1. Auckland has one of the most beautiful harbours in the world so make the most of it. Take a drive or a public bus on Tamaki Drive which takes you along the waterfront from down-town Auckland to St Heliers Bay. You can stop at any of the bays along the way to have a stroll along the beach and/or relax at one of the popular cafes. From anywhere along the waterfront there are magnificent views of the iconic Rangitoto Island, a conical-shaped volcano that last erupted about 500-600 years ago. Over the Harbour bridge in Devonport is another neighbourhood with fine views of the harbour and lovely shops and cafes.
St Heliers beach with Pohutukawa trees in bloom in December. New Zealand’s “Christmas tree”
2. Speaking of the harbour, make use of the wonderful Fuller’s ferry service. From the down-town ferry terminal you can catch a short ferry ride over the Devonport or go on longer trips to most of the islands in the harbour. I have done day trips to Rangitoto Island, Waiheke Island and the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi on the ferry and these were all fabulous outings.
Rangitoto Island with Brown’s Island in foreground.
3. I highly recommend a visit out west Auckland to the Waitakere Ranges and the west coast beaches of Piha and Muriwai for a half to full day out. There are many native bush walks you can do in the Waitakere Regional Park, ranging from 20 mins to several hours. It is hard to believe that this large native forest reserve exists so close to the city. Our personal favourite place to take visitors is the park at the end of Falls Rd (Falls Rd is off Te Henga Rd which comes off Scenic Drive). It’s a perfect place for a picnic and a short idyllic walk through mature Kauri forest. Piha Beach is popular with surfers and swimmers, but beware, always swim between the safety flags as west coast beach are notoriously dangerous.
Muriwai Beach from Gannet colony lookout.
4. Just south of Muriwai Beach is the Muriwai Gannet Colony where about 1200 pairs of Gannets nest off the cliffs each summer. They are majestic flyers, and it is awe-inspiring to watch them soaring on the wind and then swooping into sea to catch fish. Between September-November they lay their eggs which hatch after 44 days. One parent stays with the chick while their mate goes out to fish for the family. The parents mate for life which is really sweet. You can observe the growing chicks and their parents from two excellent viewing platforms between early November and when they are mature and migrate in March. It is a wonderful sight, even if you are not typically a bird person, like me. My family often takes friends visiting from overseas out to see the gannets and the Waitakere Ranges. They always love the experience.
Gannet on the wing.
Auckland is a big, beautiful harbour city, covering a large area. The airport is 21 km from the city centre and so taxis are an expensive option at NZD$75-90 one way if there are only two of you. If it’s in your budget and you feel confident about driving on the right side of the road, I’d recommend hiring a car which you can get from as little as $40/day from one of the cheaper rental companies outside the airport. Their ads are up on the wall in the information area at the airport, with a free phone number and pick-up to their office nearby. Otherwise the Airbus Express is a good option ( NZD$16 one-way, $28 return. NZD$38 for family pass one-way or $72 return so that getting comparable with taxi) which efficiently goes between the airport and the city every 10 minutes during the day, or an airport shuttle at NZD$33 + $8 per extra person.