Imagine this. You’re travelling to New Zealand and you’ve set aside one day in Auckland. You’ve seen The Hobbit. You’ve devoured Lord of The Rings (all three movies, naturally only the extra-long director’s cut versions).
You’ve never been to New Zealand (affectionately now known as Middle Earth due to previously mentioned films being shot here). You’ve heard about acres upon acres of green fields, snowy mountains and crystal rivers, and you’ve gasped in wonder as you watched our small hobbit friends trek through stunningly beautiful forests and down rocky mountain ravines.
You start to think, “Wow, New Zealand/Middle Earth looks like a pretty idealistic spot for a holiday, really.” And then you visit every travel site on the internet and click to compare flight prices until you get carpal tunnel, and then you finally book the trip.
Months of anticipation pass…you get on the flight, excited and ready for the long journey ahead, wondering if the airport has gushing blue rivers flowing through it and if you’ll catch glimpses of snowy mountain tops or volcanos blowing their load as your plane effortlessly weaves through the fire.
Then you arrive in Auckland (New Zealand’s biggest city and home to its biggest international airport) and step onto the concrete tarmac, and all you get is… disappointment.
I jest. Having lived in Auckland most of my life, I feel I’m allowed to bag it a little.
It’s a great city with lots of promise and opportunity – and actually heaps of things to do, but it’s a concrete harbourside city, and looks nothing at all like the epic countryside from the LOTR films.
Many people flock to Auckland to seize a good job, and others come to visit for epic concerts, but if you’re after the “magical, true 100% pure New Zealand” escape, then you’re better to only hang about in Auckland for a day or two and then clear off to the South Island or the real Hobbiton in Matamata.
Rotorua is another good option, which is internationally famous for smelling like rotten eggs and having boiling-hot geysers and steam shooting out of the ground everywhere, including in some Kiwis’ back lawns. Sounds weird, but the tourists dig it.
But, for now, you’re here, or gonna be here, in Auckland– now what?! As a local, let me guide you on some of the top things to do if you only have one day in Auckland.
>> Read more: Ultimate Guide on Planning a Trip to New Zealand
But before we start the journey, here are some of my top local tips:
The best way to get from Auckland airport to the city is via taxi, shuttle or the Skybus.
If you are flying to New Zealand from Australia and plan on driving to the airport, then be sure to check out Flyparks. Flyparks provides excellent deals on airport parking throughout Australia.
If you’re planning on dragging around shopping bags so heavy that the handles cut into your skin until you think your fingers might fall off, then keep an Uber on hand. Uber is considerably cheaper in New Zealand, and legal too, unlike in some European and Asian countries. If you’re not wanting to spend $ on international roaming, you can buy a cheap local SIM card in Auckland airport for about $5-$15 NZD (with data); that cost alone so you can order an Uber will be cheaper than paying full price on an over-priced Auckland taxi. Also, it’s worth leaving whatever you’re doing to get back to the airport before you think you’ll need to – Auckland traffic is hideously unpredictable, especially between 7-9am and 4-6.30pm.
Right- now let me tell you how to make the most of Auckland in 1 day!
How to Spend One Day in Auckland
I don’t expect you to do every single thing in this list if you have just 1 day in Auckland- simply pick and choose the activities that appeal to you, and that you’ll have time for.
Go Island Hopping
New Zealanders love their local wines, and Auckland is home to two spectacular small regions, Waiheke Island and Matakana, both within 1.5-2h from the airport. In fact, if you’re in Auckland city at 2am on a Sunday morning, you’ll likely see just HOW MUCH we like our wines; we have a pretty raging nightlife.
Waiheke is one of Auckland’s most beautiful islands and is one way to spend a perfect day in Auckland!
Waiheke island is covered with gorgeous local shops, quirky accommodation and with the best oceanside view almost everywhere you go on the island. Just a 30-40min ferry journey from downtown Auckland, it is definitely worth the trip, especially on a blue-sky day (we have about 180 days of rain a year in Auckland, making us even rainier than London). Waiheke has some amazing wineries and restaurants, and lots of tour buses to take you wherever you need to go, for a cruisy and boozy day out. You can also hire cars and scooters upon arrival, right by the ferry building (but then you couldn’t have wine, so option scratched).
