Spending only one day in Auckland and looking for the best things to do? We had one day here after finishing our Celebrity Solstice cruise and managed to squeeze as much as possible into our day.
Auckland is New Zealand‘s largest city despite not being the capital, which is Wellington. It is one of the main travel hubs of the North Island but few travellers tend to spend much time here. Despite being the financial hub of New Zealand, Auckland doesn’t seem to attract many tourists. However, we wanted to experience this cosmopolitan city, so opted to stay one night before exploring the rest of the north island.
Auckland, originally called Tāmaki Makaurau meaning “Tāmaki (desired by many), had a population of around 1,470,100 as of June 2020.
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One Day in Auckland Itinerary
As we were short on time, and wanted to see as much as possible, we opted for the Hop-On/ Hop-Off Bus. The Explorer Bus has two routes, a blue, and a red. Also, included in the price is a return ferry ticket to Devonport.
The Red Tour visits the central part of the city and waterfront. The Blue Tour visits attractions like Mt Eden, the Auckland Zoo and Eden Park sports stadium.
Tickets are available online, from the red route bus and at agents around the city. The buses operate every 20 minutes in summer and 30 minutes during winter. You can book your Explorer Bus Tickets online here.
Alternatively, there are some great Auckland Day Tours that take you around the city with a knowledgeable guide. The Ship to Shore Full-Day Excursion is ideal for cruise ship passengers while the Full-Day City Highlights Tour has hotel pickup and drop-off at all Auckland downtown accommodation.
This impressive 1912 Edwardian Baroque building is right on the waterfront. It provides the gateway to the ferries that connect the city to the outer suburbs.
Bastion Point is a great place to take photos back towards the city and harbour. There are also lovely views over the Hauraki Gulf. You can either wait for the next bus or walk to the next stop at Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife.
Parnell Rose Garden
This free garden boasts over 5000 roses and has beautiful views of the city as well as the harbour. There are toilet facilities here and a drinking fountain to refill your water bottle.
Holy Trinity Cathedral Parnell
The contemporary Nave of Holy Trinity first opened in 1995 and became a Cathedral in 2016. It is open every day allowing visitors to view the interior. You can see wonderful pieces of art including the stained glass windows and fountain.
Tāmaki Paenga Hira / Auckland War Memorial Museum
We decided to opt-out of visiting the Auckland War Memorial Museum to fit in Devonport. However, this museum is interesting and you will learn about Māori and Pacific history and culture as well as natural and military history.
It is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except Christmas Day and after the Anzac service on Anzac Day. Buy tickets with free cancellation online here.
Visit here for quaint cafes, gorgeous designer boutiques and view the many galleries.
This inner-city park is one of Auckland’s best. Here you will find flower gardens, sculptures, and an elegant fountain. At the lower corner of Albert Park is the Auckland Art Gallery
Mount Eden (Maungawhau), a dormant volcano, is the highest natural point in the city. The summit is 196m above sea level and offers stunning views over the city and harbour. It is possible, on a clear day, to see many popular attractions. These include the Sky Tower, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the Waitakere Ranges, and Rangitoto Island
You can walk to the summit from the bus stop and will take about 10 minutes each way. The climb is quite steep and there isn’t any shelter at the top. It was raining at this point, so we stayed on the bus and continued to our next stop. We’d already planned to go to the Sky Tower so knew we would get some fantastic views from up there (in the dry).
As mentioned before, our ticket included the return ferry ride over to Devonport. They leave from the Downtown Ferry Terminal on Quay Street. The ferries depart every 15 to 30 minutes and take 12 minutes to cross the Waitematā Harbour.
You arrive at the end of Victoria Road in the cute seaside town.
Using a photo of the map we took outside the ferry building, we headed towards Mount Victoria. There were some charming shops along Victoria Street where we stopped for ice cream. Near Victoria Picture Palace, Kerr Street leads you to the main entrance up to Mount Victoria.
The summit provides spectacular views of Auckland City Skyline and Waitemata Harbour.
You can also see North Head (Takapuna) from there. This is one of the oldest volcanic cones in the Auckland area which were formed over 50,000 years ago. There are several walks which take in a military complex, forts and gun emplacements.
