Planning a trip to New Zealand? We’ve come up with a list of our favourite unusual things to do in Auckland – from quirky places to eat, cool bars to drink in and unique things to see, And they are all easily accessible from the CBD.
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What are the best things to do in Auckland? asked the woman sitting next to me on the airport shuttle. It was a fair question, I did used to live there. I opened my mouth – and my mind went blank. I’m horrified to say, I couldn’t think of anything.
Recovering, I rattled off the obvious things like wandering around the many bars and restaurants at the Viaduct, going up the Sky Tower (and hurtling yourself off it if you see fit), taking a ferry over to Waiheke, the beautiful, wine-filled island, nearby – but I felt like I should have been able to reel off a host of cool things – after all I did spend six years here.
It was only once I got into town and I started walking around that I remembered the appeal of Auckland isn’t created by big ‘oh wow’ sights that many other places in NZ offer you, instead it’s the smaller, more unusual things to do in Auckland that make it special. Like these…
Note: The following 14 ideas are all either in Auckland CBD or easily accessible from the city – if you feel like going further afield, there’s a post coming on quirky day trips from Auckland very soon.
1. Get Up Close and Personal With a Volcano
Auckland is based on volcanoes, there are 48 cones dotted around the city! Most of them have cones that go up (and of these my favourite is probably the craggy, lava-strewn Rangitoto that you can easily reach by ferry as a day trip from Auckland) but, as cool as Rangi is, it doesn’t really say ‘hi, I’m standing on something that used to erupt’ – that honour goes to the enormous crater at the top of Mount Eden.
Walk to the top up a nice paved road and then behold the incredible sight at your feet. The 360-degree views of the Auckland skyline aren’t that bad either.
2. Meet the Swashbucklers Stingray
Swashbucklers Bar in Auckland’s Westhaven Marina is a great place to come for a down-to-earth pint with a view of the water and if you’re lucky, a spectacular sunset over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
And they have a stingray!
There I was telling my friend Arian about how I wish I’d seen a ray during our Clear Kayaking session the day before when she said ‘oh, there’s one here, the boaties give it the fish scraps’ – sure enough, as she went to the bar to get a new round she peaked over the side and said ‘there he is.’
Rushing excitedly to the side of the jetty, I spotted an enormous stingray swimming around the harbour just below me – and I mean huge. Sadly he didn’t photograph well, but he was there a good 20 minutes having his dinner.
He’s wild so I can’t say if you’ll see him or when, but he appeared for us around 7pm.
Find Swashbucklers at 23b Westhaven Drive.
3. Try Auckland’s Most Innovative Ice Cream
Hokey Pokey might be New Zealand’s most famous flavour of ice cream, but if you want its’ most incredible, you go to Giapo.
I mean come on, the man has made an add-on that makes your cone look like a squid!
Here’s my full review of Giapo which tells you everything to expect, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth – or an Instagram account – this has to be one of the most fun things to do in Auckland.
You’ll find Giapo at 12 Gore Street close to the Britomart district of the city.
4. Visit an Island Full of Birds
Tiri Tiri Matangi is an island 30km north-east of Auckland, and easily accessible by ferry from the harbour in town. The journey takes just 75 minutes.
What makes this island so special is that all predators have been eradicated from it – leaving the bird population to flit about worry-free.
As such you’ll see all manner of beautiful New Zealand birds – potentially including Little Penguins, some inquisitive parrots and the fantastically noisy Tuis.
For more details on visiting and ferry times, visit the Fullers website.
5. Search for Elves in Albert Park
I’m not sure if there are any actual elves in Central Auckland, but, if there are, they’d hang out in Albert Park.
Specifically, they’d frequent the trail of twisted trees that you find along the end of the park closest to Kitchener/Bowen Street.
It just looks like something magical – especially as it’s also surrounded by ivy.
Who needs to schlep to Hobbiton to feel magical – get your best Lord of the Rings outfit on and frolick to your heart’s content.
6. Check out Piggy Stardust
Auckland doesn’t have a huge street art scene (though if you want to find some good murals visit Cross Street just off Karangahape Road) however, one trend that is huge there – and elsewhere in NZ – are paintings on utility boxes.
A few artists do these, but my favourite was a guy called Paul Walsh who paints them with animals. He also gives his work really cool names like Awkward Seal, Student Kitten – and my favourite Piggy Stardust.
I spotted loads of these around town – particularly close to K Road and in the CBD. Piggy Stardust is in Mount Eden, on the corner of View Road and Wynyard Road, so you could combine visiting him with a trip to the crater.
