Popular Auckland Shore Excursions
The Sky Tower (Victoria and Federal streets) is the perfect "I just got to Auckland" place to visit. At 1,082 feet high, it towers above the city. Its observation deck offers a superb 360-degree panoramic view; visual guides are provided. One of the creepiest features of the observation deck -- at least for this vertigo sufferer -- is the thick, clear glass panels placed in the floor. Step on them and look down many hundreds of feet to the street level. Kids seemed to have no fear of walking on them but I could not, for the life of me, force myself to do it! There's a terrific gift shop at the basement entrance to the observation deck.
And there's more to Sky Tower than merely observing the view -- the truly daring can also leap off the Sky Deck, a bungee-jumping experience that drops more than 600 feet (192 meters). Fees start at $28 for adults to visit the observation lounge, and they escalate rapidly for the more adventurous activities. (The bungee-jumping fee, for example, is a steep $225.)
Sky Tower is part of the Sky City complex, which also has a huge casino and some of the city's most popular restaurants, such as The Depot, The Grill and The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon.
The Auckland Museum (Auckland Domain, Park Road) is not to be missed. You'll spy it immediately from the Sky Tower vantage point: the Greek Revival-style structure makes it easily the most distinctive building in Auckland. Many of its exhibits center around New Zealand's Maori people, the original inhabitants of the island, but it also has displays focusing on local history and geography.
Go shopping along Queen Street, the city's major hub for fashion, restaurants and cafes. Those interested learning about New Zealand's fashion designers should make sure to visit Smith & Caughey, the city's main department store, and Vulcan Lane (between Queen Street and O'Donnell), where many of its most interesting boutiques are clustered.
For those in search of local charm and character, don't miss a foray into Parnell or Ponsonby, two of the city's most interesting neighborhoods. Parnell is a bit more elegant; there you'll find jewelry and artisan boutiques, cozy sidewalk cafes and the Parnell Rose Gardens. Ponsonby is hipper and funkier, with trendy designer shops, sleek restaurants and, for those who overnight in Auckland, the city's sleekest bars and nightclubs.
Waiheke Island, located a 35-minute ferry ride away from the Auckland waterfront, reminded me a bit of the U.S. Virgin Islands' St. John. Like that island, Waiheke was once famed as a nesting spot for people in search of alternative lifestyles and really gained prominence as a destination for arty folks in the 1970s. These days, it attracts Auckland commuters and active types drawn to its great beaches and water sports. It also appeals to connoisseurs of food and wine -- Te Whau Vineyard (open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch and tastings, and for dinner from 6:30 p.m.) is one of the most storied restaurants in Auckland, with stunning views of Waiheke Island, Rangitoto and the Auckland Isthmus. The ferry ride is $36.50 roundtrip.
For a first-time visit to Waiheke, your best bet is to book a tour; we had a marvelous food-and-wine-themed day, via Ananda.
Kelly Tarlton, New Zealand's most famous treasure hunter, has launched Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter, a marine park located harborside that offers everything from a fisheye view of the sea to an Antarctic adventure.
Devonport, which dates back to the mid-19th century and was the first settlement on the north side of the harbor, is simply a very pleasant town in which to while away an afternoon -- particularly if you've succumbed to sightseeing burnout. A small village with a main street of shops and boutiques, Devonport faces Auckland proper from across the bay. Attractions there include the tunnels of North Head and the Navy Museum, but we simply enjoyed a meal at the Victorian Esplanade hotel and went window shopping.
Rangitoto Island, which emerged as an erupted volcano, is a great place for hiking through lava fields and into lava caves. You can even stroll around the crater's rim. Fullers' ferries offer year-round departures.