21 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Auckland
The harborside city of Auckland is New Zealand's only true metropolis and the vibrant economic heart of the country. Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland sprawls out in helter-skelter fashion between Manukau Harbour to the west and Waitemata Harbour to the east, with the compact central city district right beside the waterway.
For most visitors to New Zealand, Auckland is the point of arrival, and a few days soaking up the cultural and outdoor attractions here should be on every tourist's to-do list.
In fact, the monuments, museums, and the many art galleries here are among the finest in the country. Other fun things to do include exploring the suburban coastline of the city, popular for its fine beaches, while the islands of the Hauraki Gulf provide a taste of New Zealand's spectacular national park scenery right on the city's doorstep. For more sightseeing ideas in this beautiful corner of New Zealand, be sure to refer often to our list of the top-rated tourist attractions in Auckland.
1. Sky Tower Auckland
Auckland's needle-like Sky Tower is the city's most prominent landmark and, at 328 meters high, is New Zealand's highest building. If you're looking for a place to snap the perfect city panorama then the observation deck here-reached by zooming up to the top of the building in a glass-elevator-is just the place to get your camera out, with views stretching into the distance for 80 kilometers on a clear day.
For many Sky Tower visitors though, it's about more than the view. New Zealanders are renowned for turning attractions into thrill-seeking opportunities, and the Sky Tower doesn't buck the trend. Visitors can enjoy dizzying views by walking the exterior 192-meter-high Sky Walk platform around the tower's pergola, and those looking for a total adrenaline rush can base-jump off the platform on a Sky Jump.
A restaurant and gift shop are also available on-site, and be sure to catch a glimpse of the tower at night when it's lit up to great effect.
Address: Victoria Street W, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010
Official site: https://skycityauckland.co.nz/sky-tower/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Auckland
2. Waitemata Harbour
The wide sweep of Waitemata Harbour slices Auckland in two and is the city's most prominent natural feature. It was because of this easily navigable waterway that Auckland became New Zealand's capital in 1840 (the country's capital is now Wellington, though Auckland remains New Zealand's economic powerhouse). It's a delightful area to explore on foot and features a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities.
Other fun things to do here include exploring Quay Street, which runs parallel to the harbor in the central district with access to Princes Wharf and the ferry terminals to the Hauraki Gulf islands. A number of fun, unique experiences can also be enjoyed on Auckland Harbour Bridge (see below for details).
Address: Quay Street, City Center
3. Auckland Harbour Bridge Adventures
The central harbor is dominated by Auckland Harbour Bridge, completed in 1959 and more than one kilometer long and some 43 meters high, which connects downtown Auckland to the northern districts and the sandy beaches of the bays farther north.
The bridge also offers plenty of fun things to do to add a thrill to your sightseeing experience. One of the top-rated thrills to experience is the Auckland Harbour Bridge bungee jump, an experience that includes traversing an exclusive bridge walk before plunging 40 meters to the harbor water below.
If bungee jumping is not your thing, you can still enjoy the incredible views from the top of the bridge by joining a guided Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb.
Address: Quay Street, City Center
4. Auckland War Memorial Museum
Auckland's imposing War Memorial Museum sits on the highest point of Auckland Domain in a vast Neoclassical building dating from 1929, which was erected as a memorial dedicated to the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I. Today, it houses an impressive collection of artifacts that traces the history of New Zealand from its first Polynesian settlers to the present day and highlights New Zealand's natural heritage.
Of special interest are the Main Maori Galleries, which host a wealth of artistry, including a magnificent Maori gateway dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries; a richly-decorated Meeting House; and the 25-meter-long canoe, dating from 1836, in which Maori warriors once sailed into Manukau Harbour.
The first floor hosts the natural history collection, including a reconstruction of the country's famed and now extinct giant moa birds. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to the war memorials and displays the story of New Zealand's involvement in world conflict throughout the country's history. Guided tours are available, along with regular lectures and workshops.
Location: Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland
Official site: www.aucklandmuseum.com
5. One Tree Hill
For many Aucklanders, the volcanic cone of One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) is the symbol of their city. The 182-meter-high hill sits amid the lush Cornwall Park with a series of flower beds and stands of mature trees set amid walking trails. One Tree Hill takes up the southwest corner of the park, and the slopes contain remnants of a Maori Pa, a fortified village located here during the pre-European era.
At the top of the hill is a lone obelisk built over the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell who gifted this swath of greenery to Auckland to be used as a city park. There are fantastic views across the cityscape from the hill summit.
Also fun to visit is the Stardome Observatory, which features a planetarium in addition to its two telescopes, one of which can be experienced during a visit.
