rugged, and only 550 years old, a visit to volcanic Rangitoto Island is one of the best day trips from Auckland. Ferries depart from the city’s north shore and cross the bay in about 25 minutes, and once on shore, an hour-long trek leads to a summit which was active just centuries ago. Though experts expect that Rangitoto Island will eventually erupt again, currently it’s safe to trek on the island without fear of an eruption. While the climb to the summit can be rocky and strenuous, the panoramic view of the Auckland skyline is regarded as one of the best in the city.
There was once a time in the early 1990’s when Viaduct Harbor was a downtrodden port. With an infusion of money from the America’s Cup, however, this aging corner of the Waitemata waterfront was fantastically transformed into one of the city’s most popular districts.
Bars, restaurants, and high-end apartments line the pedestrian mall, and some of the most luxurious yachts in the South Pacific can be docked at the nearby marina. By day, Viaduct Harbor is a great place for people-watching from the patio of a comfortable café, and watch as visitors ogle at sailboats which sit in the Viaduct Basin. By night, the Viaduct turns into a hopping scene of popular bars and restaurants, and Auckland locals and passing tourists mingle with yachties on leave. More than just bars, restaurants, and luxurious sailboats, Viaduct Harbor is also home to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.
Every city needs a large central park, and Auckland Domain provides 185 acres where you can escape the bustle of the city. Set on the slopes of an extinct volcano and protected since the 1840’s, Auckland Domain is not only the largest, but also the oldest park in Auckland.
Located just east of the city center, Auckland Domain has a network of walking trails which weave their way through the forest. Unlike the pace of nearby downtown, peaceful moments abound in the park such as watching ducks land on the pond or relaxing on a bench in the shade. In the spring, cherry groves pepper the forest with a pink and vibrant hue, and during most times of the year you can find teams playing rugby on any of the large open fields. For all of the open space, however, the largest draw of Auckland Domain is the building atop the hill. Constructed in 1929, the Auckland War Memorial and Museum is a three-story, neo-classical building with displays on everything.
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To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns.
Located at the southern entrance to the Viaduct Harbor, the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is a window into New Zealand’s maritime past.
As an island nation, the history of New Zealand has been largely reliant on man’s ability to navigate the sea. Polynesian voyagers in sailing canoes were the first to land on the shores of New Zealand, only to be followed later by European explorers mapping the far-reaching corners of the Pacific. Explorers were followed by traders and settlers, all of whom endured long voyages at sea to reach the shores of Aotearoa. Today, New Zealand consistently puts out some of the world’s top shipbuilders and sailors, and America’s Cup racing yachts are a common sight in the waters around the museum. In fact, the enormous racing yacht KZ1 which competed for the 1988 America’s Cup is docked adjacent to the museum entrance, and the 153- ft. mast on the ship can’t make it beneath the Auckland Harbor Bridge.
Located alongside the scenic island of Rangitoto, the emerald landscapes, striking coastline and thick forests of Motutapu Island attract visitors from across the globe. Sandy beaches and easy walking paths offer up plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, while the 300 Maori archeological sites that scatter the land showcase a rich history and detail ancient lives of early inhabitants.
Travelers can explore one of the Island’s popular walking tracks, like the Motutapu Walkway, which connects the causeway to Rangitoto and the Matutapu ferry dock. Several World War II military sites in the northern junction offer history buffs with a look at gun pits, shelters and other fortresses. Outdoor adventurers can overnight at one of the island’s popular campsites and those looking to give back can volunteer at the Motutapu Restoration Trust, where locals and out-of-towners work alongside each other to plant trees, clean up beaches and monitor wildlife.
The most charismatic of Auckland's neighborhoods, charming Parnell Village is Auckland's oldest suburb and is renowned for its restaurants, cafes, galleries and boutique shopping.
