While not the capital, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand. Sometimes known as the Gateway to New Zealand, it’s more than just a transport hub to take travelers to the more ‘adventurous’ parts of this country. The city is awash with a whole lot of culture and history; a cosmopolitan place with more Maori heritage than European, there’s a lot to learn about how the city developed at its many museums.
Four different suburbs make up the area that is Greater Auckland – Auckland, North Shore, Waitakere, and Manukau. Each of these has a different character, personality, and flavor, with various Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, European, and Polynesian roots strong throughout. The North Shore is all about wealthy suburbs, while Waitakere is an easy to reach stronghold of nature and great beaches – as well as some of New Zealand’s famous wine. There’s something different going on everywhere in this surprisingly diverse settlement.
Map of Auckland
1. CBD · 2. Viaduct Harbour · 3. Newmarket · 4. Parnell · 5. North Shore · 6. Manukau · 7. Waitakere · 8. Ponsonby
Getting around Auckland is made easy thanks to its great transport links. Ferries linking the center with outlying towns and offshore islands, a simple but comprehensive train network, a whole lot of buses, and even an international airport make it a convenient place to arrive or depart. And with plenty of cycle paths, as well as opportunities to hike out in nature, getting around by the power of your own two feet has never been easier.
To give you an idea of the flavor of the city’s areas from north to south, here is a guide to staying in Auckland to help you choose the best district for you.
Auckland’s CBD – the Central Business District – is a buzzing cultural and financial center. Here is where you will find the bulk of the city’s skyscrapers and cultural sights. For example, there are galleries such as the Auckland Art Gallery, which was founded in 1888 and showcases art from the 11th century up to the present day. There’s the modern marvel of The Sky Tower for amazing views, and you can even bungee jump from the top!
Hotels range from historic lodgings to towering hotel chains, but you will also find guesthouses and hostels for budget travelers. Britomart, a port-facing area, is a fashionable area of the CBD and is filled with heritage buildings, designer boutiques, and classy eateries – plus the terminus of Auckland’s rail network.
Not only is the Central Business District of Auckland the most important business district in the whole of New Zealand, it’s also multicultural. From the international choices of food to the people you will see sharing the streets, the CBD is surprisingly welcoming.
Next door to Britomart, Viaduct Harbour is an electric place that people go to see and to be seen. It’s still in the center of the city, so there are top transport connections and an urban vibrancy about it. Here is the place to go to sample some of Auckland’s top restaurants or mingle with local moneyed inhabitants on rooftop bars with a few cocktails, watching the posh yachts bob around in the harbor.
Viaduct Harbour is also a popular sightseeing spot, with interesting things like the New Zealand Maritime Museum – where you can learn about the country’s history in terms of seafaring. Or you could simply hire a bike and pedal around the harbor area. On sunny days, you could join the locals for a jog, too.
To reflect the relatively affluent surroundings, the hotels here are mid-range to high-end. Getting around involves using the dedicated cycling paths, catching a bus, heading into neighboring Britomart for a train – or why not catch a ferry to explore further afield?
Slightly south of the center of Auckland, Newmarket is bordered to the north by the sprawling city park of Auckland Domain. Originally, this district of the city was designed as a place for shopping (hence the name), but this has had the effect of creating another mini center of the city.
Now, you can find shopping centers and local shops alongside designer boutiques and galleries, as well as restaurants and bars, for an all-around entertaining side to Auckland.
Here is where you will find a compact but ‘unofficial’ Chinatown too, adjacent to the Rialto cinema, with hole in the wall vendors selling bao and long-established, family-run Chinese restaurants like Pearl Garden making up the gastronomic landscape of this area.
With its own train station making it easy to get to the center of Auckland – as well as further south – Newmarket plays host to a few affordable B&Bs and motels, making this a good option for those on a budget.
