Auckland Travel Guide


Auckland Museum (Te Papa Whakahiku)
This museum has comprehensive displays of Pacific Island and Maori culture, including a 25m/82ft-long war canoe. The first floor is dedicated to the natural world with an activities centre for children. The second floor focuses on New Zealanders at war, from the 19th century to the present, but includes a re-creation of some 19th-century Auckland shops.

Howick Historical Village
This fascinating 'living' museum will split visitors along 'Isn't it tacky/fascinating' lines, with its costumed staff evoking the atmosphere of Auckland in the turbulent pioneering era from the 1840s to the 1880s. There are over 30 buildings, many relocated here from other parts of the region. The streets, the pond with ducks and geese, and the village gardens are faithful reconstructions of Victorian fashion, and there's a cafe with homemade goodies as well. There is a theme day on the third Sunday of each month, with special events and displays such as the blacksmith working at the forge, the 65th Regiment firing its muskets, and maybe even a chance to see the school in session. The village is on Bells Rd, Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga.

The imposing Sky Tower is part of the Sky City complex – a 24-hour casino with the works. At 328m (1076ft) it is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere, with a lift that can shoot you up to the observation deck in 40 seconds. It's lovely to go in the late afternoon, when you can sip champagne in the Sky Lounge while watching the sun set.

In a 200km/h wind the top of the building sways up to 1m (3ft). From the preliminary observation levels you can see ant-like humans scurrying around Auckland's centre. The views from the very top level are even more spectacular; from here you can see the harbour as well as the city. For techno-junkies, there are all sorts of interactive displays, audio guides, powerful binoculars and weather monitors.

Stardome Observatory
This is where star-gazers can cop an eyeful of the southern sky in all its majesty. Large-telescope viewing sessions reveal planets, double stars, glowing gas nebulae or lunar craters in the night sky above Auckland (weather permitting).

There's also a changing program of planetarium shows, occasional musical performances under the stars and a special show for pre-schoolers. Some shows have translations in Japanese, German and Mandarin. Weekends are family days, with hands-on displays and activities.

Stardome is situated on the south side of One Tree Hill. Known to the Maori as Maungakiekie, it erupted some 20,000 years ago and is one of the largest volcanoes in Auckland (183m/600ft). It was the site of New Zealand's biggest pa (fortified Maori village) and the extensive terraces excavated for habitations and gardens still remain. The beautiful Cornwall Park, with its historic buildings and working farm, spreads over the lower slopes of One Tree Hill, and combined with the Stardome makes for a good day out. Buses from the city centre will take you via Newmarket to the gate of the park.

Off the Beaten Track

Ambury Park
One of Auckland's regional parks, Ambury is a working farm right on the city's doorstep. The park is about 15km (9mi) south of Auckland city, near the airport and on the shores of the Manukau Harbour. There are sheep, cows, horses, goats, chickens, peacocks, turkeys and kune kune (a type of wild pig). Some 86 species of birds live on the foreshore, including pied stilts, welcome swallows, and oyster-catchers. It's also a favourite wintering ground for migrant birds. You can wander freely around the farm (remember to close the gates) and there's no entry charge.

A detour across Wallace Rd takes you to Mangere Mountain, a volcanic cone created some 18,000 years ago and the site of one of Auckland's largest pa (the remains of kumara pits can still be seen). You can also take a horseback tour through the park.

Hauraki Gulf Islands
There are 47 islands in the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, administered by the Department of Conservation. Some have severely restricted access, since they are refuges for the preservation of plants and animals, especially extremely rare or even endangered species of birds. Others are readily accessible to visitors by ferry or light aircraft. A few are within minutes of the city and are popular as day trips; their harbours are dotted with yachts in summer.

Rangitoto, 10km (6mi) northeast of Auckland's city centre, is a good place for a picnic. It has many pleasant walks, a saltwater swimming pool, barbecues and a great view from the summit of its volcanic cone, which erupted some 600 years ago. Waiheke is the most visited of the gulf islands, with plenty of picturesque bays and beaches good for swimming and sea kayaking. The island attracts all kinds of artistic folk, who exhibit their work in galleries and craft shops. There's also a museum and several vineyards. Great Barrier Island, once a remote and little-visited island, is also becoming a popular destination and can be used as a stepping stone to the Coromandel Peninsula. Great Barrier has hot springs, historic kauri dams, a forest sanctuary and myriad tramping (hiking) tracks. It also provides some of the most varied scuba diving in New Zealand.

Other New Zeland Attractions

The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington is situated on a splendid harbour at the southern tip of the North Island. Often maligned by its northern counterparts for its ill-tempered weather - the winds are often of gale-force calibre in winter - Wellington is a lively city of culture and arts (with festivals almost every month), and great ethnic restaurants and cafes. It is also home to the country's government and national treasures.