Spend a day exploring the fashionable village shopping area along Parnell Road which is renowned for quality crafts and good jewelers. In the evening there is an international flavor to the 40-odd restaurants and cafes in the area and a dinner option to suit every budget. Every second Thursday of the month there is music in the streets and Parnell’s galleries stay open until 7:30pm for late night art; afterwards you can bunker down in one of Parnell’s many lovely bars. Leave behind the main shopping area and you'll find beautiful, quiet parks including the Parnell Rose Gardens and some interesting historic buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral which stands at the top of the hill and exemplifies ‘Modern-Gothic’ style, as well as the impressive 1930s brick Auckland Railway Station.
Set only three miles south of the Auckland city center, Mount Eden offers a view of the Auckland skyline unlike any other you’ll find in the city.
This 650 ft. extinct volcano is the city’s highest natural vantage point, and it’s a few miles closer to downtown Auckland than neighboring One Tree Hill. Heavily populated during ancient Maori times, the slopes of the mountain were largely abandoned at the time of European arrival. Today the area surrounding Mount Eden is one of Auckland’s most popular suburbs, and the village surrounding the base of the hill houses a burgeoning community of artists. For those flying into the Auckland airport and providing their own transportation, Mount Eden is a popular stop while driving en route to the city. The 360-degree views from the summit allow visitors to get their bearings, and one of the best free activities you’ll find in Auckland is enjoying a Mount Eden sunset.
Many equate the city of Auckland with sailboats cruising along the famous waterfront. While there is no denying the city’s maritime heritage, few realize that the “City of Sails” also has bushwalks and tumbling waterfalls which are tucked away in a forested hideaway.
In the Waitakere Ranges—a string of hills which rise to 1,400 feet and stretch for 15 miles—rural hiking tracks weave their way through native wilderness and bush. Set only 30 minutes west of the downtown city center, the park offers everything from twenty-minute loops to multiday trails delving deep into the forest. Along the way, hikers will pass along numerous streams and walk beneath a canopy which teems with birdsong. Of all the trees which grow in the forest, none are more famous than the towering kauri which regularly stretches to over 100 feet in height.
The park has more than just trails, however, and the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park extends to the shoreline of Auckland’s west coast.
Located one hour west of downtown Auckland, Piha Beach is one of the most popular day trips for city-trapped urbanites needing an escape to the beach. This coastal community of 600 residents sits tucked at the base of the Waitakere Ranges, a series of hills which are criss-crossed by some of Auckland’s best hiking and trails.
Along the shore, the beach itself is an expansive theater where land and sea meet in an epic tableau. Towering rocks spring upwards from the sea, and stretches of sand which are so limitless in size make it tough for the shoreline to ever appear crowded. On the stretch of shore along Piha Beach, a towering monolith known as Lion Rock separates the beach into its north and south parts. Since the south side of the beach is closer to town, it’s also the part which is most frequently popular, and as you walk the shore towards the north end of the beach the development gives way to a system of dunes.
One Tree Hill is the name for a suburb, park, and single hill on the outskirts of the Auckland city center.
Though it is now a 118-acre park, there was a time in history when this 600 ft. peak was an important Maori settlement which was home to thousands of residents. The strategic location between Auckland’s two harbors provided easy access to the water, and the volcanic soil of this extinct caldera created a desirable spot for farming. The land was sold in the 1840’s, however, and the surrounding area was slowly developed as Europeans populated Auckland. The lone tree which stood on the summit was chopped down in the 1850s, and subsequent trees were planted atop the hill to replace the one which was destroyed. A lone Monterey pine stood towards the summit until 1994, when a Maori activist took a chainsaw to the tree as it was seen as a symbol of foreign intrusion on sacred Maori land.
Along the wild western coast of the North Island just outside Auckland, Muriwai Beach is a famously beautiful and rugged stretch of shore where pounding waves beckon to brave surfers and volcanic rock cliffs give way to jet black sand beaches. Each year from August to March, Muriwai Beach becomes home to massive colonies of nesting gannets. Head to Otakamiro Point, at the southern end of the beach, to witness thousands of these seabirds huddled wing to wing—laying, nesting and hatching in unison along the cliff’s edge.
