Matakana & Surrounds

Just an hour north of Auckland is the small, charming town of Matakana and the gateway to New Zealand’s famously beautiful Northland. It’s not just a thoroughfare though—this part of the Auckland Region has more than a few reasons to justify the short drive north.

Matakana
Charming and quaint, Matakana is very much a grape-growers township, and home to the weekly SaturdayFarmers’ Markets—showcasing all the beautiful, fresh produce of the growers and farmers of the region. Matakana VIllage also features a small cinema, a few cute boutiques, and an impressive selection of delicious cafes, restaurants and bars.

Omaha
Omaha Beach is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Often described as Auckland’s playground, it is fast becoming the vacation destination for Aucklanders with money to spend. Because, well, the beach is beautiful. Think soft blue waves gently caressing sparkling white sand.

Tawharanui
Tawharanui Beach is both a marine reserve and a protected Regional Park and offers everything from camping and picnicking to rock pooling and snorkelling. Boasting some of Auckland’s most beautiful and bountiful beaches, rolling pastures, coastal forests, regenerating marine life, and very affordable camping, head up to Tawharanui for a few days to really make the most of this pristine sanctuary.

Leigh
Just 15 minutes from Matakana is the pretty coastal community of Leigh. The nearest town to Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve and the famous Goat Island, as well as beautiful beaches like Mathesons Bay and Pakiri, Leigh is perfectly located for a night or two away from the big city life of Auckland.

Matakana

Top Tip Restaurant and bar Leigh Sawmill is an unlikely hot spot for a lot of international and local live music and comedy. Check out the Sawmill’s gig guide and plan your trip up north accordingly.

Piha

If you only have time to visit one of Auckland’s many West Coast beaches while you’re in town, Piha is it. From the black sand to the dunes to the wild waves, Piha Beach is a quintessential Kiwi oasis. First things first: you will need a car to get there. Piha is situated off the beaten track, roughly a 45-minute drive from the city. It’s pretty clearly sign-posted once you get past Titirangi Village, but be careful on the roads—there are a few tight corners on your way out there. It’s worth noting that Titirangi Village is home to the last petrol station before you get to the coast, so make sure you’re all gassed up on the way through. Head out on a sunny morning and spend the whole day swimming, surfing and sunbathing; there is no lack of things to see and do. Turning left at the bottom of Piha Road, you’ll find yourself in the carpark at the gateway to South Piha. There is a small store here that sells all your picnicking essentials, from hot chips and burgers to milkshakes and ice creams.

The beach is breathtaking. Wild water from the Tasman Sea crashing onto sprawling black sand that goes further that your eyes can see. The predominant feature of this ethereal landscape is Lion Rock – named for its unique shape – forming the natural halfway point between North and South Piha. Climb to the top of this weathered old king (about a 15-minute uphill trek) and see even more of this beautiful slice of New Zealand. If you are in the mood for walking, hike over the Hikurangi hill at the South end of the beach and down to secluded Mercer Bay, or take the easy 40-minute stroll from the east end of Glen Esk Road to the stunning Kitekite Falls and enjoy a fresh-water dip in the pool to cool off.

Piha is also home to a camp ground and a couple of lodge accommodations if you’re looking to stay for a few days. Keep in mind that Piha is not a very populous town—there is only one store, a couple of eateries and the historic Piha RSA, which is open for dinner seven days a week.

Piha

Top Tip Always, always, always, always, ALWAYS swim between the flags. Piha can be very unsafe at times, and if you aren’t a confident swimmer, it’s best not to go in past your waist. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the ocean. And don’t forget your sunblock and flip flops—black sand gets very hot in the sun.

Hauraki Gulf

Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is scattered with a selection of incredibly impressive islands, ranging from the larger ones with local populations of their own, through to smaller ones dedicated solely to New Zealand’s flourishing fauna and flora. While each and every island in the Gulf is incredible in its own way, here’s a quick list of the best of the best.

