Auckland in a day (+24hr+ BONUS)
Auckland, New Zealand
Hands down, top three favorite places of all time include the absolutely stunning New Zealand (even though at the time of this article, I still haven’t even seen the South Island yet… so stay tuned for Christ Church). I wouldn’t be surprised if this lush and beautiful area of Oceana became one of your faves, too. Though only about 300,000 people live permanently in the country, nearly 85% of all Kiwis live in the capital of Auckland. Even though this is the most populated area of the country, you’ll notice how environmentally conscience the locals are once you realize there isn’t any trash anywhere on any street. One of my favorite things about this place is how untouched it really is in this remote area from the rest of the world. Here all citizens know and work to keep the value of their environment, and it’s evident everywhere you look. The air smells cleaner, and the food tastes better. Located at the base of the northern stretch of the “North Island” of New Zealand, this harbor city has a little bit of everything. It almost kind of reminds me of the stunning Vancouver (see Vancouver. article) if it were in the tropics. We visited only a few days around late February and had a mix of a little cooler evening rain and warm sunny afternoons. Whatever the season is during your visit, you will find yourself inspired to wander this beautiful city.
We really enjoyed staying a little away from more of the crowded streets of downtown in Viaduct Harbor. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s a lovely walk along the docks with the sailboats perched perfectly along the beautiful waters. A few of the hotels here even have water taxis next to some of the locals’ apartments. Start here and take a stroll east along the harbor into the slightly busier side of town. If you get hungry, you are in no short supply of amazing restaurants on the way (the views aren’t bad, either).
This was one of our favorite spots to eat. They have a great, local menu and are open for a lovely patio lunch or dinner, complete with merino wool blankets and heat lamps if the weather is less favorable. The location is great as well; it’s inside a cute, small, square that’s a short walk from the Piers before you get to the rest of downtown.
After you’ve had your fill, burn some off with a hike up the hill through downtown to Albert Park. Whether you want to pick a spot to sit and people watch, picnic, or check out a local concert, this large park is a beautiful wandering spot. It also connects Auckland Central to other areas of the city, so if you don’t have much time to check out these trees that look like hobbits will jump out of them, you can still stroll through on your way to the next spot.
The Sky Tower of Auckland dominates the sky line and is visible almost anywhere in the city (and beyond). It is an iconic symbol of Auckland and New Zealand, as well as the tallest free standing tower in the Southern Hemisphere. Standing over 1,000 feet in the air, it serves as the city’s observation deck and telecommunications tower. Though we unfortunately didn’t have a chance to climb to the top, photos of the views are pretty phenomenal. At the very top sits a highly recommended (though obviously with tourist considerations) 360 degree panoramic spinning restaurant.
Get ready to be blown away by some amazing sushi (read: not cheap). Outside of Japan this was definitely the best sushi I’ve had or seen. Both creative displays and the food itself are in line with the Japanese tradition of excellence. They also have a side room for private parties completely with pre-fixe options and personal waiters. If you’re up for the night cap, try their Japanese whiskey that they set on flames in front of you before serving it. Even for someone who normally doesn’t like whiskey, that was a treat. Obviously this place is sushi-lovers only.
Trust me, you'll want to stay more than a day!
I think I could retire here (or perhaps any of the several small islands off this coast). This hidden gem inside a gem is a short 40 minute ferry ride from the capital and I would probably even try to include this in your plans even if you only have one whole day in Auckland. You could drive around the entire island well within a day, but you’ll definitely want to stop and savor at a few of the island’s 36 wineries (though many are private). With a small local population, you’ll find homes here between small beach cottages and huge mansions on estates. And it’s no wonder: the backdrop against the main island in the distance from the ocean is something I don’t think anyone would grow tired of seeing. If you’re up for an adventure, we highly recommend doing the zip lining tour from EcoZip Adventures. They even have an option to do the zip lining, winery, and olive oil tastings all in one (don’t worry, zip lining is first). You can keep with the tour and take the ferry back after hiking through some of their natural reserves, or stay on your own with a bus ticket back to the ferry later in the evening. We did the latter to check out the pristine, empty beaches as we enjoyed the local wine and seafood.
New Zealand is home to the invention of the bungee jump. So if you’re into jumping off extremely high ledge and seemingly plummet to your death head first, go for it. Personally, I haven’t try it (yet). Zip lining was fun enough for me. Since you’re in the birthplace of the radical adventure, there are several companies, though one of the more popular ones would probably be jumping off the Sky Tower (hard pass here but no judgement. Stay tuned for when I change my mind).