Auckland is graced with a spectacular setting - it spreads out across an isthmus between the Manukau Harbour and the wild beaches of the west coast on one side and the Waitemata Harbour on the other, opening out to pretty beaches all along the east coast, and the beautiful Hauraki Gulf, dotted with islands.

For fantastic food, art, music and shopping, head into town! The central city and inner suburbs like Ponsonby, Parnell and Newmarket are perfect for the serious shopper, with boutiques, design stores and cafes all about. For high culture, head downtown for the Auckland Art Gallery, or classical concerts at the Aotea Centre and Town Hall. K Rd is great for discovering NZ bands, underground venues and op shops. New restaurants seem to be opening all around the inner city - you can choose the glitz of the latest restaurant from big name chefs in Federal St or Ponsonby, or head out for excellent Japanese food, Chinese dumplings, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian or Thai. That’s the delight of this cosmopolitan melting pot.

Tamaki-Makau-Rau: Auckland

The Maori name for Auckland is Tamaki-Makau-Rau. With its fertile volcanic soils and rich fishing grounds, the Tamaki area has been home to Maori peoples for centuries, with numerous battles fought over it. The remnants of Maori pa, or fortified villages, can be seen on dormant volcanoes such as Mt Eden (Maungawhau), and One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). These volcanic cones give tremendous views over Auckland city, harbours and hills. In 1840 Ngati Whatua offered land to Governor Hobson around what is now central Auckland. Hobson established Auckland as the capital in 1840, and officials, settlers and traders flocked to the region, creating a real estate frenzy fairly similar to the present day market. While the capital moved to Wellington in 1865, the growth of Auckland continued unabated.

Fresh urban design

The downtown area of Auckland has seen a lot of redevelopment over recent years, with shops, bars and restaurants extending from the stylish Britomart precint around the waterfront to the Viaduct Basin, full of gleaming super yachts. Wander across the Wynyard Crossing Bridge to Wynyard Quarter for the North Wharf eateries and a charming children’s playground.  The area is full of cool urban design and public art. Be sure to check out the old cement silos in Silo Park, they form the backdrop to films, artworks, children’s entertainment and night-markets over summer. If you take children they will want to swim in the fountain.

For arts and culture, the central city is a good place to start. The renovations to the public Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki were completed in 2011, so head there and enjoy the dramatic timber arches overhead, along with great exhibitions, good cafe and a colourful creative learning centre for children. From there you can wander up through Albert Park to the University of Auckland, if you fancy eating a sandwich amongst flowerbeds, statues and flocks of students. Or head down the hill to the performing arts venues of the Town Hall, Q Theatre, Aotea Centre and The Civic. In July the NZ International Film Festival starts in Auckland, and there is no better place to experience the magic of film than in the sumptuous surrounds of The Civic, a Rococo picture palace built in 1929. The Auckland War Memorial Museum holds the world’s best collection of Maori and Pacific artefacts. You can walk there in 30 minutes, drive in 10, or catch the Link bus up to Parnell Road.

Islands, beaches, villages

It’s easy to get away from the urban hustle of the city. Take the ferry out to Waiheke Island for a day trip or longer stay and you’ll get to enjoy views of the city, the iconic volcanic profile of Rangitoto, and other islands as you speed out across the Hauraki Gulf. Waiheke is a perennial favourite with holiday-makers for its lovely beaches, boutique vineyards, walks and art. Or take the ferry to Devonport on a fine day, wander around the seaside village, explore the World War ll tunnels up North Head, and have a picnic on pretty Cheltenham Beach. There’s a popular outdoor cafe at the Naval Museum at Torpedo Bay, with sea views and a playground nearby.

A twenty minute drive west from the city centre takes you to Titirangi village, where you can stop for a coffee and picnic supplies or browse a weekend market before exploring Waitakere and the West Coast beaches. The Waitakere ranges are cloaked in native forest, full of superb bush walks to waterfalls, beaches or lookouts. Head to the wild beaches of Karekare, Piha, Bethell’s and Muriwai for pounding surf, great walks and rugged, elemental scenery.

North Shore

Heading north from Auckland’s waterfront, over the Harbour Bridge and following the procession of beaches up the North Shore will give you an idea why so many sailors call Auckland home, and the rest enjoy this slice of paradise from “the bach”. Take the coastal walk from Takapuna to Milford Beach, or Browns Bay to Mairangi Bay, or head to Long Bay and visit Long Bay Regional Park.

Where to stay

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What to do

  • check out the Britomart shopping and entertainment precinct

  • stroll round the bars and restaurants of the Viaduct to Silo Park

  • view the exhibitions and stylish architecture of the Auckland Art Gallery

  • explore the finest collection of Maori and Pacific artefacts in the world at Auckland Museum

  • observe native flora and fauna, as well as the usual favourites at Auckland Zoo

  • explore K Rd for second-hand shops, cheap food, cool music venues, nightspots and a bit of grunge

  • cruise the flashier bars, boutiques and restaurants of Ponsonby or Parnell

  • go to a concert or film at the glorious Civic Theatre

  • run or bike around the waterfront to Mission Bay

  • take a ferry to Devonport, Rangitoto or Waiheke

  • head out west for bush walks, surf and mountain-biking