How to get there: Catch a taxi (about $75-100 NZD) or Uber (about $42-56 NZD) or SkyBus (about $20 NZD) to the Auckland centre and make your way downhill to the ferry building near the bottom of Queen St. Buy a ferry ticket ($40 NZD return) when you arrive or online to secure your spot (recommended). The ferry can get busy in summer, although there are 25+ ferries a day. You can also buy a pass which includes your ferry tickets and the hop-on hop-off bus.
What to plan for in advance: It can be hot in Auckland, with locals and tourists alike known to resemble overripe tomatoes after only a mere hour in the summer sun, so for the love of God, chuck your sunblock in your hand luggage or risk the dreaded nose peel for the rest of your holiday selfies. It would also pay to plan your tours in advance too – namely with the officially-ticked Waiheke Wine Tour company.
Cost: Ahh, the most important question. How much will this one-dayer set me back? With tours starting from around $130 NZD per person + all of the wine bottles you’ll want to take home with you, you’d probably be looking at about $200 NZD minimum per person. The Waiheke Wine Tour is a worthwhile option though, as you’ll get to see 3 wineries (none of which are a comfortable walking distance from the Waiheke ferry terminal).
The Sky Tower
Want to really see the city sights? How better to do it than by going to the top of our iconic syringe-looking Sky Tower? This creatively named building is 328m high and easily visited by a glass-bottomed lift for your maximum vertigo pleasure *shakes and tries not to vom*.
Spend a couple of hours taking in our unique Auckland views (and avoiding the glass floors), and head to Orbit, a 360° moving restaurant for lunch or dinner to enjoy some tasty treats as a side to your views. Your Sky Tower admission is free if you have an Orbit booking.
The Sky Tower is approximately 30min from the airport and a $42-56 NZD Uber. Minimum average $30 Orbit meal per person applies for reservations.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum
While NZ is a relatively “new” and “young” city, we take pride in our local museum, which is filled with delightful taxidermy of our local native animals, information on NZ’s flora and fauna, a bit of war memorabilia, as well as our indigenous Polynesian Māori history; which you’ll likely have seen a bit of if you watch our boys in black perform the haka at rugby games. Auckland Museum is in the Auckland Domain, a large green site with lush grounds and nice gardens, so if it’s a good day, make sure you take a walk around outside too. It’s just $25 NZD for an international visitor (or just a donation if you’re a Kiwi).
Auckland Museum is approximately 20min from the airport and a $32-43 NZD Uber.
Go bungy jumping
What says action, fun, and adventure like jumping off a bridge and screaming, with only a flimsy bit of stretchy rope around your ankles and the huge likelihood of being soaked from your head to your knees in Auckland’s freezing harbour? Sounds like a laugh, right?
NZ’s the birthplace of bungy jumping, and there’s a pretty epic one in the form of the Auckland Harbour Bridge Bungy (which I’ve done twice). So, for a truly Kiwi experience, join the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and David Beckham who’ve all been victim to a long jump and cold dunk while in Auckland for the day. You also get some truly epic views of Auckland City during the walk underneath the Harbour Bridge. It’s at a pretty steep cost of $165 NZD for an adult, but the thrill of it makes every cent worthwhile. Bookings are strongly recommended.
The Harbour Bridge is approximately 30min from the airport and a $42-56 NZD Uber.
Every city seems to have its own zoo, and while all the monkeys and giraffes look the same in all zoos around the world, I reckon Auckland has a pretty sweet one, even though I’ve been to the likes of the San Diego Zoo, for example. Auckland Zoo is green, vast and well-maintained, and most importantly, the animals look really happy, well-fed and well-looked after, as our zoo is driven by its efforts in conservation and making a difference to the lives of animals. You’ll find more than 1,400 animals at Auckland’s Zoo, as well as native animals, like our famous kiwi.
Auckland also has several options of places to see kiwis, so make sure you aim to visit at least one kiwi sanctuary.
A trip to Auckland Zoo is $24 NZD for an adult – and it’s not-for-profit, so every cent goes back into the zoo or to the animals.
Auckland Zoo is about 20min from the airport and a $32-43 NZD Uber.
Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium
Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium is your place to go to see sharks, penguins (or penglings) in a safe, no-blood, non-Jaws-like environment. See turtles, octopuses and more, in the aquarium that’s been well-visited and loved by most Aucklanders. Tickets are cheaper if you book online.