Address: Manukau Road, Epsom
6. Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland Art Gallery is the city's most impressive cultural site. Housed in an impressive French Renaissance-style structure built in 1887, the gallery is home to New Zealand's most extensive art collection with more than 15,000 artworks on display. The permanent galleries host an array of artworks, including European painting and sculpture that date back to the 14th century.
But of particular note, however, is the main New Zealand collection. Located on the ground floor, here you'll find a substantial amount of work highlighting Maori and Pacific Island artists. Be sure to also visit the New Zealand Historic Art Gallery and Maori Portraiture Gallery on the first floor, which showcase the work of New Zealand's early European settlers. Guided tours are available, and a café and shop are located on the premises.
Address: Wellesley Street E, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010
Official site: www.aucklandartgallery.com
7. Waiheke Island
Of all Auckland's Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke Island is the most popular to visit. Around 8,000 people live here year-round, and the island's villages are home to art galleries and a thriving café culture, while the coast hosts plenty of white-sand beaches.
For keen walkers and hikers, a variety of trails wind along the coastline and through the island interior. For spectacular views and a challenging hike, the Church Bay Circuit is an excellent three-hour walk that showcases the best of the island.
History fans shouldn't miss Stony Batter Historic Reserve with its underground tunnel system carved out in World War II in case Auckland was attacked. Regular ferries to Waiheke Island run from Princes Wharf in central Auckland and take from 35-45 minutes.
For those wanting to linger longer, a variety of good accommodation options are available, from beachside cottage rentals to bed and breakfasts.
Location: Hauraki Gulf
Official site: www.waiheke.co.nz
8. New Zealand Maritime Museum
New Zealanders have always been deeply connected with the sea, and the well-curated New Zealand Maritime Museum explores this connection, offering a comprehensive survey of the country's seafaring history.
Exhibits trace the country's history from the arrival of the first Polynesians and include Maori canoes and outrigger boats, whaling equipment, and old instruments and implements. One gallery is devoted to New Zealand's modern yachting success and includes the yacht in which the New Zealand crew, skippered by Sir Peter Blake, won the America's Cup in 1995. Many of the vessels held in the collection sail regularly, which adds a real dose of excitement to a sightseeing trip.
Address: Corner of Quay and Hobson Streets, Auckland 1140, Auckland
Official site: www.maritimemuseum.co.nz
9. Viaduct Harbour
The regeneration of Viaduct Harbour is a legacy of New Zealand hosting the America's Cup yachting regatta and has turned this waterside area into one of the city's main entertainment and dining hubs.
As well as being one of the country's major marinas, Viaduct Harbour's lively calendar of events is a tourism draw. Every Sunday, the Flower Market here brings in crowds with live music and street food, while regular free events during summer months are a favorite with local families. The vibrant waterside cafés and restaurants are a great place to stop and linger over lunch while exploring Auckland's central attractions.
Address: Quay Street, Central City
Official site: http://viaduct.co.nz/
10. SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium
One of Auckland's top attractions for visiting families, SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium allows you to get up close and personal with life under the water. A series of huge aquariums containing aquatic life can be observed from the tunnel walkways with aquariums devoted to sharks, tropical fish, and stingrays.
Kelly Tarlton's also houses an Antarctic Encounter gallery, complete with a snow-filled penguin enclosure, highlighting New Zealand's close association with Antarctica's international scientific communities.
Adrenaline-junkies are catered for as well with the aquarium's Shark Dive and Shark Cage Snorkel experiences, with savings available for online bookings.
Address: 23 Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland 1071
Official site: www.kellytarltons.co.nz
11. Auckland Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises
If you've only got room for a single tour when in Auckland, make it a dolphin and whale watching cruise. These superb-value tours depart from the centrally located New Zealand Maritime Museum in Viaduct Harbour and all but guarantee a sighting (if not, you can travel again for free). This exciting half-day catamaran tour features expert guides well-versed in the region and its diverse wildlife, and will ensure you have a chance to get as close as possible to creatures, including whales (six species), dolphins, penguins, and birds to snap some great photos.
Much of your time afloat will be spent in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, an area dotted with splendid scenery. In addition to bringing along binoculars, be sure to pack warm (and waterproof) clothing and/or a sun hat, depending on the weather.
12. Auckland City Center Architecture
Downtown Auckland can, at first glance, seem a thoroughly modern city. But amid the contemporary towers there are several prime examples of early architecture for history fans to seek out. The imposing Ferry Building at Princes Wharf, for example, was built in 1912 and forms a striking English-Baroque landmark on the harbor front. Adjoining the Ferry Building is the Chief Post Office, designed by John Campbell in 1911.
Built in 1911, Auckland Town Hall on Queen Street has an attractive marble façade, while St. Patrick's Cathedral (built in 1848) over on Wyndham Street is one of New Zealand's first churches.