Rangitoto Island
Quite literally bursting out of the sea around 600 years ago, the island of Rangitoto is perhaps the most iconic volcano in Auckland. A prominent feature of the horizon from almost anywhere in the city, Rangitoto is even more impressive when you get up close. There are a few different walking tracks leading up to the summit – the quickest being around an hour – but whichever route you choose, you’re guaranteed to walk over historic lava fields and under incredible canopies, all the while surrounded by the sounds of the bush. And when you get to the top…well, just prepare to be struck by a whole lot of unabashed and relentless awe.

Return ferry from downtown Auckland is $29 for adults and $14.50 for kids.

Waiheke Island
If there is only one thing you do while visiting Auckland, let a visit to Waiheke be it. Home to almost 9,000 locals, Waiheke Island is actually New Zealand’s most densely populated island—which is pretty hard to believe seeing as how remote and idyllic it is. This tranquil paradise is quite literally surrounded by a breath-taking coastline, which means a whole lot of beautiful spots for you to swim. Waiheke Island is also famous for its plethora of expansive vineyards offering up everything from gourmet food to authentic local wine tasting. Whether you’re just visiting for the day or you’re lucky enough to spend a few nights, Waiheke is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Return ferry from downtown Auckland is $36 for adults and $18 for kids.

Tiritiri Matangi Island
Tiritiri Matangi is one of New Zealand’s most important and exciting conservation projects. Brought back to life after extensive farming throughout the 1980s, today this wildlife sanctuary is a thriving home for a long list of threatened and endangered species. From the flightless takahe through to the iconic tuatara, this protected land is a safe home for each and every animal and plant—and it’s open for you to explore, to learn from and to appreciate all year round.

Return ferry from downtown Auckland is $69 for adults and $37 for kids.

Hauraki Gulf

Top Tip If you’re after a bit of adventure, spend a few nights at Motutapu Island’s Department of Conversation run campground or in the simple lodging at Outdoor Education Camp. Motutapu Island is adjoined to Rangitoto and boasts a variety of beautiful walking trails, all with unparalleled views of the Gulf. 

Wynyard Quarter & Silo Park

 
A relatively recent addition to Auckland’s viaduct, Wynyard Quarter was developed in the lead up to New Zealand hosting the Rugby World Cup 2011. Wynyard Quarter is the waterfront area to the west of the Auckland Ferry Terminal. At the entrance to the Wynyard Quarter precinct, you’ll find the Maritime Museum, a place that showcases Auckland’s seafaring and adventurous spirit, and this big city’s unique relationship with the ocean. This free museum is worth a visit, if only to check out NZL32, Team New Zealand’s 1995 America’s Cup-winning boat. Crossing the pedestrian bridge into Wynyard Quarter, you’ll see just how much of Auckland is influenced by our harbour. Wynyard Quarter sits right on the water’s edge and is home to a whole host of beautiful sea-side restaurants and bars, one particular highlight being the Southern American-style eatery Miss Clawdy.

The Auckland Fish Market is an essential stop for seafood lovers. The fish market building is home to a variety of fresh seafood retailers, licensed restaurants and cafes, and even a boutique food market. Head along to buy some of Auckland’s freshest seafood straight off the boats, or sit down for a perfectly prepared meal and a glass of wine in the open-air courtyard. The Auckland Seafood School also offers some amazing cooking classes for those of you looking to do something a little different with your afternoon.

Wynyard Quarter was designed to reflect Auckland’s industrious maritime heritage in a relaxed, public space—the undebatable centre of which is Silo Park. Silo Park is exactly what it sounds like, a few refurbished silos surrounded by a beautiful, modern park. Silo Park’s silos no longer store cement; today they are used as incredible art galleries and event venues, and the surrounding park plays host to upward of 50 events a year. Silo Markets are held here every Friday night and Saturday afternoon throughout summer, serving up arts, crafts and entertainment, while fast becoming Auckland’s premier food truck destination. Silo Cinema is Auckland’s only regular open-air cinema experience, every Friday night from late December until late March, playing everything from The Sound of Music to Top Gun. Silo Park also plays host to Silo Sessions, a series of free concerts and unique performances scheduled throughout summer.

