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  • Hauraki_Gulf_Islands_Auckland - Whether you’re seeking relaxation or a wilderness adventure, the islands of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park have it all. More than 50 islands have been set aside for conservation and most have public access. Visit an island sanctuary to see rare and endangered birds, climb a volcanic cone or simply relax in the sun on a white sand beach.
  • gannets-at-Cape-Kidnappers - A pair of gannets at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island. Every year thousands of visitors come to view these beautiful birds, cousins to the booby. Take a wildlife tour of the area while on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
  • ferry_Auckland_to_Waiheke_Island - A ferry ride from downtown Auckland can take you to Waiheke Island, where life revolves around wine, food, beaches and outdoor adventures.
  • Silversea-Silver-Discoverer-whale-tale - See real whales up close when you sail to New Zealand with Silver Discoverer.
  • Bay_of_Islands_New_Zealand - A day sail in the Bay of Islands is easy to arrange from Kerikeri, Paihia, Russell or Opua. Once you leave the main harbor, the view expands to reveal an amazing cruising ground. Most of the surrounding islands are protected nature reserves where you can discover ancient Maori pa sites, walk through native forest and explore gorgeous beaches. The Bay of Islands are a must-visit on a longer stay on the North Island.
  • Traditional_Maori_welcome_Rotorua - Preserving traditional Maori culture and customs often involves sharing authentic experiences with visitors to New Zealand. At Te Puia in Rotorua, guests are welcomed onto the marae (tribal meeting place) in the traditional manner and in front of the wharenui (sacred meeting house). After taking part in the powhiri (welcoming ceremony), you are forever linked to the marae.
  • Cruising_Lake_Taupo - In any season, cruising on Lake Taupo will allow you to appreciate the awesome grandeur of the North Island’s volcanic region. To the south you’ll see the giant volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Beneath you is the Taupo caldera, one of the world’s few "super volcanoes," which last erupted about 1,800 years ago.
  • Haruru_Falls_Bay_of_Islands - The Haruru Falls were created by an ancient lava flow. You can reach the falls by road, walking track or sea kayak from historic Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. The walking track includes native forest and a boardwalk through a tidal mangrove forest. Local guided kayak tours offer full tuition and an informative commentary along the way.
  • Cheltenham_Beach_Auckland - A 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland you'll find the relaxed, historic suburb of Devonport, where you can bike or stroll along the waterfront to enjoy views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf islands.
  • Piha-Beach-Auckland - A view of Pina Beach in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Viaduct-Harbour-Americas-Cup-boat - An America's Cup boat in Viaduct Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Viaduct-Harbour-Auckland - Viaduct Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • View-from-Cable-Bay-Vineyard-Waiheke-Island - The view from Cable Bay Vineyard on Waiheke Island near Auckland.
  • View-from-Cable-Bay-Vineyard-Waiheke-Island-1 - Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, 11 miles from Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Waitakere-Ranges-Regional-Park - Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Piha-Beach-with-girl-running - A young girl runs along Piha Beach in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Bridge_to_Nowhere_Whanganui_River - Returning World War 1 servicemen once worked the land within what is now the Whanganui National Park in the southwest of New Zealand's North Island. Jet boat and kayak tours provide easy access to this fascinating site deep in the forest. There’s also a multi-day-day hiking or one-day mountain biking trail. It's not a destination for cruise ship day trippers, but a good destination for a longer stay on the North Island.
  • Americas-Cup-boat-leaving-Viaduct-Harbour - An America's Cup boat leaving Viaduct Harbour in Auckland.
  • Artwork-Auckland-War-Memorial-Museum - Artwork at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Parnell, New Zealand.
  • Auckland-skyline-Sky-Tower-Ferry-Building - The Auckland city skyline with a view of the Sky Tower and Ferry Building.
  • Beach-Waiheke-Island - The beach at Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand. The island is just 11 miles from Auckland and makes for an easy day trip for cruisers.
  • Giant-fern-Waitekere-Ranges-Regional-Park - A giant fern at Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Kayaker-under-Auckland-Harbour-Bridge - A kayaker under Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand.
  • Piha-Beach-Auckland-with-surfer-in-distance - A view of Pina Beach in Auckland with a surfer in the distance.

Auckland travel guide: Top things to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Auckland is a spectacular mash-up of urban sophistication, Maori culture, mountains, sea, wineries and heart-thumping adventure. It's also one of the friendliest places on the planet. Known as the City of Sails thanks to a boat-loving population, it's no surprise that Auckland's waterfronts, bays, islands and harbors are deeply integrated into everyday life. Many of the most popular activities take place in and around the water.

Highly multicultural, Auckland offers a rich experience for visitors with its excellent ethnic restaurants and cultural institutions, most notably stellar Auckland War Memorial Museum where artifact-packed galleries are dedicated to Maori and Pacific Island cultures.

