Straddling a narrow isthmus created by 60 different volcanoes, New Zealand's former capital boasts scenic beauty, historical interest and a cosmopolitan collection of shops, restaurants, museums, galleries and gardens. Rangitoto, Auckland's largest and youngest volcano, sits in majestic splendor just offshore. Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill, once home to Maori earthworks, overlook the city. One of New Zealand's fine wine districts lies to the north of Auckland.
Auckland served as New Zealand's capital from 1841 until 1865, when the seat of government moved to Wellington. Auckland is often known as the "City of Sails" for the large number of yachts that grace the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. It could also be known as the "City of Extinct Volcanoes". Much of its natural character comes from the fact that it is built on the Auckland Volcanic Field which consists of about 48 volcanoes. All of the volcanoes are individually extinct but the volcanic field as a whole is not.
Auckland may be New Zealand’s ‘big city’, but it’s still fairly small by international standards, so you’ll get the best of both worlds within one quick visit to port. Scattered across the shorefront of the Hauraki Gulf and radiating out from there, this city is known for its non-stop events scene, culinary delights, and iconic structures such as the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Sky Tower.
The main problem you’ll have is not what to do in Auckland - but rather how to fit everything you want to do into the timeframe you have. No matter how you end up spending those precious hours, you’re sure to sail away already looking forward to a return cruise to New Zealand some day in the not-too-distant future.
Getting around in Auckland, New Zealand
Fortunately, the majority of Auckland’s best attractions are close enough to the port to walk to. Your ship will pull right up to the dock and as soon as you step off, you’re already in the thick of the action. The Sky Tower, main street, shops and restaurants are all within a few minutes’ walk, or you can simply stroll along the waterfront.
If you’d prefer not to walk, the City LINK bus runs around the central city for just $1 per adult. This visits the Wynyard Quarter, Britomart, Queen’s Wharf, Aotea Square and several stops in between every 10 minutes or so.
There is no underground metro in Auckland, but public transport buses can take you all over the city should you need to go further from the centre. Alternatively, jump in a taxi or use the Uber app on your phone for a private ride.
Money matters in Auckland
Like the rest of New Zealand, the currency here is the NZ dollar. Cards are often used more than cash so it’s extremely rare to find a store that won’t accept credit, although it’s always handy to have a bit of cash on hand for smaller purchases.
You can expect to pay roughly $5 for a coffee and $8-9 for a glass of wine here, and don’t forget that tipping isn’t part of the culture (although some cafes may have a tip jar on their front counter).
Local culture in Auckland
Auckland is a melting pot of cultures - and proud of it.
There are roughly 1.5 million people living in Auckland (out of a total 4.5 million in New Zealand). The indigenous Maori make up roughly 10 per cent of the local population in the city, and almost a quarter identify with an Asian ethnicity. Overall, almost 40 per cent of Aucklanders were born overseas!
Together, this mix of cultures creates its own world in Auckland, where the best of everything comes together to create a place that’s buzzing with life. The central city contains restaurants and eateries with just about every international cuisine on the planet, and annual events such as the Chinese New Year and Diwali Festival are celebrated by all.
The Auckland Museum is a great place to visit to learn more about New Zealand’s history and how Auckland grew to become the cultural quilt it is today.
Internet services in Auckland
As a major metropolitan city, internet services aren’t hard to come by.
All Starbucks and McDonald’s locations offer free Wi-Fi, as do many cafes and bars found around the central city. For fast and reliable connections, there are a number of internet cafes you can visit for an hour or two.
Things to do in Auckland
On-shore tours or independent bookings?
When you board your New Zealand cruise, the first things on your agenda will likely be exploring the ship, picking your favourite bar, and turning your cabin into your own space. Don’t forget to add ‘picking your shore excursions’ to that list (perhaps with a drink in hand), as it’s just as much fun as discovering the basketball court on the top deck. This activity will let you pick and choose which experiences you’d like to book in each port destination. You’ll have a huge range to choose from, and each one is organised to suit the time you have available on shore. Plus, payment goes straight onto your cabin account.
The other option is to do your own bookings for each port. This can help you save on those all-important travel funds, and may give you a little more choice in what you get up to in each destination. If you go for this option, be sure to allow more time than you think you’d need to get back to the ship, as your cruise line won’t take responsibility if you miss the departure!
Dominating Auckland’s skyline with its iconic shape, the Sky Tower stands at 328 metres high, making it the tallest structure in the country. A visit to the top is a must, but it’s what you do up there that will make it memorable. Firstly, you’ll explore the observation level and enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view of Auckland. Then, you can get your adrenalin pumping with a walk around the outside ledge (the SkyWalk), or even jump off the side and land safely at the bottom (the SkyJump). There’s even a rotating fine dining restaurant where you can enjoy decadent food and drink with a view to match.
Wynyard Quarter and Britomart
The Wynyard Quarter and Britomart essentially make up Auckland’s waterfront scene, and are hot spots for local and visitors alike. There’s no need to book a tour here, simply walk off the boat and spend a couple of hours strolling up and down, checking out the stores, stopping for drinks and coffees, and picking your favourite boats in the marina.
Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE aquarium
Kelly Tarlton’s is the country’s leading aquarium, showcasing more than 30 live animal exhibits and proudly offering visitors the chance to see the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony exhibit. For the daring, you can even dive in and swim with the sharks at this fantastic attraction. The aquarium is 10 minutes from the downtown area and offers a free shuttle from the waterfront and back in a bus styled to look like a Great White Shark - you can’t miss it.
Auckland Harbour Bridge Walk
The Auckland Harbour Bridge is easily the second most iconic structure in the city (aside from the Tower). It straddles the harbour between the central city and the North Shore, but unfortunately it is not open to foot traffic. However, you can try the Auckland Harbour Bridge Walk, an organised tour experience that lets you climb inside the structure and over it with an experienced guide who will teach you about its history and myths along the way.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum
Don’t be fooled by the name - the Auckland War Memorial Museum offers more than just military memories. It’s also home to a unique collection of New Zealand cultural history, in particular relating to the country’s Maori and Pacific ancestry. The stunning building alone is worth a visit, but it’s definitely a must-see if you’re new to the country and want to learn more about its incredible past. This spot is also a little out of the CBD, but you can get there with the LINK bus service.
Queen Street and K Road
You haven’t been to Auckland until you’ve walked along Queen Street and ‘K’ (Karangahape) Road. Queen Street is the main drag that runs all the way from the waterfront to the top of the hill, where it meets with K Road. Both routes offer an endless supply of entertainment in the form of shopping, cafes and attractions (such as Aotea Square on Queen Street), and K Road attracts many of the city’s most colourful characters.
Mission Bay is a short 10-minute bus ride or taxi from the central city. Not only is the ride along the waterfront stunning, this beach location will give you a taste of New Zealand summers spent by the ocean. Relax, grab an ice cream or some classic Kiwi fish ‘n’ chips, take a swim or two and don’t forget to layer up with sunscreen.
Waiheke Island is less than an hour away from Auckland’s waterfront by ferry, but it offers a surreal experience that will make you feel like you’re hours from anything resembling a city. The island is known for its wineries and beaches - both of which are spectacular. You can book a wine tasting tour of several of its best vineyards, or simply use the local taxis to get around.
Has New Zealand long been on your bucket list? Peruse the Auckland cruise sale page and tick off this adventurous big little city.
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