Auckland is as much a gateway to a natural playground as it is an urban paradise, with museums, shopping and fine dining. The biggest city on New Zealand’s North Island has coast on one side and mountains on the other. Manukau Harbour is to the southwest, the Hauraki Gulf and its islands to the east, and the rain forest-covered Waitakere Ranges to the west. Take the glass elevator at the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland for a spectacular view of the cityscape, mountains and harbor from a height of 722 feet (220 meters).
Auckland is built on and around several extinct volcanoes. The suburb of Mount Eden is built on the side of a cinder-cone volcano. Climb to the top to look into the 164-foot (50-meter) deep crater. The gardens in Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park, flourish in the volcanic soil and natural springs of the Pukekawa volcano. Learn about Auckland’s natural history, the culture of the Maori people, and local art and crafts in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which is located on the highest point of the Domain.
Navigating Auckland is easy, with buses, trains and ferries servicing the downtown area. You can take the hop-on, hop-off Explorer Bus for commentary and sightseeing. Rent a car to venture out of the city.
There are 138 species of wildlife housed in the award-winning habitats of the Auckland Zoo. Catch a glimpse of the iconic kiwi and get up-close to rhinos, elephants, lions, cheetahs and primates.
Sailing boats and super yachts moor in Viaduct Harbour, home to the maritime museum and more than 30 bars and restaurants that line the water. Ferries leave from here for the islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry trip away, is a great place to hike, sample gourmet food and see stunning beaches.
Head to the hills behind Auckland to hike and camp in the wilderness. Many miles of trails wind through the rain forest and along the coast in the Waitakere Ranges. For serious “trampers,” as hikers are known in New Zealand, there’s the challenging 46-mile (75-kilometer) Hillary Trail, which includes three nights camping and four days tramping. Many visitors go for a day trip through the ranges by rental car or tour bus.