Also, don't miss Auckland High Court in the Waterloo Quadrant, noted for its richly-decorated brickwork, complete with turrets and gargoyles, modeled on Warwick Castle in England.
Location: Auckland City Center
13. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands are a lush slice of nature right on Auckland's doorstep. Ruggedly beautiful Great Barrier Island is a must-visit for wilderness fans, with a multitude of camping, hiking, mountain biking, and sea kayaking opportunities.
Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano and home to the world's largest forest of pohutukawa trees. Hiking to the island's summit rewards walkers with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf.
Tiny Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary for some of New Zealand's most endangered birdlife with a variety of easy walking trails winding through the island's interior. Among the species that keen bird-watchers can spot here are takahe, blue penguins, kiwi, and brown teal. Ferries leave from Princes Wharf in the central city.
In addition to fun tourist-focused sightseeing cruises, fishing charters, and other water-based activities, such as sailing, can be enjoyed here.
Location: Hauraki Gulf
14. East Coast Beaches
The city's eastern coast is speckled with gorgeous forest-rimmed beaches that are top swimming and sun-bathing spots for locals during summer weekends. Takapuna Beach, overlooking Rangitoto Island across the water, is one of the finest sandy strips in the city and is deservedly popular. Nearby are both Milford Beach and Cheltenham Beach, which tend to be less crowded.
A short drive out of the city, though, brings you to even more spectacular beaches. To the southeast is lovely Maraetai Beach with its calm waters, an excellent swimming spot even for families traveling with little ones, while a short journey north from Auckland is the golden sand of Orewa Beach.
Location: East Auckland
15. Albert Park
The most central green space in the city is Albert Park with its elaborate Victorian fountain, variety of statuary, and multitude of flower beds. As well as being a tranquil spot amid the inner-city hustle, the park is home to a variety of small and quirky attractions that will please culture-vultures.
Albert Park House contains an eclectic array of ceramics and clocks; a floral clock (dating from 1953) marks the park's Princes Street entry, and the city's Meteorological Observatory at the park's highest point has been marking Auckland's weather since 1909.
The most prominent historic building nearby is the Old Government House, now part of Auckland University campus. This timber Neoclassical structure (built in 1856) was New Zealand's first parliament. Opposite the Old Government House is the Old Synagogue, dating from 1884, which is now used for cultural events.
Those visiting Auckland in July should check out the Turama Festival, a fun illumination-focused event that has become one of the best things to do in Auckland at night.
Address: Princes Street, City Center
16. West Coast Beaches
Auckland's west coast is home to some extremely beautiful beaches, but visitors should be aware that many can be dangerous for bathers unused to their sheer rocks, heavy surf from the Tasman Sea, and treacherous undertow.
Piha Beach is the city's most dramatic spot for a picnic and sunbathing with its volcanic black sand and jutting rock outcrops. It's also a major haunt for local surfers.
If you're looking for a secluded slice of sand though, Karioitahi Beach, at Waiuku in South Auckland, is a long strip of black-sand beach that rarely draws more than a handful of sun-seekers.
Location: West Auckland
17. Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), located in the Western Springs district, is devoted to the history of technology and transport in New Zealand. Its prize exhibits relate to the New Zealand aviation pioneer Richard Pearse (1877-1953), who made his first flights about the same time as the Wright brothers, while the 90 Degrees South exhibition is dedicated to the trans-Antarctic expedition of New Zealand explorer Sir Edmund Hillary.
Other items include old coaches, railroad rolling stock, trams and vintage cars, and a vast collection of black and white photography. A variety of fun workshops and educational programs are offered, and for a real treat, take a ride on one of the vintage trams that operate from the museum.
Address: Great North Road, Western Springs
Official site: www.motat.org.nz
18. Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens
For a relaxing stroll while exploring the countryside just north of Auckland, the Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens make a good break from the road. This manicured garden trail in a quiet valley setting is packed full of native fauna and also hosts an ever-changing array of sculptural art by New Zealand artists.
More than 50 sculptures are on display along the one-kilometer pathway at any one time creating garden galleries that highlight the best of the country's contemporary art.
For nature-fans, the gardens offer a broad spectrum of New Zealand's many varied landscapes with different sections set out as pine forest, native bush, and typical farmland. Another trail through native forest is dedicated to conservation and loops across meandering streams and beside waterfalls.
The Auckland Botanic Gardens is also worth a visit, and is set amid 64 hectares. Highlights include an impressive collection of 10,000 plants, including a large number of rose bushes.