Downtown and Viaduct

Top Tip While Silo Cinema films don’t start until about 9pm (once it’s dark enough), the space does get really full. It’s worth showing up between 7.30pm and 8pm if you want to get a good spot. Seating isn’t provided, so it pays to bring a blanket or pillow to sit on while you watch. While there are always a number of food trucks selling their delicious fare, there are no rules against bringing your own picnic along to enjoy.

Surrounding areas:
Downtown/Britomart, St Mary’s Bay, Freemans Bay.

West Auckland

West Auckland is most famous throughout the world for its wild West Coast beaches, mountains and rainforests. There is no shortage of stunningly unique black sand beaches up and down the West Coast, from Karekare and Piha, right up to Bethells Beach and Muriwai. West Coast beaches offer the best coastal views and waves ripe for surfing in the entire Auckland region. While these beaches are spectacular and amazing and fun for the whole family, please please please be aware of just how dangerous they can be. If you’re not comfortable in the ocean, this isn’t the place to learn. Always swim between the flags and listen to the lifeguards at all times. The ocean on the West Coast is a lot more dangerous than it may at first appear, even on a seemingly calm day there can be any number of hidden rips and undercurrents.

The beautiful Waitakere Ranges dominate West Auckland’s landscape, and there are dozens upon dozens of different walking tracks across this stunning 16,000-hectare area. If you do want to head to the Waitakeres for a day or two of hiking, make sure you do your research first and always be prepared—you can read up on everything you need to know for a trip to the Waitakere Ranges right here. If you’re after the forest without the hassle, head over to Woodhill Forest instead. Woodhill Forest is a commercially grown forest further north which serves as a natural playground for the adventure lovers among us. There are over 100-kilometres worth of purpose-built tracks and jumps suitable for mountain bikes, quad bikes, or just an easy bush walk. Woodhill is alive with natives birds and reptiles, and there are countless activities available in the area, including horse riding, motocross and a 4WD jeep safari.

Kumeu sits north west of the city but further in from the West Coast and is undoubtedly Auckland’s wine country. Littered with dozens of vineyards and orchards, this area of West Auckland offers a whole different kind of beauty—head out for a wine tasting trail or a gourmet lunch, surrounded by the silence of nature.

Please keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to get to anywhere in West Auckland worth going to without a car. Exploring this rugged and unique part of New Zealand is such an amazing privilege, and it’s totally worth shelling out the extra money for a rental car for a couple of days to witness its wonder for yourself.

West Auckland

Top Tip Palm Springs Hot Pools (155 Parkhurst Road, Parakai) is the perfect spot to spend a relaxing and tranquil few hours on a cool evening.

Top spots:
Piha, Bethells Beach, Muriwai, Kumeu.

Ponsonby

One of Auckland’s first neighbourhoods, today Ponsonby is a trendy hotbed of restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping. The star of the Ponsonby area is the appropriately named Ponsonby Road.

Stretching nearly two kilometres, this vibrant strip plays host to some of Auckland’s best eateries. Visit the famous International Food Court on the corner of Pollen Street for a huge range of affordable and delicious dishes from all over the world (open from 10am), or if you’re in the mood for something a little more up-market, look no further than Ponsonby Central (corner of Richmond Road), a hub of bars, bistros, coffee shops, and even a fresh food market. Restaurants like  MooChowChow (Thai), Prego (Italian), and Orphans Kitchen (up-market bistro-style dining) litter the street for those who can afford something a little nicer. While more casual Ponsonby Road dining highlights include il buco (for gourmet pizza slices), Mexico (for a quesadilla and a margarita) and Renkon (for cheap and simple Japanese).  Hang out at the Street Food Collective, tucked away behind Ponsonby Road for a rotating schedule of some of Auckland’s food trucks and street food vendors.

Ponsonby Road is also well-loved for its vibrant nightlife. Bars like Freeman & Grey, Little Easy, Golden Dawn, Grand Central and The Long Room are open until at least 3am on weekends, and are all great spots to visit for a more relaxed drink or even a bite to eat earlier in the evening. If you’re in town to do a spot of shopping, Ponsonby Road has to be one of your first stops. Because of its usually flush clientele, the shopping options along Ponsonby Road are often a little pricier. Stores like Karen Walker, Sass & Bide, Cybèle and Suprette are home to some of New Zealand’s top fashions.