For a full map containing all of Auckland’s street art – murals, sculptures and the painted utility boxes visit Outdoor Art NZ who have everything listed.
7. Try a White Lady Burger
Eating from a burger van might sound like one of my less appealing suggestions for unusual things to do in Auckland. But trust me, taking a trip to The White Lady will not be a disappointment. These burgers are good.
The White Lady has been feeding hungry Aucklander’s late-night sustenance since 1948. Yep, it was a food truck before they were a thing.
Yes, you’ll have to sit on a crate by the side of the road, and, you might get a friendly hobo come to join you – but you’ll also get a superb, freshly cooked to order burger up there with In-n-Out in our list of the world’s top burgers.
The Boyfriend was so enamoured he had two! Well considering a cheeseburger only costs NZ$11 you can afford to!
The White Lady parks on the corner of Commerce Street and Fort Street from 7pm to 4am weekdays, and you’ll find her there 24-7 from Friday night to Sunday morning. You can check out the menu and other details here.
8. Walk The Pink Path
So you have an old motorway off-ramp that you’re not doing anything with right now- what do you do with it?
Well, if you’re Auckland Council, you paint it pink and turn it into a dedicated cycle and walking path.
Admittedly, it doesn’t exactly go anywhere useful – or pretty – but, it does have a nice view of the Skytower and skipping along it singing ‘Follow the Pretty Pink Path’ to the tune of Follow the Yellow Brick Road kept me entertained for a good few hundred metres.
Trying to fit in so many unusual things to do in Auckland meant that I could only go down it during the day, but at night it lights up – hence its name, Te Ara I Whiti, or The Lightpath!
Enter it either off East Street near K Road or Union Street near the sculpture with the red poles.
9. Go Bowling in a Bar
Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Company is famous for a couple of things – its stunning view over Viaduct Harbour and the fact that it has a free bowling alley inside!
There are two lanes open on a first-come, first-bowling basis to anyone who wants to try them.
10. Find the Five Hearts of Auckland
I first heard about these on the Aucky Walky walking tour I took on the Saturday morning. Guide Liz showed us the heart in Fort Lane by local artist Sara Hughes – and then told us there were four more dotted around the city. Cue hunting – and yes, I found them all.
If you want to do your own treasure hunt, you’ll find them in Federal Street, Fort Street, Bledisloe Lane, Jellicoe Street and Lorne Street. If you want the spoilers that tell you exactly what you’re looking for and where to find them, there’s a handy guide here.
11. Hire an Electric Bike
Auckland is hilly – to say the least as such, pedalling round it can be a serious test of fitness, so say hello to Big Street Bikers – a new start-up hiring electric bikes to at least take some of the strain off your legs.
The bikes have a top speed of up to 35kph and with run for about 40 hours on one charge.
A 15-minute ‘pedal’ around the Viaduct is free or you’ll pay NX$40 for half a day hire.
So far, they have one recharging depot at 18 Viaduct Harbour Drive but if things take off they hope to dot the city soon. Check here for location and opening hours.
12. Eat Your Way Round Food Alley
If you’ve ever lived in another country, or even just moved away from your hometown, there’s always something you pine for…when it comes to Auckland mine is a plate of mee goreng from the Malaysian Noodles stand at the Food Alley food court at the bottom of Albert Street in Auckland’s CBD.
Food Alley is one of the best cheap places to eat in Auckland – and I never miss out on going when I go back (usually more than once).
Yes, there are newer, shinier food courts in town – Elliot Stables for example – but Food Alley will always have a place in my heart (and stomach).
If you don’t like noodles I can also recommend the Claypot Rice stall, anything from the Japanese and neither Thai stall will disappoint. They also sell the best variety of Asian beer I’ve seen anywhere – if you have a hankering for Hite, this is where you come.
Yes, I may have spent a LOT of time here when I lived in Auckland.
Update: In devastating news, Food Alley is going to close on May 1st 2020.If you read this before then, get down there and eat all the food.
13. Look Up On Queen Street
As main thoroughfares in a city go, Auckland’s Queen Street is probably one of the least inspiring – well, that’s what you’d think if you just looked at ground floor level anyway.
Look up and you’ll see beautiful ornate facades, old signs and a sense of the city’s history that’s been obliterated by the bland chain shops that line the street down below.
Queen Street also has some pretty quirky facts about it. Most of which I didn’t even know until I read this fabulous post on Queen Street from Albom Adventures.
