Spread over volcanic hills and two harbors on the North Island, Auckland is the center of culture, music, food and arts in New Zealand. Also known as Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland is brimming with urban adventures and natural beauty, making for an ideal family city break.
The Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, settled Auckland in the 14th century. They arrived in the area from Polynesia, and their culture is an integral part of the fabric of the country. Locals here refer to themselves as Kiwis, which dates back to World War I and comes from the kiwi, a flightless bird that is a national symbol of New Zealand.
To make the most of a 72-hour stay in Auckland, we suggest getting a macro view of this singular destination on day one, followed by a day exploring the islands that surround the city and then embracing activities that speak most to your family on your final day.
Embrace the topography of this beautiful city with a visit to Mount Eden, the highest natural point in Auckland. Visitors can join a guided tour to learn about this iconic dormant volcano, also called Maungawhau, and its history as a fortified Maori village. A beautiful boardwalk around the crater and summit that was built in 2020 offers fantastic views over the Waitemata Harbour.
From there, check out Queen Street, the main thoroughfare through Auckland’s central business district (CBD). There is plenty of room to roam and enjoy the open-air shopping as well as a bounty of cafes and pubs. Art enthusiasts will want to drop in at the Auckland art gallery Tai o Tamaki, which is the center of artistic dialogue in the city. Don’t miss a visit to Sky Tower, an iconic part of the Auckland skyline that offers visitors stunning 360-degree views. The most adventurous teens and young adults can even opt to base jump by wire off the tower or take a dizzying skywalk out to the viewing platform. On firmer ground, the new virtual reality Sky Slide lets guests feel the thrill of sailing down the imaginary glass tubes that swirl around the Sky Tower.
For elementary-age daredevils, a trip farther out to Rocket Ropes near the Auckland airport, with ropes courses specifically for kids ages 2 to 6 and 6+, may be just the ticket. If you still have energy to burn, the nearby Odyssey Sensory Maze is a unique chance for older kids to tackle a series of quirky physical obstacles and challenges to emerge from an underground lair.
Afterward, continue to enjoy the central Auckland vibe with a visit to the bustling Viaduct Harbour on the edge of the CBD. Evening is a great time to marvel at the marina’s luxury yachts (Auckland’s nickname is City of Sails for this very reason), or go earlier in the day to check out the New Zealand Maritime Museum.
The islands adjacent to Auckland are super easy to navigate thanks to ferries from downtown, and today is a chance to enjoy the scenery and offerings of Waiheke or Rangitoto.
Waiheke (pronounced why-heck-ee) is the second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, about a 30-minute boat ride from central Auckland. Some have compared Waiheke to the Hamptons of Auckland, and it is famous for its beaches, wineries and beautiful landscapes. Favorite family beaches on Waiheke include Onetangi and Palm Beach. There are also more than 40 wineries with tasting opportunities and beautiful property to enjoy on the island. Families rave about Eco-Zip, an outdoor adventure park with ziplines over the scenic vistas and vineyards.
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Rangitoto Island is home to both the youngest and largest of Auckland’s volcanoes, various endangered native species and the world’s largest Pohutukawa forest (an iconic tree with bright red flowers that is indigenous to New Zealand and a popular choice for Kiwi Christmas trees). The trip to Rangitoto itself is an integral part of the experience, with stunning vistas on display as you approach this 600-year-old volcanic cone rising from the Hauraki Gulf. Popular with hikers and day trippers, the walk to the summit takes about an hour and also offers the chance to explore the lava caves (make sure to bring a flashlight!). Other options for exploration include guided rides on the 4WD road train or renting a kayak.
Today offers the chance to dig into a facet of Auckland’s many treasures depending on your family’s interests.
TIP: Auckland is an enticing destination that offers families endless options to enjoy its natural beauty throughout the year. For planning purposes, remember that for U.S. visitors, the seasons here are reversed, making a trip over the summer a pleasant respite from the heat.
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