Buildings of interest include the modernist Beehive (the executive wing of Parliament), the old Government Building (one of the largest all-wooden buildings in the world), the National Library (housing the most comprehensive collection of books in the country), and the Katherine Mansfield Memorials (the property where the famous author was born in 1888). In addition, there are museums (including the excellent Te Papa museum), a zoo and stunning views of the city from the top of Mt Victoria. Cuba Street has great shopping, Thorndon has historic sites of interest, Lambton Quay is the primary business street and Mt Victoria is the place to go for cheap accommodation and dining.

Northland is the cradle of both Maori and Pakeha (European) culture: it was here that the Pakeha first made contact with the Maori, and where the first whaling settlements were established. The Treaty of Waitangi was also signed here. Often referred to as the 'winterless north' because of its mild year-round temperatures, Northland has a number of interesting museums (Kauri Museum), glorious, blonde beaches (Ninety Mile Beach) and diving spots (Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, reckoned by Jacques Cousteau to be among the top 10 diving sites in the world), historic towns (Paihia and Waitangi), game fishing (Bay of Islands) and flora and fauna reserves (Waipoua Kauri Forest).

Otago & Southland
Three highlights dominate Otago and Southland in the bottom half of the South Island: Queenstown with its adrenaline pumping activities; the walkways of Fiordland National Park; and Otago Peninsula, which boasts New Zealand's first foray into ecotourism. Queenstown, set in a glacial valley on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, is a town synonymous with hairy adventures: parasailing; schussing down icy rapids in jet boats; white-water rafting; and bungy jumping off Skippers Canyon Bridge - the latest and most terrifying being a plunge 300m from a helicopter.

Fiordland National Park, which takes its name from its glacier-carved coast, is a wilderness of mountains, ice and beech forests. The scenic climax of Fiordland is undoubtedly Milford Sound, where cruise ships bob toy-like beneath the shadows of towering mountains and waterfalls. There are classic alpine walks, including the Routeburn Track (in Mt Aspiring National Park), the Hollyford Track and the Milford Track (billed as the 'finest in the world').

Otago Peninsula is a significant wildlife area, with woodland gardens, albatross, penguin and seal colonies, plus aquariums, museums and historic sites. Dunedin, a student city on the peninsula, is a hub for arts and entertainment, and is famous for producing an eclectic pool of internationally successful rock bands. Scottish to its core, the city has a rich architectural heritage with many museums, galleries and castles.

There is a series of huge lakes in the area, including Hawea and nearby Wanaka in Otago, and Lake Te Anau in Southland. Te Anau, gouged out by a huge glacier, is New Zealand's second-largest lake and features caves full of glow-worms, and waterfalls and whirlpools. The Catlins, the largest remaining area of native forest on the east coast of the South Island, is between Invercargill and Dunedin. It has reserves of rarefied plants and trees, plus fauna such as fur seals, sea lions, penguins and ducks.

Ball Pass Crossing
The 2121m (6957ft) Ball Pass Crossing is a demanding two- to three-day alpine route in the South Island's Mt Cook National Park. The terrain takes in steep snow slopes set against the dramatic backdrop of the Caroline Face of Mt Cook. The route is no stroll and should only be attempted by professional masochists experienced in the use of ice axes, crampons and alpine route-finding. Apparently the sense of achievement in crossing the pass entitles you to enter an elite club of euphoric high-achievers.

Great Barrier Island
This island at the mouth of the Hauraki Gulf has acres of long, white sandy beaches on its eastern shore, deep-water sheltered inlets on its western shore, and a rugged spine of steep ridges running down the centre. The 80,000 hectare reserve has a number of walking tracks that combine old logging trails and tramways. Natural hot springs, towering kauri forests and a serene aura make it a perfect escape. Flights and ferries operate from Auckland, 88km to the south.

Harihari is a small town on the west coast of the South Island, and it made world headlines in 1931 when Guy Menzies completed the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea from Australia. The journey was hassle-free but the landing proved a disaster: the aircraft overturned in a swamp, and Menzies, upon undoing his safety straps, fell - much to the delight of the cheering locals - head-first into the mud. The town is now known as a base for coastal walks, birdwatching, and trout and salmon fishing.

Stewart Island
New Zealand's third-largest island, Stewart Island is an ornithologist's delight: tui, parakeets, kaka and bellbirds abound. The kiwi, rare in both the North and South Island, is common over much of this island, particularly around beaches. A good network of walking tracks and huts exist on the northern part of the island while the south is largely undeveloped and isolated. The people (around 420 all up) are hardy, taciturn and suspicious of mainlanders. The weather is changeable and the accommodation is basic; there are, however, excellent-value homestays on the island.

Whangaparaoa Bay
A succession of picturesque bays leads to Whangaparaoa Bay, 50km (31mi) west of the North Island's East Cape. The beaches are deeply shelved and littered with driftwood, and the old Anglican church, nestled under Norfolk pines on a lone promontory, should not be missed. Cape Runaway can only be reached by foot, and you'll need to seek permission before going on private land.

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