The spectacular view from Mt Eden or Maungawhau, a dormant volcanic cone just five minutes south of the Auckland CBD. (Click to enlarge)
I’m going to be honest, despite its sneaky rolling hills and spotty weather, exploring Auckland is best done on foot. Your feet will never forgive you, but your eyes will thank you. Whether you choose to live vicariously through these photos or take in these breathtaking vistas yourself, let this be your guide to enjoying the best sights of Auckland.
Mt Eden (Maungawhau) Domain
The Mt Eden Domain is a dormant volcanic cone about five minutes outside the CBD. Due to its proximity and height (it’s the tallest volcanic feature in the area), it has some of the best views of the city, much like our own Punchbowl in Makiki. Depending on your fitness level, you can reach the top after a 10-minute walk from the car park or about 15 minutes from the bus stop on Mt Eden Road. The surrounding suburbs offer a great mix of restaurants and cafes if you plan to make an afternoon out of this excursion.
Mount Eden is the tallest natural feature in the Auckland area and provides the best panoramic views of the city.
The top of Mount Eden is just a short walk up a service road that winds its way around the volcanic crater. Cars are no longer allowed to park at the top, so prepare to huff it up the hill.
Maungawhau is popular among locals and tourists looking for a place to jog that ends with a view.
There are a couple of shortcuts to the top, but I recommend just pushing on to view eastern and southern parts of the Auckland area.
Looking out west you’ll see Eden Park, New Zealand’s largest stadium and home to the All Blacks rugby team among many other sports teams and events.
To the north is the Auckland CBD skyline with the SkyTower’s iconic spire, Harbour Bridge and the busy Waitemata Habour.
I don’t think I could ever get tired of this view. I ended up staying on Mount Eden for an hour as the sun set and rain clouds moved in. It was windy, rainy and cold, but there was no other place I wanted to be.
250 Mt Eden Road • Mt Eden • www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
Piha & West Coast Beaches
If there was one absolute must-do on my Auckland list, it was to see the West Coast black sand beach of Piha. From driving through the Waitakere Ranges to getting lost with no sense of time, it was a nice shift from everyday life – discovering a new place without obligation defines my version of pure joy. We drove out west after lunch at Mary’s to explore a bit outside the city. It was one of the highlights of our short stay.
Piha is absolutely worth the hours long drive from Auckland City. I mean, look at this view! You wind through rolling pastures and lush valleys of the Waitakere Ranges National Park before peeking around the bend to see this scenic lookout of Lion Rock. Maori call the surrounding areas “Te Wao Nui o Tiriwa” or the Great Forest of Tiriwa.
Making your way down the valley, you’ll arrive at Piha Beach.
Piha is the birthplace of New Zealand’s surf culture and remains one of North Island’s top surf beaches.
And yes, it’s a black sand beach with a mesmerising iridescent lustre.
The tides were low at about 1 p.m., leaving a mirror-like sheen over the shorebreak.
19 Marine Parade South • Piha • regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/piha
Kitekite Falls Track
While I was in Piha I decided to detour to Kitekite Falls. A “hike” is the only way I can describe New Zealand’s equivalent to Manoa Falls, only with a better ending (sorry Hawaii, this Kiwi waterfall has you beat!). Kitekite Falls Track is a short 1.1 mi / 25-minute (1-hour roundtrip) walking trail in the Piha Regional Park that follows the Glen Esk Stream, winding through the forest of Waikatere Ranges. It’s paved with gravel for most of the way so it’s fairly suitable for the entire family and there are a few benches along the way to take a breather. At the end of the track, you’re presented with the majestic three-tiered Kitekite Falls.
There’s a small car park at the end of Glenesk Road where you can park. You’ll find the trailhead by locating this sign by the Auckland Council.
You’ll want to follow the arrows to the falls, just 25 minutes away.
For the majority of the walk, you’ll wind through the forest next to the Glen Esk Stream. Supposedly at night there are glow worms that line the banks of the stream and you might even spot an eel lurking the waters.
Just follow the gravel-paved path.
At about 18 minutes in, you’ll reach the highest point of the track and be able to catch your breath at a bench with this stunning valley view.
At about 20 minutes in, you’ll stop at a picnic table that faces the gorgeous Kitekite Falls, but you CAN continue on.
You can then work your way down to the falls for an up close view of the falls. In the summer, this is a popular swimming hole.
Kiwis are real sticklers for biosecurity, so on your way in and out, be sure to brush off your shoes. It also helps keep the car clean!
Yeah. They’re like SUPER serious about that biosecurity, so just abide and spray them shoes.