Ponsonby is generally a very safe area for locals and tourists alike, and because it’s within walking distance of the city as well as being a corridor for various bus routes, it’s a great place to stay while visiting Auckland.

Ponsonby

Top Tip Freeman & Grey (43 Ponsonby Road) serves $4 pizzas daily, from 12.00pm – 2.00pm and then again from 5.00pm – 7.30pm.

Surrounding areas:
Grey Lynn, K’Road, Freemans Bay, Herne Bay.

North Shore

The North Shore (often simply referred to as “the Shore”) is the whole region of Auckland that lives across the other side of the iconic Harbour Bridge.

Unlike our famous wild West Coast beaches, the many beaches of Auckland’s North Shore are a lot more family-friendly and a much safer swimming option for tourists who aren’t as used to the ocean. The beaches surrounding Auckland’s North Shore are all long, flat, white sand beaches, and many of them provide great views of the Waitemata Harbour and the mysterious beauty that is Rangitoto Island. To be quite honest, Auckland’s northern beaches are probably the only reason any visitors to Auckland would have to head across to the Shore.

Because there are no trains or walkways going over to the Shore, it is a part of Auckland that can be a little more difficult to get to, but there are a range of busses that’ll take you right across to some of Auckland’s favourite northern beaches—or you can catch a ferry from downtown to Devonport and make your way from there. If you do opt to begin your exploration of the North Shore in the historic suburb of Devonport by way of boat, please note that the closest beach worth your time as far as swimming goes is Cheltenham. Keep in mind though that it is a 20 – 30 minute walk from Devonport wharf, so make sure you’re wearing suitable shoes.

The ever-popular Takapuna Beach is definitely one of the North Shore’s stand-outs, and with a vibrant strip of shops and cafes just 100 metres back from the water, there’s more than enough in the area to keep you entertained all day. Long Bay is a lot further out, and is probably only worth the trip if you have a car to get you there, but the massive Regional Park that runs alongside the water’s edge is abuzz with picnics, BBQs and bathers all through the summer months.

North Shore

Top Tip Takapuna’s PumpHouse Theatre is a charming old brick theatre located in Killarney Park on the edge of Lake Pupuke, and hosts a whole range of indoor and outdoor performances throughout the year. Over summer, Shakespeare in the Park is a particular highlight—some of the most loved stories ever told, performed on the edge of the lake and under the stars.

Top spots:
Takapuna Beach, Long Bay, Narrow Neck, Cheltenham.

Newmarket

Just one stop on the train from downtown Britomart, you’ll find the urban shopping haven that is Newmarket.

All variety of clothing stores run along main road Broadway, from Nike and Foot Locker, to more up-market stores like Polo Ralph Lauren, Country Road, and New Zealand’s own department store Smith & Caughey’s. On the corner of Morrow Street and Broadway sits a shopping mall simply called 277 (that’s two-double-seven), where you’ll find a number of clothing stores, a supermarket, and a food court located on the top story where you can take a break out from all that retail therapy for a bite to eat. You’ll find even more, amazing clothing stores located on Nuffield Street and Teed Street, both of which run parallel to Broadway.

The re-created Osborne Lane is full of luxury designers like I Love Ugly, Juliette Hogan and Kathryn Wilson. It also hosts some of Auckland’s trendiest eateries with the yummy Best Ugly Bagels and its neighbour Burger Burger.

There are two cinemas further down Broadway. Event Cinema is a large complex that plays predominantly blockbusters, while the smaller and more intimate Rialto theatre typically plays independent, foreign and art house films.