A boardwalk along the coastline offers an easy route for a stroll to picturesque viewpoints, and if you’re game for adventurous watersports along the wild coast, the local surf school offers two-hour introductory lessons every day. More experienced surfers can rent gear and hit the waves on their own, while golfers can play a round at the Muriwai Golf Glub.
Set adjacent to the park at One Tree Hill, Cornwall Park is a 296-acre green space that rises above the suburbs of Auckland. Strategically located between Waitemata and Manukau harbors, the area was once the site of a Maori settlement which once housed thousands of residents.
Today, visitors enjoy Cornwall Park for its archeological remains, views of the city, and ornately-landscaped gardens. Although the Maori settlement had been completely abandoned by the time of European arrival, remnants of the ancient fortress, or pa, lay scattered about the hillside. One notable relic within the park is the Rongo Stone, a large, carved stone which was part of a Maori shrine. While a few remains are evident on self-guided walks through the park, guided tours also take place which dig deeper into the Maori history.
Busy, bustling, and lined with shops, Queen Street is the pulsing center of Auckland. This main thoroughfare runs from the Auckland ferry building up the hill towards Karangahape Road, and in addition to the shops and trendy storefronts is home to a collection of restaurants and hotels. The pedestrian traffic along the length of Queen Street is greater than anywhere else in the country, and the fast-paced energy of commerce and trade can be felt in the step of those on the street.
There is more to Queen Street than simply professionals, however, and the area is a hub for visitors and travelers who are moving about town on the city’s public transport. At the bottom of Queen Street, the ferry building serves as a landmark on the waterfront where it’s easy to embark on a stroll of the harbor.
Just west of Auckland’s CBD, Ponsonby is one of the city’s most fashionable inner-city suburbs. Known for its restaurants and cafes, delis, boutiques, jewelers, independent bookstores, clubs and bars, and art galleries that line Ponsonby Road — this large neighborhood also has its fill of art hotels.
In a classic tale of gentrification, up until the 1970s Ponsonby had a reputation as a crime-ridden corner of the city, full of slums and unloved buildings that had remained rundown since the Great Depression. Then came the students and an underground arts scene which eventually led into Ponsonby becoming an upper-middle class neighborhood as soon as the beautiful 19th-villas were restored. To get to know the history of the area, you can take a heritage walk and learn more about historic buildings including the Ponsonby Fire Station, Ponsonby Post Office, The Leys Institute, and St. Mary's Convent.
The delightful harborside village of Devonport is an excellent spot for whiling away a day in antique shops, sampling local fare in the many restaurants and cafes or idling on beautiful Cheltanham Beach.
The area has a number of charming heritage buildings including the Art Deco Victoria Cinema, the oldest cinema in the southern hemisphere. The lovely Esplanade Hotel is a well-preserved example of an 1890s English seaside hotel and offers dining options with views over the harbor. The suburb is home to the Devonport Naval Base and you can get an excellent insight into the area's military history at the Navy Museum. There are also the fascinating WWII caves that you can visit at North Head.
The brainchild of the renowned marine archaeologist and diver, Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium is an aquarium designed to thrill the whole family. It was the first aquarium to use curved-glass viewing containers and a conveyor belt to move people along. There is an exciting array of specimens from tropical marine fish to Antarctic penguins.
Highlights include the gigantic stingrays, turtles and octopus that you will see in the deep water exhibit and the pufferfish and stonefish in the venomous-fish tank.
Jump aboard an Antarctic Snowcat, a vehicle usually only used in Antarctica, and travel through the penguin enclosure where you will see king and gentoo penguins.
If you’re up for some added excitement you can snorkel with the fish or for a real adrenaline rush you can swim with the sharks or stingrays.
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