Glenesk Rd • Piha • regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/piha/track/kitekite%20track
Mt Victoria (Takarunga) Domain
You know, I really wish the SuperFerry stuck around. Man, those boats were awesome; carrying people and their vehicles to the main islands for a reasonable price. One thing I loved about Auckland was the different transportation options it offered, from trains to buses and of course ferries. Waitemata Harbour is a major shipping port, but it also accommodates smaller vessels like the ferries many take to and from work in the CBD. One route I took was to Devonport, on the north side of the harbor just 15 minutes away. From there, I explored the main streets of the little port village and wandered up the hill to Mt Victoria or Takarunga in Maori, another dormant volcanic feature that has been converted into a park with sweeping views of the harbor and out to the Hauraki Gulf.
Leaving Queens Wharf aboard the Fullers ferry to Devonport.
Devonport’s ferry terminal is small but offers free WiFi and has a few snack and cafe options for travelers wishing to grab something while waiting for the ferry.
The entrance to Mount Victoria is about a eight minute walk up through the boutique and cafe-lined Victoria Road.
The Signalman’s House is one of the few historical structures you’ll encounter on Mt. Victoria. It has since been converted to a the Michael King Writer’s Centre, where visiting writers can take up residence, sign up for workshops and meet other writers.
Just continue up this steep hill to reach the top, or if you’re feeling adventurous detour up the steps to a fabulous view towards the Hauraki Gulf.
Looking east towards the Pacific Ocean.
One of the few Maori artifacts placed around Takarunga, which means “the hill standing above.”
The iconic mushrooms of Mt Victoria are actually vents to the water pumping station built within the mound. You’ll also see Rangitoto, the largest and youngest volcanic feature in the region.
The Auckland CBD skyline with the iconic SkyTower on the right with Mt Eden (Maungawhau) taking up the left side of the frame.
More of Devonport, which reminded me of a small town along Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Victoria Rd • Devonport • www.devonport.co.nz/Mt-Victoria-North-Head
The Auckland waterfront is the perfect spot to take a walk at any time. Although I avoided it, the dining scene at the wharves is very lively and home to a few of the city’s top restaurants. There are a few museums to check out, including the Auckland Maritime Museum at Princes Wharf; and besides being the water gateway to the Hauraki Gulf, there’s a ton of activities to do shoreside. I just enjoyed watching the people as I nommed on Whitman’s hokey pokey chocolate bars and Haribo gummies.
Wynyard Crossing is a small pedestrian drawbridge that connects the redeveloped area of Wynyard Quarter with the rest of the Viaduct Harbor entertainment district.
Viaduct Harbor’s marina is home to Auckland’s most expensive yachts.
Container art you can go in an explore.
Restaurants along North Wharf
I climbed up this structure for a better view around Wynyard Quarter, but I found the view inside to be much more interesting.
More of Viaduct Harbor
Ferry Terminal Building and Queens Wharf
Quay Street / Wynyard Crossing • Auckland CBD • www.waterfrontauckland.co.nz/
In a sense, I saved the best for last. During my final hours in Auckland, I took in the city from 60 floors (over 720 ft) above at the Auckland Sky Tower. This metallic beacon defines the Auckland skyline, much like the Space Needle in Seattle and the CN Tower in Toronto – it would have been a shame if I didn’t make it to the observation deck during my stay. I’ve always been a fan of observing cities from above and this was the cheapest thrill I could find without hiring a private helicopter (although I need to look into that). The great thing about the Sky Tower is that it’s pretty empty in the evening and there’s no time limit for your stay (it costs $28 NZD / $19 USD for the elevator ride up). I had time to kill, so I spent a good five hours up there drinking New Zealand wine and eating delicious local cheeses as well as charging up my gadgets before the long flight home.
Looking 220 metres up or about 720 feet. For the bold, there are two activities you can engage your adrenaline with. First is the Sky Jump, which is a tethered freefall from the observation deck to the ground; the second is the Sky Walk, where you walk the circumference of the larger ring while tethered to the tower. Just thinking about them is makes my heart race.
In the lower deck, your can peer through the glass floor, giving you the appearance of floating. Wouldn’t that be something?
One of the many views out of the Sky Deck on the 6oth floor.
Looking towards Viaduct Basin and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
A delicious Kapiti cheese board and wine pairing in the Sky Cafe, located below the observation deck. This cafe also has the same 360º wrap around view with the addition of food and alcohol. That means it’s my new favorite hang out spot in the clouds!
Victoria Street • Auckland CBD • www.skycityauckland.co.nz