Kelly Tarlton’s is about 30min from the airport and a $42-56 NZD Uber.
Now, while Auckland’s not known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, it has its moments (and it’s good spots), depending on the type of shopper you are…
Local designer and boutique shopping: Britomart
Britomart is a wee quarter based in Auckland CBD with the best fashion that NZ designers have to offer, with standalone stores for prolific designer stores Karen Walker, WORLD, and Trelise Cooper, to name just a few. You’ll also find international high-fliers Dior, Prada and Louis Vuitton on lower Queen St a – a mere 5min walk from Britomart – as well as a large H&M for you plebs. Spend your day wandering around aimlessly, picking up items you love but don’t need, and stopping for a caffeine hit at one of the cute cafes nearby, such as Café Nero, which gives you a balcony view of Queen St, or restaurant Ortolana, nestled in central Britomart and covered in fairy lights and living walls; perfect for the perfect shot on the ‘gram.
Britomart is approximately 30m from the airport and a $42-56 NZD Uber.
Op-shop and boho shopping: Ponsonby and Karangahape Road
Oh, K Road. Locally once renowned as the red-light district of Auckland, now preeeetty tame during the day, and the best place to go for a spot of op-shopping. From $5 shirts to $300+ vintage guitars, you’ll find everything fun and quirky here, including clusters of hipster locals roaming the streets and sipping their plant-based milk hemp coffee or kombucha whatsits in one of the many local vegan hipster joints. Just down the road is the suburb of Ponsonby, where you’ll find funky gift shops and more NZ fashion designers – if you’re there on a Saturday, you might also stumble upon a local sample sale.
K Road and Ponsonby are approximately 20—25min from the airport and a $38-51 NZD Uber.
Enclosed shopping centre: Sylvia Park
Sylvia Park is TripAdvisor’s top-rated shopping centre in NZ, and it’s easy to see why. Home of NZ’s only ZARA store plus 220+ other stores, it’s filled with local and international trinkets bound to satisfy the need for the strip mall experience. It’s all well-priced too, with affordable day-to-day fashion, your classic McDonald’s, mall curries and sushi, as well as more premium eats such a delish Mexican restaurant aptly named Mexico, and decent Asian and Mediterranean restaurants. Rumour has it that if you pop to the customer service desk during weekdays, they might even hold your luggage for you so you don’t have to drag it up and down the 1km that makes up the mall.
Sylvia Park is approximately 20min from the airport and a $32-43 NZD Uber.
Free Things to do in Auckland
Yep, you read that right – free! Travelling’s probably done a number on the wallet and I feel you. And NZ can be costly, especially in the touristy areas, like Queenstown. Luckily, there are quite a few super cheap ways to take in Auckland’s wonders.
The Auckland Art Gallery is located in Auckland’s CBD and has a variety of local and international genres. The grand total for your entry ticket is a whopping $0 and will take up about 1.5-2 hours to enjoy some beautiful local art.
Auckland is filled with volcanic craters (about the only thing on par with the LOTR expectations), so if you’re keen to stretch your hammies and do a mini hike to the top of one of them, Mt Eden is a good bet. If one’s not quite enough to fit in your day, there are 52 other volcanoes you can whack your running shoes on for.
Us Kiwis are all about getting out and about in nature, so it’s no surprise we have a pretty sweet 64 hectares of Botanical Gardens for you to explore too.
Auckland attractions not worth your time, or your coin
The internet might tell you to visit this theme park, but you’ve been to the likes of Disneyland, Six Flags, or any of the Gold Coast, Aussie theme parks, then avoid this one. NZ’s only theme park needs a good paint and facelift, and us locals readily express amazement that it’s still operating.
Auckland Harbour jet boating trips
There are some epic jet boat experiences in NZ. The one in Auckland is not one of those. Save your dollar bills and excitement for the Taupo or Queenstown jet boat experiences, because the Auckland Harbour one’s a bit lacklustre and expenny.
Planning the trip?
There’s so much to see and do in Auckland – this is merely a scratch on the surface. As one wise wizard would say; “all you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you.”
If you ever find yourself in Auckland for the day on a weekend, give me a bell! I love making mates from all corners of the world and I’d be happy to meet you and take you for a wee drive-by of some of Auckland’s sights – for free, of course.
What would you most like to do with 1 day in Auckland?