15 things that might surprise first time visitors to Auckland

The City of Sails has plenty to offer and can certainly hold its own when it comes to keeping first time visitors occupied. So don’t just ‘get in’ and ‘get out’ like everyone else does, and head to other ‘more exciting’ destinations. From offshore wineries and adventure activities, to quirky cafes and fine dining restaurants, we’ve got you covered. Auckland really is a surprising place. 

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1. The Asian culture

15 Things That Might Surprise First Time Visitors to Auckland 1

Auckland has a thriving Asian community and this is nowhere better demonstrated than in the CBD where you’ll find numerous shops, restaurants and food marts with an Asian influence. For Asian shopping, try Atrium on Elliott for fashion, accessories and beauty products. And when it comes to Asian food, you’re in the right place and spoiled for choice in the inner city, with Upper Queen Street, the Viaduct and Britomart being all good places to source top Asian eats such as:

2. The excellent shopping

15 Things That Might Surprise First Time Visitors to Auckland 2

There’s a lot to love about shopping in Auckland, whether you’re after designer brands, casual wear or bargains. There are plenty of browsing options in mid-Queen Street for everyday wear – with Topshop, Glassons, Portmans and Max being go-to’s for wardrobe staples. For high end accessories try international fashion labels such as Gucci and Coach at the end of Queen Street. For NZ designers, Karen Walker, Trelise Cooper and Zambesi can be found in Britomart Precinct. For designer shopping outside of the CBD, Newmarket and Ponsonby are easily accessed by the inner link bus from downtown and Sylvia Park is on the southern train line. Outlet mall Dress Smart in Onehunga, houses many well-known brands at discount prices and is also on the southern train line.

3. The fine dining

15 Things That Might Surprise First Time Visitors to Auckland 4

Narrowing down Auckland’s best fine dining restaurants is not an easy task as there are so many excellent ones to choose from. To save you some legwork, here are the top 5 Auckland restaurants as rated on TripAdvisor:

  1. Kazuya – Fine dining in Symonds Street
  2. Clooney -Degustation in Freeman’s Bay
  3. The French Cafe – Classy French inspired menu
  4. SidArt – Pushing the boundaries in Ponsonby
  5. The Grove – Sophisticated, creative menu

4. The adventure activities

Queenstown is officially New Zealand’s adventure capital, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an adrenaline rush in Auckland. There are a several places to get high, wet or windy if you’re up for it.

5. Britomart’s bars & restaurants

photo credit: @britomartnz

photo credit: @britomartnz

Auckland’s newest downtown precinct (Britomart) is chock-full of great restaurants and bars that are housed in refurbished heritage buildings. Check these ones out for starters:

6. The animal activities

photo credit: awads.co.nz

photo credit: awads.co.nz

If you’re an animal lover then there are lots of places to get up close and personal with a new furry or flippered friend. There are land-based activities such as zoos and aquariums and for the more adventurous types, there is a cruise out into Hauraki Gulf, where you can go dolphin and whale spotting. Here are our top picks:

7. The bird life

photo credit: 23am.com via Flickr

photo credit: 23am.com via Flickr

Tiritiri Matangi is an offshore island, just a 75 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Rated #1 on TripAdvisor, it offers day-trippers a chance to experience native bird life and listen to their songs in a protected environment. Several endangered species, such as the saddle back, kakariki, North Island robin and little spotted kiwi have been reintroduced onto Tiri and are flourishing. The guided walk is highly recommended and for $30 a night per person you can also stay overnight on the island.     

8. The plentiful bush walks

photo credit: Robin Capper via Flickr

photo credit: Robin Capper via Flickr

One thing Auckland isn’t lacking in is bush walks. The best bush walks are to be had in the Waitakere Ranges in west Auckland. There are 250 km of walking tracks, ranging from short half hour walks to longer four day treks. One of the most popular is the Kitekite Track, which is 45 minutes to a waterfall. Renting a car is the best way to get to the Waitakere Ranges or see #9 below for tour options.

9. The beauty of the west coast beaches

Gannet Colony at Muriwai


Auckland’s West Coast beaches (Muriwai, Piha, Karekare, Bethels) are known for their rugged windswept beauty and iron black sand. If you’re a keen photographer, or just love nature, then a visit to one or more of these beaches will definitely be a highlight. Renting a car is the best way to explore the beaches at your own pace. Alternatively, Bush and Beach offers a wilderness experience tour which includes visiting a black sand beach. There are also private half day and full day West Coast Beaches Tours which include pick-ups and drop-offs from inner-city accommodation.

10. The amount of home-stays

15 Things That Might Surprise First Time Visitors to Auckland 11

While there is no shortage of hotels in the inner city, to really live like a local then aim to stay in one of the plentiful home-stays dotted around Auckland. Whether for a weekend or a week, a characterful villa or a contemporary apartment, there’s something to suit your style and your budget.

11. The number of volcanoes

Mission bay view with Rangitoto island background, Auckland, New

Part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, one of the unique and exciting things about Auckland is the amount of volcanoes it harbours. There is a total of 48 cones within a 20 km radius, with many offering spectacular views of the city. Some of the most popular and easily accessible are Rangitoto, Mt Eden, One Tree Hill and North Head.

Toru Tours takes in two of these, Mt Eden and One Tree Hill, on a 3 hour tour. You also can catch the ferry from downtown and climb Rangitoto or go on a guided tour of the island with a Rangitoto Volcanic Tour. Alternatively, explore North Head in Devonport – it’s just a 10 minute ferry ride from downtown.

To learn more about Auckland’s volcanic activity and experience a realistic encounter, head to the Auckland Museum in the Domain.  

12. Its historical past

Aotea Square in Auckland - New Zealand

Auckland is a relatively new city by world standards – it was founded in 1840 – but it has an interesting immigrant history and has undergone many geographical and architectural changes since then. Discover Auckland’s heritage on a 90 minute guided walking tour or there are a number of self-guided heritage walks available that take around an hour and a half each. 

13. The quirky cafes

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

If you thought all of New Zealand’s quirky cafes were hiding in Wellington, think again. There are some wonderful options across Auckland:

  • Little Bird Unbakery (Ponsonby, Kingsland & Britomart) – organic, vegan and veggie – vegetarians will love this
  • The Shelf (High Street) – Cafe with cool decor on High Street, CBD
  • Barista Cats Cafe (Queen Street) – Home to 13 furry residents
  • Scarecrow (Victoria Street) – Pop up farmers market-style cafe and grocery store
  • Federal & Wolfe (Federal Street) – Organic, work-in-progress internet cafe

14. The inner city cycling

If you love cycling then you’ll be pleased to know that Auckland Transport has recently added some new bike paths around the inner city. Designed for both recreational use and commuters, there are four of these which connect up so you can do a loop:

Bikes are available for hire at Adventure Capital in Commerce Street in the CBD.

15. Award winning Waiheke wineries

photo credit: waihekewine.co.nz

photo credit: waihekewine.co.nz

Just a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island is a fantastic place to visit for a day trip or longer stay. The island has a micro-climate which makes it well suited for vineyards, and there are around 25 wineries, some with adjacent restaurants. Popular wineries include: Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Passage Rock, Te Whau, The Goldie Room and Cable Bay. The best way to get around Waiheke’s wineries is to go on a wine tour which includes a return ferry fare, three vineyards, tasting sessions, snacks and a complimentary All Day Bus Pass.

If you’re planning to visit Auckland anytime soon, why don’t you use Cheapflights’ website as your ultimate travel search tool- where you can find best flight fares, best hotel deals and cheap car hire – all in one place.

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