Address: 1481 Kaipara Coast Highway; 50 kilometers north of Auckland
Official site: www.kaiparacoast.co.nz
19. Auckland Zoo
Set across 40 acres in the Western Springs neighborhood, Auckland Zoo offers plenty of fun things to do for families traveling to the area. Established in 1922, the zoo has a number of newer features, including a great section-Te Wao Nui-which focuses on regional plant and animal life.
Highlights include more than 1,400 creatures from some 135 species contained in themed areas featuring animals from Africa, Australia, and South America, including giraffes, meerkats, wallabies, and a variety of monkeys.
A variety of unique experiences are available, with fun things to do including an after-dark safari, photography workshops, and junior zookeeper programs that take kids behind the scenes.
If there's still time in your day for the kids to burn off some energy, head to Rainbow's End, a fun theme park featuring an area dedicated to younger children.
Address: Motions Road, Auckland
Official site: www.aucklandzoo.co.nz
20. Howick Historical Village
Those interested in New Zealand's colonial past would do well to pay a visit to Howick Historical Village, opened in 1980. This fascinating recreation of a colonial village features some 30 authentic historic buildings dating from the mid- to late-19th century, which were disassembled and rebuilt on-site.
Highlights include guided tours, re-enactments, and demonstrations presented by costumed guides and trades folk, as well as a delightful garden. Other fun things to do include taking a wagon ride around the property. A café and gift shop are located on-site.
Address: Lloyd Elsmore Park, Bells Road, Pakuranga, Auckland 2010, New Zealand
Official site: www.fencible.org.nz
About 50 kilometers north of Auckland, the little township of Puhoi is one of the best day trips out of Auckland. Founded in the 1860s by immigrants from Bohemia (in modern-day Czech Republic), Puhoi has kept much of its original early-settler character and retains a bucolic timeless appeal.
The Bohemia Museum, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (built in 1880), and the nearby churchyard with the graves of early Bohemian settlers are a must for history fans, while a clutch of art studios and artisan boutiques provide ample shopping diversions. There are also plentiful hiking opportunities in the surrounding countryside.
Where to Stay in Auckland for Sightseeing
When visiting Auckland on New Zealand's north Island, be sure to consider finding somewhere to stay as close to the city center as possible-especially around the Waitemata Harbour and Viaduct Harbour areas, both of which boast numerous things to do and sightseeing opportunities. To help you, here are a few of our favorite top-rated hotels in this lovely city:
- Luxury Hotels: Harbor views and luxury rooms are the order of the day at Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, along with a great restaurant and an indoor pool with a hot tub. Another great waterside option is the classy Hilton Auckland, which comes with quality bedding and a seafood restaurant that's popular with the locals. Cordis, Auckland is another great five-star hotel option, and features rooms with butler service, all just an easy walk from the iconic Sky Tower.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Offering high-end accommodations but at mid-range pricing, The Devereux Boutique Hotel features boutique-style rooms in an older home with exquisite décor and a casual restaurant. The Ellerslie International Hotel and Conference Centre is another quality option, located just one kilometer from the aquarium and boasting bright modern rooms, a mix of rooms and suites, and a swimming pool. The family-friendly Scenic Hotel Auckland is centrally located in the city's central business district and has a number of larger suites with kitchenettes, along with a gym and laundry facilities.
- Budget Hotels: Budget-priced but boasting a high standard, Greenlane Suites' rooms come with plenty of space and are perfect for families. So, too, does GoodView Service Apartment with its central location, kitchenettes, and comfortable beds. Those seeking hostel-style accommodations should consider the Haka Lodge Auckland, featuring bright shared rooms and a great central location, perfect for backpackers visiting the city's top attractions.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
New Zealand's Natural Wonders: Incredible scenery and wilderness is everywhere in New Zealand, with popular destinations for outdoorsy-types including the stunning Bay of Islands coastal region, which features plenty of sandy beaches and sightseeing opportunities. Nature lovers should also pay a visit to Fiordland National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty that's fun to explore by cruise boat or kayak. The Westland Region is also worth exploring for its wild rivers and untamed mountains, and the famous Franz Josef Glacier.
New Zealand Heritage Destinations: The small town of Dunedin is rightly proud of its Scottish heritage, nowhere more so than at its charming Larnach Castle and settlers museum. The attractive town of Napier is best-known for its charming Art Deco architecture, most of it dating from the 1930s after a devastating earthquake led to the town being rebuilt. The country's rich Maori culture is everywhere evident, especially in Taupo with its Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings.
New Zealand Vacation Ideas: The country's capital city of Wellington may be small, but there's plenty of fun things to do here, from sightseeing aboard the scenic cable car to experiencing its many fine museums. Lovely Queenstown is New Zealand's adventure capital, nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the jumping-off point for water-based activities and ski holidays. The community of Rotorua is also worth visiting, and is famous for its hot springs and geothermal-influenced landscape.