What to See & Do When Short on Time in Auckland
Auckland is a common city to just have a day in to explore. That’s because most overseas visitors arrive into New Zealand via the Auckland International Airport. Others will usually arrive at Christchurch airport in the South Island, and make their way back up to Auckland to depart from there.
Either way, if you only have one day on your itinerary to visit Auckland, fear not! You can still see a large portion of the city. Here is a detailed itinerary of how to spend a day in Auckland to see its top sites and experience its culture and ambiance, complete with walking directions and public transportation options. The itinerary also includes ideas on where to eat during your day in Auckland.
Before we get to the One Day in Auckland itinerary, here is a brief background on the city of Auckland.
Auckland is known as the “City Of Sails” and is located between the relatively calm Waitemata Harbour on the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the rugged Manukau Harbour leading to the Tasman Sea on the other. You are never far from the sea in Auckland and a boat trip on the harbor is an absolute must, leading us to our first thing to do in Auckland.
One Day in Auckland Itinerary
Ferry Ride to Devonport for Breakfast
Head downtown to the historic Ferry Building at the bottom of Queen Street (the city’s main shopping street) and start your morning with an early 10-minute ferry ride across the harbor to the charming seaside village of Devonport.
The best viewing on the ferry is from the back of the boat, as you can watch the city disappearing behind you.
Beachfront Stroll Along King Edward Parade
Walk to the end of the wharf in Devonport. Directly across the road is the Victorian era Esplanade Hotel, which was designed to replicate the waterfront promenade hotels of English seaside resort towns back in the early 1900s.
Once you reach the hotel and appreciate its architecture, make a right turn. Now you are going to work up an appetite with a 20-minute stroll along the beachfront, tree-lined, King Edward Parade to the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum.
You will pass by some interesting historic sites that are marked with plaques and many restored Victorian villas. Look out for the Public Execution Site of the first European to be officially executed in New Zealand. The trees along the beachfront walk are the New Zealand Pohutakawa trees, which are known as the New Zealand Christmas trees, as they bloom with rich red flowers over the Christmas period.
If you’re ravenous by now, there is a café at the museum which opens at 8am, or you might want to wander back to the wharf and enjoy a Turkish type breakfast at the wharf café called Devon On The Wharf.
Optional Detour to North Head Historical Reserve
While you’re in the area and if you’re still feeling energetic, continue your walk up the hill to the North Head Historic Reserve. This was once a very important historical coastal defense site and you can explore through the military tunnel complex, see gun emplacements and fortifications, plus take in the great views from the top of the hill.
Parnell & the Holy Trinity Cathedral
Hop on the ferry back to Auckland City and get yourself a very delicious gourmet ice cream or gelato at the Island Gelato Company on the wharf. If it’s Saturday morning wander across the road to the Britomart Square and find the French La Cigale Market.
Take a 30-minute walk through the quaint Parnell village to the top of the hill and take a look around the very beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Getting Around Auckland: Bus, Uber & Scooter Options
If you would prefer to travel by bus, hop on the green ‘Inner Link’ bus from Britomart. Each trip will cost $3.50 and the bus driver will give change for small denomination notes. If you’re only in the city for one day it is not worth the effort or money to have to buy a local public transport AT Hop card — it’s $10 for the card and then you would need to add $18 for a day pass. You cannot buy them online.
You will find electric scooters for hire all around town. This is a quick and easy way to cover short distances.
If there are two or more of you it will be quite economical to call up an Uber, Zoomy or Ola.
Auckland War Memorial Museum & Auckland Domaini
From the Cathedral, wander across to the front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits on a volcanic rim, for magnificent views of the city and Auckland Harbour. If you happen to be there on a Saturday morning you will pass the Parnell Farmers’ Market at 545 Parnell Road, which is a fun place to take a quick shopping break.
Take a look through the museum if you wish, or walk on through the Auckland Domain Park with its sports fields, Wintergardens, glasshouses, and the tranquil duck pond. This is another very pleasant place to stop for a coffee or snack.
The Iconic Sky Tower + the Adrenaline Pumping Sky Bungy & Sky Walk
You now need to head back into the city center. If you’re walking, make your way to Grafton Road and walk past the big Auckland Hospital, over Grafton Bridge, cross over to Karangahape Road and walk down Queen Street to Victoria Street. Turn left and head up to the Sky Tower. (If you’re traveling by bus, hop back on the Inner City bus to the Sky Tower. )
The Sky Tower is Auckland’s iconic landmark and is 1,076 feet tall. Head up to the observation deck for 360-degree views of Auckland and be awed (or be scared by!) the glass panel flooring that lets you see all the way to the road far below.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, do the 630-foot Sky Jump or partake in the exhilarating Sky Walk on the platform on the outside of the building with no rails and attached only by a harness!
