The gateway to New Zealand
Situated in the upper half of New Zealand’s North Island, the Auckland region is a place of diverse cultures and landscapes. Stunning coastlines, harbours and islands mean you’re never far away from some water-based adventure, whether it’s surfing, diving, sea kayaking or just enjoying a scenic cruise.
The Auckland region is also home to Auckland City, New Zealand’s largest city with an urban population of around 1.6 million. That’s one third of New Zealand’s total population.
Auckland has everything you’d expect from a modern, bustling city. It’s a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from high-end designer brands to craft and street markets. A wide range of restaurants, cafes and bars offer world-class food and wine and there’s no shortage of arts & culture venues and activities.
When it comes to outdoors and adventure in Auckland, you’re just as spoilt for choice. If you don’t have much time or you don’t want to travel too far, there’s lots to do in easy reach of the city centre. Alternatively, hit the road in any direction and in less than an hour from downtown Auckland you’ll find places that feel remote and unspoilt.
Top things to do in Auckland
Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Auckland region.
Explore Auckland’s West Coast beaches
If you’ve never seen a black sand beach then you’re in for a treat. Auckland’s ruggedly beautiful ‘wild west’ coast is definitely worth visiting. Piha, Muriwai and Bethells are the most popular surf beaches although best suited to more experienced surfers. Alternatively, if you want to escape the crowds, Anawhata, Karekare and Whatipu are the better options.
There are numerous walking tracks in the area, both along the coast (Te Henga Walkway, Mercer Bay Loop) and in the surrounding Waitākere Ranges forest. That said, many of the forest walks were closed due to the spread of kauri dieback disease which is having a devastating effect on the forest. If you are considering walking in the area, please first check the Waitākere Ranges open tracks list.
If you’re looking for a little more excitement and adrenaline you could also consider canyoning in the forest with AWOL Adventures.
Explore Auckland’s East Coast beaches
Auckland’s East Coast beaches are a stark contrast to the West Coast. For starters, they are white sand beaches. The coastline is also generally less rugged and the swells tend to be smaller most of the time, making these beaches more family friendly and better suited to surfing newbies.
Just east of downtown Auckland are the popular beaches of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers which are great for swimming and standup paddleboarding. There are also numerous cafes and bars for afterwards. For something a little off the beaten track consider heading further south towards Clevedon and the nearby Duder Regional Park.
Auckland’s North Shore beaches are also popular, from Cheltenham and Takapuna at the southern end of the shore to Long Bay in the north, just one of many beautiful bays in the area. If you’re up for something a little more adventurous then you definitely want to keep heading north as there are countless beaches and bays that offer everything from surfing and SUP to walking, cycling and snorkeling. Here are a few of our favourite spots:
- Tawharanui Peninsula – great for surfing, coastal walks and cycling.
- Goat Island – a marine reserve with abundant, friendly marine life. Try snorkeling or, if you want to stay dry, paddling in a seethrough kayak.
- Pakiri Beach – a popular surf spot and perfect for long walks along the beach.
- Te Arai Point – a little off the beaten track but worth it for the surf and the beautiful white sand that stretches north for kilometres. This is also a great place to learn to surf with Aotearoa Surf.
Explore the Hauraki Gulf islands
Situated to the north east of Auckland City, the Hauraki Gulf is home to over 50 islands and a seemingly immeasurable number of beaches and bays. Immediately noticeable is the cone-shaped island of Rangitoto, one of many volcanic cones in the area and Auckland’s youngest. And by youngest we mean 600 years so you’re in no immediate danger.
Rangitoto is well worth visiting and it’s just a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. In fact, being just 3 km off the coast, some of the more adventurous of you may wonder if you can paddle there. The short answer is yes but we would advise against you to doing it on your own. The gap between Auckland’s North Shore and Rangitoto is a busy shipping channel. The good news is that Auckland Sea Kayaks does offer guided kayak tours in and around the gulf, including to Rangitoto. They’re definitely worth checking out. Besides Rangitoto, here are some other islands you should consider visiting:
- Waiheke Island – wine lovers rejoice, Waiheke is home to some of the regions best wineries and vineyards. Add to that the beautiful beaches, coastal walks and general laid-back lifestyle and you’ll see why it was named as one of the world’s top 10 regions to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet. If you’re up for something a little more thrilling, try ziplining with EcoZip Adventures while you’re on the island.
- Great Barrier Island – if getting off the grid is your ideal adventure then this is the place for you. With a permanent population of around 1,000 in an area of 285 square kilometres / 177 square miles, this place feels wild and untouched. There are stunning beaches and beautiful walking tracks through pristine native bush along with snorkeling, diving and fishing. It’s an adventurer’s paradise. Read about some of our own adventure here including, climbing Te Ahumata, visiting Windy Canyon and exploring Kaitoke Hotsprings.
- Tiritiri Matangi – this entire island is an open wildlife sanctuary and one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.
Get your adrenaline fix
If you’re looking for outdoor thrills to get the heart racing, you won’t be disappointed. Here are some activities to consider:
- Jump off the Sky Tower – at 328 metres (1,076 ft), Auckland’s Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand. A wired base-jump from a platform at 192 metres sounds like a perfectly good idea.
- Climb and bungy jump off Auckland’s harbour bridge.
- Go mountain biking at Woodhill Mountain Bike Park.
Some relaxing options
If adrenaline is not your thing don’t worry, there are lot’s of relaxing outdoor activities available.
- Explore the wildlife and scenery of the Hauraki Gulf on a scenic cruise.
- Go sailing on an ex America’s Cup sailing yacht.
- See Auckland from above on a scenic seaplane flight.
Scenic road trips from Auckland
There are three signposted scenic driving routes that start in Auckland. The full routes are all multi-day road trips. They’re a great way to explore much of the upper half of the North Island.
- Twin Coast Discovery Highway – heading north from Auckland, this route explores Auckland’s East coast beaches before heading into the Northland region. From here, this circular route takes you along both the East and West coast as well as Cape Reinga in the far north.
- Thermal Explorer Highway – heading south from Auckland, this route will take you first to Hamilton where you can choose to explore Raglan Beach and Waitomo before continuing south towards Rotorua and then Taupo and Ruapehu in the central North Island.
- Pacific Coast Highway – heading south from Auckland and then east towards the spectacular coastal scenery of The Coromandel Peninsula, this route follows the coast towards the Bay of Plenty and East Cape/Tairawhiti.