If you’re looking for a few more unusual things to do in Auckland definitely check it out – you’ll find out about the CBD ghosts, the Leaning Building of Auckland and the grisly secret of some markings at the harbour end of the street.
14. Watch People Leap Off the Sky Tower
Oh come on, they’ve paid their NZ$225, they’ve donned their fetching blue jumpsuit and they’ve hurled themselves off NZ’s tallest building falling 192m at 85km an hour in what’s kind of like a controlled bungy – they deserve some attention.
But you’re not going to stand on the street and ogle like all the other tourists, oh no. You have the guide to unusual things to do in Auckland so, you’re going to make your way to the chic Glass Goose Bar & Eatery off Federal Street, get a drink in your hand and either sit on the balcony, or directly under the glass ceiling and have a ringside view of the excitement. See, this is the view, those white wires are the bungy …. You get extra points if you wave.
If you get the urge to join them, you can book the Skyjump here
Three Things NOT to do in Auckland
While all of the above fun things are worth your time, a few things you’ll see online as possible things to do in Auckland might not quite be as much fun. These are…
The Secret Rooftop: Located at 56 Wakefield Street, there are blog posts and YouTube videos about this – and it looks amazing. It used to offer a stunning view of the city and, because so few people knew about it, you often got the place to yourself- but, as of January the 31st 2018 access was closed to the public.
We missed it by days, thankfully we were staying right nearby so didn’t trek all the way up the hill to visit it – and now I’m warning you not to do the same.
Auckland Fish Market: They are doing some modernisation so I am prepared to stand corrected on this once that’s completed, but, unless you actually do want to buy some fish, don’t worry about visiting Auckland Fish Market. It’s one tiny room and there’s just one restaurant associated with it.
The Big Wheel: This is listed on google maps and as it was in a part of Auckland that they are redeveloping it was feasible they’d got a Ferris Wheel. Thankfully, I realised that no, they don’t before I schlepped my butt down there – instead, the Big Wheel is just some old metal wheels. Other people have been fooled though – there are some very upset people on Tripadvisor! ,
Where We Stayed
Auckland does not exactly lack hotels but they can be very expensive. This trip, therefore, we turned to Airbnb and got the most amazing apartment close to the bustling K-Road. This in itself is an unusual thing to do in Auckland as when I lived here, K Road was a bit too dodgy to stay in – now, it’s cleaning up nicely and we absolutely loved the apartment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like where we stayed is still on the site, but if you like the idea of staying somewhere a bit more local, you can find AirBNBs all over Auckland.
Here’s four great Auckland Airbnb’s to consider…
Amazing Seaview and Tower view Studio in AKL CBD
If you’re looking for an apartment with a view of the iconic Sky Tower, you can’t get much better than this one – you can see it from bed!
The apartment sleeps two in a studio room and is located right in the middle of everything in central Auckland. One of the reviews points out it’s an amazing place to spend New Year’s Eve and watch the fireworks come off the Sky Tower.
Click here to check rates and availability.
Image courtesy of Airbnb
Ponsonby style with location, location, location
When I lived in Auckland I lived on the North Shore on the other side of the bridge. It’s beautiful and beachy – but, if I’d known the city better when I first arrived, I would have lived in Ponsonby. This area is full of cool bars and restaurants and is within walking distance to the city and main sights.
Check out Dominic’s apartment, which sleeps up to 3, which is just metres from buzzing Ponsonby Road. Check rates and availability here.
Image courtesy of Airbnb
Stunning Harbour & City View Studio | AIRCON+WIFI
Princes Wharf is one of Auckland’s most iconic buildings jutting out directly into the water – and Eric and Jason’s place has prime position and view. Stay here and you’ll not only have beautiful water views, but you’re on the doorstep of everything Viaduct Harbour has to offer and just a short walk from the Britomart Centre. If you’re planning on getting the ferry to Waiheke, Tiri Tiri or Rangitoto it’s just a couple of minutes walk away.
The studio apartment sleeps two – click here to look at more pictures and check rates and availability.
Image courtesy of Airbnb
Lux Panoramic Seaview Penthouse on Princes Wharf
If that’s not quite big enough, you can also rent one of the building’s Penthouse apartments which sleeps four in two bedrooms. If you want a lot of internal space – and the sight of the sea for miles – while still being in the middle of everything Auckland has to offer this is the place for you!
Click to see more pictures of the stylish interior (I just fixate on the view) and to check rates and availability.
Image courtesy of Airbnb
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.
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So, do you have any other unusual things to do in Auckland to add to my list – please add them to the comments below. And, if you liked the post, then why not share it on social media.