Cruise ships that call on Auckland

Top reasons to go

  • An abundance of art, entertainment, excellent food, super-friendly residents and intriguing ways to play on, in and around the water
  • Multiple opportunities to learn about and interact with authentic Maori culture
  • Proximity of nature and adventure to the city center
A ferry ride from downtown Auckland can take you to Waiheke Island, where life revolves around wine, food, beaches and outdoor adventures.
Rob Suisted / Courtesy of Tourism New ZealandA ferry ride from downtown Auckland can take you to Waiheke Island, where life revolves around wine, food, beaches and outdoor adventures.

Top things to do & see in Auckland

Tapping into the thrilling heart of high-stakes sailing, participants in America’s Cup Sailing adventures channel Team New Zealand in former America’s Cup racing yachts. Sailors and wannabes can help by hoisting sails or working the grinders, but it’s also okay to just sit back, hold on and enjoy the excitement.

The name Auckland War Memorial Museum is a bit misleading. Yes, the top floor has excellent galleries dedicated “to those who served,” but the museum’s focus is far broader. Among its most compelling collections and galleries are those telling the stories of Maori and other Pacific people. Not to be missed: daily Maori cultural performances.

 Just 35 minutes from downtown by high-speed ferry, Waiheke Island offers enough for several visits. Within its 36-square-miles, there’s wine tasting, zip-lining, biking, art galleries, beaches, a brewery, archery, kayaking and excellent restaurants. There are also mesmerizing views of Auckland’s skyline. Best bet for panoramic photo op: Cable Bay Vineyards.

Beaches

Hundreds of beaches hug Auckland’s shorelines. Close to downtown, Mission Bay Beach draws crowds with its wide swath of tawny sand and popular take-out fish-and-chips. Piha Beach and Karekare Beach are revered for their black sand, volcanic rock formations and surfing waves. They feel wild and isolated though they’re just an hour west of downtown. Karekare, within verdant Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, starred in Jane Campion’s The Piano, while Piha Rescue is a long-running reality TV series about the lifeguards who brave Piha’s deadly rip currents to save swimmers.

Horseback riding

Many cruise day-trippers take advantage of horseback riding in New Zealand and Auckland’s nearby Waiheke island is the place to do it. Waiheke HorseWorx is a new operator that tours the beaches and bush tracks, taking in traditional Maori culture and Waiheke’s famous wineries. 

Hiking 

Hiking on Bethells Beach is another good option for active travelers. The half-mile (8-kilometer) coastal walk from Bethells Beach to Muriwai takes in breathtaking views of the coast west of Auckland. 

Shopping

West of city center, Ponsonby is a thriving, fashion-centric neighborhood anchored by Ponsonby Road, along which many of the city’s hip boutiques and top ethnic restaurants sit. This is the place to discover trendy fashions by New Zealand designers as well as upmarket boutiques showcasing imported labels. People watching is superb.

Quirkier Karangahape Road, aka K Road, is lined with intriguing shops selling everything from retro and vintage clothing to contemporary art. Like Ponsonby, it’s a popular spot for ethnic eateries and nightlife—with added grit. The red city LINK buses give passengers access to K Road from the cruise dock area.

Nightlife

Like other city-center neighborhoods, Britomart has undergone transformation. Once derelict and light-years off the tourism radar, Britomart has a revved up bar and music scene in addition to shopping and cafes. Multilevel 1885 is a warehouse-chic bar with live music that ranges from jazz to blues and funk. Guests can move freely between 1885 and Britomart Country Club, a courtyard bar just across the lane. Racket, evoking early Havana with its antique furniture and an authentic 19th century humidor, draws late-night crowds to sip cocktails and listen to live bands or DJs.

At Fort Lane, near the intersection of Customs and Queen streets, nightlife centers around Roxy, a bar, lounge and restaurant with a Hollywood vibe, and Everybody’s, offering varied spaces for drinking and dining. Both are within the smartly restored 19th century Imperial Building.

 Ponsonby is one of the city’s favorite spots for nightlife, where options include utterly unconventional Golden Dawn with its surprisingly sophisticated global wine list and a nice selection of craft brews. If nothing else, enjoy reading the well-penned descriptions of available cocktails—all three pages.

Family-friendly options

Located near Mission Bay Beach, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquariumis home to the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony exhibit and cool underwater viewing tunnels through which to see them. Sharks, jellies, stingrays and a replica of the hut used by the Scott expedition in Antarctica a century ago provide entertainment and education. For families not faint-of-heart, the shark cage experience beckons.

YOLO (You only live once!)

Go ahead. Hurl yourself off Sky Tower and fall a stomach-churning 630 feet straight down. That's the thrill of Sky Jump. Of course, willing daredevils are attached by wire to the tower so they’ll live another day to do it again. Those who don’t want to leap can harness up and take the (slightly) less harrowing Sky Walk on the crazily narrow platform circling the top of the tower.