Auckland Sky Tower
The highlight for us was the Sky Tower. We pre-booked dinner at Orbit 360 which included complimentary access to the observation decks.
The tower has 3 observation levels and stands at 328 meters tall. The main observation deck is 220 meters above street level and provides 360-degree views. The elevators travel at 18 kmph and take 40 seconds.
The Sky Tower is not only the tallest building in New Zealand but also the Southern Hemisphere. It took 2 years and 9 months to build.
There are 3 hotels, numerous restaurants, and bars as well as a casino in the Sky Tower complex. Orbit 360, The Sugar Club and Sky Café all have stunning panoramas.
The meal at Orbit 360 was delicious and a lovely place to take in the views. The restaurant rotates once every hour so you get to see the whole rotation while you are dining. As previously mentioned, you also get access to the observation decks 45 minutes before and/or after your meal.
For the adrenaline junkies, they have a Sky Jump and a Sky Walk. Walking on the clear floor was bad enough for me though 🙂
It is open 365 days of the year although bad weather can cause it to close.
Day Trips from Auckland for Longer Stays
If you don’t want to stay in the city or have more than one day in Auckland, there are some great activities and attractions a bit further out that can be done as days trips.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Visiting the The Hobbiton in Middle Earth is one of the most popular day trips from Auckland. On this world famous movie set, you get to see the real-world landscape of Middle Earth as featured in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
Tickets can be purchased in advance with free cancellation here.
We took the Waitomo Cave 45-minute Tour as part of our North Island road trip. The fully guided tour starts on foot on the upper level which includes the entrance to the cave and formations known as the Catacombs, the Pipe Organ, and the Banquet Chamber. You will visit the ‘Cathedral Cave,’ known for its unique acoustics and stunning cave features before stepping aboard your boat for the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. You’ll silently cruise through the Glowworm Grotto where thousands of Arachnocampa luminosa twinkle in the dark cave.
No photography is allowed in Waitomo Caves. There are different tours available like the Ruakuri Cave 1.25-Hour Guided Tour, the Waitomo Caves Black Labyrinth Black Water Rafting Experience, and the Waitomo Caves Black Abyss Ultimate Caving Experience.
You can even combine them both on this popular Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves Small-Group Day Tour from Auckland.
You can catch the ferry across Waitemata Harbor from Auckland and visit the beautiful Waiheke Island. Located in the Hauraki Gulf, it’s a 40-minute journey that passes by Auckland’s gorgeous coastline.
Coromandel Day Trip (Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach)
The Coromandel Peninsula is stunning and worthy of a day trip from Auckland if you aren’t planning on visiting as part of a road trip. The Cathedral Cove Walk was a highlight for us with the trail taking you through native forest before arriving at the stunning white sand beach.
Despite Hot Water Beach being one of the most popular attractions on the North Island, I wasn’t that impressed. Dave and our daughters enjoyed it more than me. It could be that I don’t like crowds, and it was hard to find a patch of sand to yourself, or if sitting in some warm sandy water just isn’t for me. Either way, I still feel that it is something you “should do” while here. You never know, you may like it!
Take the ferry across Waitemata Harbor and visit the stunning sandy beaches and unique olive grove landscapes of Rangitoto Island. You can book the ferry tickets here.
For you adrenalin junkies out there, you can tandem skydive from as high as 20,000 feet, which is the highest elevation available in New Zealand! You get to freefall for more than a minute before your tandem instructor pulls the ripcord. Not for me, but it must be an incredible experience. Read more at Skydive Auckland.
For those of you with children, the Auckland Zoo has 135 different species and over 1400 animals. Auckland Zoo is a not-for-profit, so all of the money from every ticket sold goes towards the upkeep of the zoo.
Buy tickets online with free cancellation and best price guarantee here.
Where do cruise ships berth in Auckland?
Cruise ships dock at either Queens Wharf or Princes Wharf which is only a few minutes walk into the city. It took us around 20 minutes to walk from the dock to our Jucy hotel in Emily Place with our luggage. There’s more information on the Port of Auckland web page.