A short walk from Newmarket will take you to Auckland Domain, one of the city’s oldest and largest parks, and home to both the Auckland Museum and the beautiful Winter Gardens. Or if you take a ten-minute stroll north up Parnell Road, you’ll find yourself in the heart of one of Auckland’s oldest suburbs, Parnell. Parnell is made up of a quaint and high-end strip of boutiques and eateries, and is a great place to explore as you wander from Newmarket, down Parnell Rise, and straight into downtown Auckland.

Newmarket

Top Tip Hidden gem Lucha Lounge is tucked away on Newmarket’s tiny York Street. In this cosy cocktail bar, you’ll find Mexican-inspired décor, drinks and food, a private outdoor courtyard, and a whole lot of live music.

Surrounding areas:
Mt Eden, Parnell, Remuera, Grafton.

Mt Eden

Located just three train stops from the city, the jewel of this inner-city suburb is, of course, the mountain that it was named after. This famous dormant volcano, standing at 196 metres (643 ft.), is the highest natural point in Auckland City and, as such, is a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike.

An easy walk up to the summit, Mt Eden boasts unbeatable views of our fair city. From this prime position you can soak up the vastness of Auckland, in all its volcanic, sea-side glory. At the base of Mt Eden lies Tahaki Reserve, a large city park hidden away from street view that, in summer, is the location of parties, events and concerts. Even if there’s no music scheduled, Tahaki Reserve is a great place for a picnic, or to escape the bustle of the city without having to leave the bustle of the city.

The leafy Mt Eden Village sits further along Mt Eden Road from the mountain, and is yet another hub of great Auckland restaurants and cafes. Mt Eden is more laid-back and family-friendly than other central city suburbs, and is suited to those of you looking for a sunny lunch spot (try RAD or Olaf’s) or a quiet glass of wine (try De Post Belgian Beer Cafe or Circus Circus).

Mt Eden is also home to the legendary Crystal Palace single-screen theatre. Opened in 1928, this suburban cinema is one of the oldest existing theatres in Auckland and plays host to a quirky mix of local cinema, live music and out-of-the-box film nights.

Mt Eden

Top Tip The first Friday of every month at 8.30pm, Crystal Palace Theatre screens the cult classic, The Room. A fun-filled night that involves more than just watching one of the most brilliantly awful films of all time, cinema-goers are encouraged to holler out movie lines and toss plastic spoons at the screen. This unmissable experience is just $15 at the door.

Surrounding areas:
Kingsland, Newmarket, Sandringham, Balmoral.

Mission Bay

Mission Bay is located further around the coast – about seven kilometres east – from Auckland’s city centre. If you’re looking for a long but easy walk, complete with beautiful harbour views, then a stroll from the city around to Mission Bay ticks all the boxes.

Mission Bay feels less like an Auckland suburb, and more like a small seaside town. The large reserve between the ocean and the promenade is called Selwyn Reserve and plays host to a number of popular music and cultural events throughout summer. At the centre of Selwyn Reserve, you’ll find the most recognisable landmark of the whole Mission Bay landscape, the Trevor Moss Davis Memorial Fountain. The fountain’s three sea monsters send jets of water up to 12 metres into the air, and once the sun sets, the fountain’s much-loved light show drenches the park in beautiful colours. During the warmer months, young kids use the fountain as a paddling pool.

Mission Bay isn’t necessarily a place you’d want to go swimming, although some people do. It’s not the greatest place to go if you’re looking for a breathtakingly beautiful Auckland beach—the charm of Mission Bay is more in grabbing a round of fish and chips from the adored Fish Pot Café, or frozen yoghurt from KiwiYo, and getting cosy on a blanket in the sea-side park. Mission Bay is also home to a whole host of beautiful restaurants if you’re looking for a nice night out, outside the hustle and bustle of the city. De Fontein and Dos Amigos are both local favourites, or head up to Rickshaw Eddy’s for some Asian fusion with a view.

Mission Bay

Top Tip Take an easy four-kilometre stroll east from Mission Bay around the waterfront to its close – and less crowded – neighbour St Heliers. Not only is St Heliers a nicer place to swim, but you’ll enjoy unbeatable views of Rangitoto the whole way there.

Surrounding areas:
Orakei, St Heliers, Meadowbank, Kohimaramara.