If it’s dinner time you can have dinner here at the Orbit revolving restaurant, the SugarClub restaurant, or the Sky Cafe for a snack.
Walk back down Victoria Street to Queen Street and finish the rest of the walk down Queen street back to the Ferry Building.
The Viaduct Basin & Wynyard Quarter
Turn left at the Ferry Building and walk along Quay Street to the Viaduct Harbour. Here amongst the luxury yachts and launches, you’ll find an endless choice of excellent restaurants, bars and buzzing nightlife in this area, and if you go further on over the Wynyard Crossing pedestrian and cycle bridge you’ll come to the Wynyard Quarter with even more excellent restaurants, bars, and nightclubs! This is also a great place to have dinner overlooking the harbor.
Where to Stay Overnight in Auckland
Auckland Waterfront Serviced Apartments on Princes Wharf downtown by the ferry building is one of my top recommendations if you are staying three nights or more. All of the modern self-contained apartments are facing the harbor with water views and balconies. The location is excellent.
If you’re just on an overnight stay I would recommend The Hilton Hotel which is also on Princes Wharf, The Stamford Plaza in Albert Street, or the Sofitel Hotel by the Viaduct Harbour.
Additional Things to Do While in Auckland
If you find yourself with more than a day in Auckland, check out these other things to do in the city. These also might be activities that pique your interest enough you’ll want to switch them out with some of the above recommended sights!
Islands of the Gulf
There are over 50 islands in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. They are all unique. The very very popular Waiheke Island is often listed as one of the best islands in the world with its beaches, vineyards, olive groves, top restaurants, and art studios. It is a complete one day trip.
The iconic volcanic Rangitoto Island is another popular day trip. The summit walk takes about an hour and there are lava tubes to explore, or you can do the Wreck Bay walk and check out some of the hulls of shipwrecks on the coast.
On the outer edges of the Hauraki Gulf and about 100 km northeast of Auckland is the remote Great Barrier Island. It is a very special place but needs at least a two or three-day stay. It is an untouched paradise for nature lovers and has a Dark Sky Sanctuary status for the star gazers amongst you.
Abundance of Volcanoes
Auckland has been built on a volcanic field of over 50 volcanoes. Many are now unrecognizable as they have been quarried away, or built into, or over. One Tree Hill and Mount Eden are both very accessible from Auckland city.
One Tree Hill is located in the middle of a beautiful park, Cornwall Park, which has a working farm right in the middle of the city so you will probably be able to get a close look at some cows, sheep, or lambs. There are tree-lined avenues, grassed slopes, and gardens. It’s a great place for a picnic.
Mount Eden is not far from the city and the walk to the summit with its fantastic city and harbor views only takes about 15 minutes.
Inner City Beaches
Take a bus from the city along the waterfront drive to Mission Bay or St. Heliers Bay for a swim and a coffee. Walk back to the city as far as you wish and then hop back on the bus back to the city.
Another popular city beach is Takapuna Beach over the Harbour Bridge on Auckland’s North Shore.
Rugged West Coast Beaches
You will need a car to visit these beaches. Both are about an hour to an hour and a half drive from Auckland City.
To travel to Piha Beach take the north-western motorway to the Avondale turn-off and head west. If it’s a Sunday morning there will be a big multicultural market at the Avondale Racecourse. Go through the arty Titirangi village and along the windy Scenic Drive to Arataki Visitor Centre to learn a little more about the area and then drive out to the wild rugged black sand Piha Beach.
Muriwai Beach on Auckland’s west coast is a windswept, black iron sand surf beach with high cliffs, sand dunes, and a dramatic coastline. To get to Muriwai Beach take the north-western motorway to the end and follow the directions through the rural countryside towards Helensville. If it’s summer you may pass some strawberry orchards to buy fresh strawberries or freshly made strawberry ice cream.
When you arrive at Muriwai Beach follow the directions to the top of the hill and from the viewing platforms take a look at the gannet colony. From August to March about 1,200 pairs of gannets mate, nest, and have their chicks on these windswept cliff tops and you can observe them going about their daily business. The chicks are on view in December and January.
Enjoy Your Day in Auckland
One day in the city of Auckland offers so very many places you can see even if you have so little time! Enjoy your time there!
About the Author: Maureen Spencer is a travel writer and runs the online travel magazine and blog at So Many Places! So Little Time! You can follow “So Many Places! So Little Time!” on Facebook and Pinterest.