Pretty Parnell is a relatively large district of Auckland and is located to the east of the Central Business District. Still relatively central, Parnell is a more laid-back area than the CBD. You will find a selection of Victorian buildings and houses that make it a charming area to wander around. Auckland Domain – the city park set in a volcanic crater – is a beautiful place for a stroll; you’ll find the Parnell train station here, too.
Centered around Parnell Road, with galleries, chic boutique shopping opportunities, and stylish restaurants, this area is an excellent option for those who like to explore a different side to city life. In the middle of it all is Parnell Village, where visitors can find cool cafes and bookshops set inside restored Victorian villas. Handmade goods and crafts are abundant.
When it comes to staying in this laid-back area of town, accommodation ranges from quaint and friendly affordable guesthouses to boutique lodgings for a touch of style.
The North Shore is one of the four regions that make up Greater Auckland. It is set north across the bay from central Auckland and is a mere ferry ride away from Britomart. Here is where to come for a slice of countryside and beachside living; there are over 20 beaches in North Shore. Cheltenham Beach, for example, boasts picturesque views of Rangitoto Island, or head to Takapuna for a whole lot of water sports and activities.
Devonport, set on a small peninsula in the south of the area, is a historic area and one of the oldest parts of the city; accordingly, there are Victorian buildings galore. A visit to the Devonport Museum will help you learn more about it all, as well as filling you in on Maori heritage. From Devonport, it’s an easy ferry ride across the bay to Britomart and central Auckland.
Staying in North Shore means basing yourself in B&Bs, budget guesthouses, and mid-range hotels.
Manukau is another of the four regions that make up the Greater Auckland area. It’s here you will find Auckland’s international airport. There’s also a train station linking this area – which comes complete with its own mini CBD – with central Auckland.
This area is well known for being a hotch-potch of different ethnicities – 165, apparently – and is reported to be the most multicultural area not only of Auckland but the whole of New Zealand. Every third Sunday of the month, Howick Historical Village sees this multicultural makeup celebrated with various events.
Aside from that, Manukau is where you will find the largest shopping center in Auckland – Sylvia Park, complete with cinemas, shopping, and a lot of eating options. There’s even a theme park here – Rainbow’s End – with all the exhilarating thrill rides you could ask for.
The accommodation in Manukau ranges from high-rise and airport hotels to budget-friendly motels and guesthouses, meaning there is a decent selection for different types of travelers.
The wine growing region of Waitakere is known for its beaches and wilderness. Boarders should head to Bethells Beach or Karekare Beach (featured in Kiwi film The Piano) for some prime surf. The black sand beach at Piha, however, is one of the most popular for surfing in the entire country. In the southwest, there are the Waitakere Ranges; only a 40-minute drive from Auckland CBD, you can hike in gorgeous rainforests in search of waterfalls.
There are urban areas of Waitakere too, spilling into the western parts of central Auckland; a train line connects the small towns all the way into the middle of the city. If you’re looking to stay in this decidedly wilder part of Auckland, there are low-key lodges and backpacker accommodation, as well as some private homestays. Staying here makes it easy to explore the wineries of the area, like Mazuran’s Vineyards or Babich Wines, for some laid-back afternoon indulgence.
To the west of the Viaduct Harbour is Ponsonby. This cool, hipster-friendly area is around a 20-minute walk from Auckland’s Central Business District, and is also known as something of a ‘posh suburb.’ This is thanks to its high-end restaurants as much as its classy Edwardian houses.
Take a walk down Ponsonby Road for an insight into the quirky trendsetting bars and restaurants of the area, as well as independent shops and boutiques. In the evening and on weekends, Ponsonby gets busy with city dwellers in their coolest get-up sipping on cocktails, local wines, and dining in exclusive establishments.
One of the coolest places to stay in Auckland, the leafy Western Park is a place to escape the “it-crowd” and stroll along one of its many walking trails; it’s also filled with an array of interesting, artsy sculptures and flower gardens.
Despite the exclusivity, visitors on a budget can still bunk up at backpacker’s lodgings. Of course, there are also boutiques and some mid-range hotels.