Auckland is the most populous city in New Zealand, with nearly 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area. This versatile city lends itself well to various interests: In a short period of time, one can peruse museums, discover world-class shopping and dining, and even explore Auckland’s rugged west coast beaches. Three days in Auckland is a great jumping off point to realize New Zealand’s awesome potential as a stylish and adventurous getaway.
After landing at Auckland International Airport, make sure you hire a vehicle – Auckland and its surrounding areas is best explored by car. This will maximize the time you’re able to spend in the area.
Breakfast is at Queenie’s, a relaxed neighborhood cafe in the Freeman’s Bay district, whose confines are brimming with creativity – from the Pixies playing over the speakers, to the beautiful Aotearoa (New Zealand in Maori) mural on the wall. Order the Prawn Omelet and Turkish Eggs – a flavorful and exotic way to start your morning.
A brisk walk through Victoria Park gives you the chance to digest and watch the local rugby match happening on the grassy knolls.
Spend the afternoon at Auckland War Memorial Museum, a great start to familiarizing yourself with the kiwi way of life. Here you’ll be able to walk into a wharenui, or Maori meeting house, that is intricately carved with Maori faces and inscriptions. You can explore native flora and fauna, including New Zealand’s famous and nocturnal Kiwi bird, art, war canoes, and New Zealand’s military history.
Because gambling is legal in New Zealand, take an Uber to SkyCity Casino. This casino has many of the typical offerings of a casino, from Blackjack and Roulette, but also offers some fun electronic slots and even a high rollers area upstairs. Dining options abound, but the buffet was fully booked when we arrived. Plan ahead.
Across from SkyCity Casino is Federal Delicatessen, a kiwi rendition of the NYC Jewish diner. Americans will quickly recognize the employees’ uniforms as uniquely American – from their soda-jerk like shirts, to the paper deli hats. The name of the game here is Pastrami, which is home made and house smoked. Order their seafood chowder which has pastrami and mussels. I enjoyed a really fabulous glass of Marlborough County Sauvignon Blanc at $14/glass.
Day 1 Tips:
- Drivers in New Zealand drive on the left side of the road. Obey all traffic lays, and go slow in those tricky, and surprisingly efficient, roundabouts!
- New Zealand restaurants do not deliver your bill to your table. Simple go to the front register to pay. Tipping is not customary. If service is exemplary, a 10% tip is sufficient, left in the tip jar near the register.
- Before entering the wharenui, please remove your shoes and show respect while inside.
- Ditch the car for inner-city excursions. Parking is extremely expensive, and Ubers are cheap and efficient.
Start your day early, because outdoor adventure awaits exploring the Waitakere National Ranges. Located just 30 minutes from the Central Business District (CBD) in Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges has endless hiking trails, and a host of world-class beaches.
Begin by a stop at the Arataki Visitor’s Center. Stunning views surround the center and are the payoff for the long, winding, road up. Inside the center, you’ll learn more about native birds and creatures, find a small, well-equipped gift shop, and encounter staff who can point you in the right direction of your next stop.
A theater downstairs shows a 10-minute film of the Waitakere Ranges and impresses upon you the awesomeness of this reserve.
We chose to hike the Mercer Bay Loop coastal hike, about 20 minutes west of the Arataki Visitor’s Center. Park in the lot off Log Race Road and take the loop, 1.4 kilometers, or about 1 mile. Allow for roughly 2 hours to finish the loop (the recommended time is 1 hour, but we took lots of photos along the stunning, sunny coast).
After the hike, drive about 2 more kilometers west to Piha for a late lunch. We opted for the Piha RSA, a members-only club (ask politely to dine in as a guest, and the cheerful bartender will find someone nearby to sponsor you) with a fabulous outdoor deck overlooking Piha Beach to enjoy your fish and chips.
Drive just around the bend and park to explore the wild and moody Piha beach. This long stretch of beach features, most famously, Lion Rock, of which the brave can hike and the spectators can marvel. This black sand beach extending into the Tasman Sea was the setting for several family pickup games of rugby and happy off-leash dogs.
After driving back to Auckland from Piha, a roughly 50 minute drive, take a breather, then head to Burger Burger in Ponsonby. Located within an alley chock-full of trendy restaurants and bars (many of the patios staying open even during the throws of winter), Burger Burger excels at one thing: burgers! We ordered the classic with all the fixin’s including a house-made tomato jam.
Day 2 Tips:
- Be careful driving around the Waitakere Ranges – the roads run one way each direction and twist and turn wildly through mountainous terrain.
- Bring plenty of water for your hike. Another recommended hike is the Kitekite Falls.
- If using GPS, bring your USB phone charger. The roughly 50 minute drive back to Auckland (on top of a day of navigating) nearly zapped all of our remaining cell phone power.
Your third day in Auckland is well-spent in Devonport, a harbor-side suburb of Auckland. While many opt to take the ferry over to this northeastern surburb, a short 15-minute drive over the bridge gives you freedom to explore both ends of the peninsula and everything in between.
Your fist stop in Devonport is Takarunga, or Mt. Victoria, the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore. Here you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor and the surrounding Hauraki Gulf. Bring your camera – the views do not disappoint!
Devonport’s shops are best explored by foot and offer a variety that will keep you busy through the afternoon – from antique shops, to funky bookstores (Paradox Books is highly recommended – the eclectic selection by the bohemian husband/wife proprietors is extraordinary), make sure to spend some time ducking in and out of the boutique shops.
On a recommendation of the bare-footed, bohemian-spirited, extra-friendly proprietor of Paradox Books, lunch is at Corelli’s, an upscale cafe whose food is divine. The standout dish was the seafood chowder – a rich chowder full of scallops, prawns, salmon, calamari, and more. The lamb bangers and mash was also delicious, especially with a glass of New Zealand Cabernet. Save room for their raspberry cheesecake!
Before heading back to Auckland, take the short drive from the shops to Maungauika, or North Head, at the other end of Devonport (Mt. Victoria its counterpart). Here you’ll discover even more sweeping views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. You can sit on a bench and watch the world slowly go by admiring the sunset, the few passing boats, and views of Rangitoto Island.
Day 3 Tips:
- Parking in the shopping district of Devonport is limited to 1 hour. For more flexibility, simply drive a street or two up into the residential neighborhood and park there. We found a 120-minute time allowance.
- Traffic may be a little heavy returning into Auckland after sundown. Do not let it deter you: sunset from North Head is not to be missed.
Auckland is a great getaway at any time of year. There’s always something to see, do, and discover. Do yourself a favor: book the ticket, and take the trip.