Getting To and From Auckland Airport
If you’re not disembarking from a cruise then you are more than likely going to be flying into Auckland Airport. This is located 15km outside of the city and takes around 20 minutes depending on traffic. We hired a car but the other options are:
- Public Transport
- Skip Bus
- Super Shuttle
- Taxis (you can find up-to-date prices on Auckland Airport‘s site
Where To Stay in Auckland
Where to stay in Auckland depends on your budget but we wanted somewhere cheap, clean and central. We opted for Jucy Snooze in a family studio room. It was perfect for what we needed. It is centrally located and we were able to drop our bags there early after disembarking from our cruise ship. They have a locked room and we were able to use their lounge facilities and bathroom.
The room itself was great. It featured a double bed, twin beds, lounge area, kitchen, and bathroom. Perfect for our family of four and the room was clean and quiet.
We use booking.com for booking our accommodation as most offer free cancellation and they are competitively priced.
Other budget accommodation options are:
My picks for mid-range accommodation in Auckland are:
- Cordis, Auckland by Langham Hospitality Group
- Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
- Park Hyatt Auckland
- Princes Wharf – Downtown Waterfront
- Adina Apartment Hotel Auckland Britomart
- Avani Metropolis Auckland Residences
- Cordis, Auckland by Langham Hospitality Group
- Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park Auckland
My Thoughts on Auckland
I have to admit that Auckland isn’t my favourite city but I’m glad that we spent a day there and experienced it for ourselves. I wouldn’t choose to spend more than a day in Auckland unless you plan on heading out of the city to explore the islands, beaches, or take a day trip. However, we enjoyed our dinner and views from the Sky Tower and seeing Auckland on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus.
New Zealand Travel Guides
If you want more information to help plan your New Zealand holiday, our New Zealand Travel Guide provides lots of valuable information, including what to do, where to go, and travel tips.
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12 thoughts on “One Day in Auckland – The Best Things to See & Do”
Enjoyed this post. I live in Wellington and there’s a bit of rivalry, so that if you live here you’re not supposed to like Auckland, and vice versa. I actually love Auckland though! I adore the Hauraki gulf, the waterfront and all the gorgeous cafes and bars down there, and most of all the ferries – ah, the ferries. Great that you made it to Devonport, if you have more time next time then Waiheke Island is another lovely destination on the ferries (great views back to the city, pretty towns, wonderful wineries). I agree that Skytower is well worth visiting. The hotels in the complex there are nice too. The High Street (which is not Queen Street) has some nice independent boutique shops. We stayed in an AirBNB on Princes Wharf during a recent visit, which was wonderful, though it might not have been had a large cruise ship been docked in front of our apartment!
Thank you so much Carole. We also visited Wellington on our cruise and loved it. We hope to return to NZ at some point and see more of it as we didn’t have time to see North of Auckland nor Waiheke Island. I also want to see Napier. Your Airbnb sounds lovely.
Glad you’re getting some ideas Jane. The revolving restaurant was a great way to see more of the city and thought it was good value considering it included access to the viewing level too.
A really detailed and informative post. I would definitely head to the Sky Tower and love the idea of dinner in the rotating restaurant. I am gathering some fantastic information for when I finally make it to New Zealand!
Great article. We’ve had the pleasure of visiting many times. Under rated by locals and potential visitors in my opinion! 😄
Thank you Jeff. I think it’s worthy of an overnight stay to see the main sights.
I spent about two days in Auckland a few years ago. I wish I had your wonderful guide then.
That is so kind of you to say, thank you.
I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of Auckland, but you’ve captured it beautifully! I didn’t realise the Sky Tower was the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, that’s a pretty awesome fact! Mount Eden looks beautiful too.
I agree, it’s not the best city we’ve been to but thought it as worth spending a day there. Devonport and the Sky Tower were our highlights.
Auckland seems like a wonderful city to visit with a lot of things to see! I can see why you wanted to spend some time here too. Having dinner at the Sky Tower looks amazing and something I would definitely want to do! 🙂
Thank you so much Vanessa. The dinner was nice but the views made it special.