A 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland you'll find the relaxed, historic suburb of Devonport, where you can bike or stroll along the waterfront to enjoy views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf islands.
Chris McLennan / Courtesy of Tourism New ZealandA 10-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland you'll find the relaxed, historic suburb of Devonport, where you can bike or stroll along the waterfront to enjoy views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf islands.

Don’t miss

Lively, diverse Viaduct Harbor is a city-center hub where locals and visitors gather for good food, drink, endless activities and spectacular sunsets. In addition to setting the scene for more than 30 restaurants and bars, Viaduct is the launch point for many of Auckland’s water-based tours and home to the engaging Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, where New Zealand’s enduring relationship with the ocean is explored.

Best bets for dining

  • Casual lunch: Can’t agree on where to eat? Elliott Stables in the Central Business District is an epicurean emporium with gourmet shops and multiple eateries offering a range of cuisines. Sit in the Village Common and order from any menu. A quick stroll from Queens Wharf, Jack Tar Wynyard Quarter features gastropub fare and a substantial list of beers, wine and spirits. If you’re shopping on see-and-be-seen Ponsonby Road, duck into Mekong Baby Food House & Bar for tasty Southeast Asian fusion dishes and an extensive drinks menu.
  •  Fine dining: A former warehouse-turned-sleek-fine-dining restaurant in the city center, Clooney has a sophisticated a la carte menu and a seven-course tasting menu that includes a vegetarian option. Creative cocktails and a 400-label wine list make for memorable pairings. There are multiple restaurants in the Sky City complex, including The Grill by Sean Connolly, located in Sky City Grand Hotel. While it’s definitely the place for meat lovers—the butcher-block section is steak paradise—there are also a slew of fish and vegetarian dishes. Also at Sky City, on level 53 of Sky Tower, is The Sugar Club where diners combine small plates to create meals of intriguing tastes and variety. Euro Restaurant & Bar at Princes Wharf has long been among the city’s top restaurants, prized for its innovative cuisine and waterside setting.

Best time to go

February is the month with all the best attributes — warm temps, more sun, less rain, fewer crowds because school is back in session. November to mid-December is typically less crowded but the weather more unsettled. March and April can be great if a little cooler.

At Te Puia in Rotorua, guests are welcomed onto the marae (tribal meeting place) in the traditional manner and in front of the wharenui (sacred meeting house). After taking part in the powhiri (welcoming ceremony), you are forever linked to the marae.
Bob McCree / Courtesy of Tourism New ZealandAt Te Puia in Rotorua, guests are welcomed onto the marae (tribal meeting place) in the traditional manner and in front of the wharenui (sacred meeting house). After taking part in the powhiri (welcoming ceremony), you are forever linked to the marae.

Fun facts

  • The Maori name for Auckland is Tamaki Makaurau — the maiden with 100 suitors — because the location was desired by so many.
  • Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world.
  • Fifty dormant volcanoes dot the city landscape.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at Queens Wharf or Princes Wharf, both walking distance to restaurants, shops, Viaduct Harbour and popular tours and sights.

Getting around

LINK buses are easy to navigate. The red (city center) buses run up and down Queen Street and on K Road, starting at Wynyard Quarter. Taxis are generally available at the wharfs and hotels (the Hilton is right next to Princes Wharf). Ferries to Waiheke Island depart from the terminal on Quay Street by Queens Wharf and next to the strikingly ornate historic Ferry Building.

Free wi-fi

The city of Auckland offers free wi-fi, 30 minutes per day per device, throughout the city including Queen Street, Queen's Wharf, Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Harbour. Cafes with free wi-fi (and excellent coffee) include:

  • Quay Street Cafe, 130 Quay Street, Auckland
  • Shaky Isles Coffee Co, 22 Customs Street East, Auckland

Need to know

Documents: A valid passport is required for U.S. and Canadian citizens but no visa.

Language: English

Store hours: Typical hours are 9 am-5:30 or 6 pm; some stores stay open late Thursdays and Saturdays. Stores were not traditionally open Sundays but that is changing, with closing typically at 4 pm.

Tipping: Tipping is not customary in New Zealand as wages are higher than in the U.S. for comparable service jobs. Some Auckland restaurants keep a jar where patrons can put small change. If service is really exceptional, it's OK to leave a little something but it's not expected. It is common to round up taxi fares, but taxi drivers are just as likely to round them down. What a country!

Currency: New Zealand dollar

Safety: Auckland is considered a safe city, especially in the central business district and tourist areas. Like any big city, however, it's not without crime, especially late at night. Always be aware of your surroundings, use ATMs during daylight hours or when you're with companions and if you're leaving bars and clubs late in the evening, take the same precautions you would in any city. 

Your take

Have you visited Auckland? What was the highlight for you? Have any tips for newcomers? Would love to see your photos and hear about your experience.

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Christine Loomis
A longtime travel writer and editor,  I'm on the board of the Society of American Travel Writers and chair of SATW's Western Chapter. I've taken 20 cruises on 13 different cruise lines...so far.

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