Eight Must-Do’s and Kiwi Gems to discover in Auckland

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From black sand beaches to secluded islands, sculpture trails to artistic playgrounds, vineyards and volcanoes – there is plenty to discover on a safe, socially-distanced outing in Auckland.

1. Climb Rangitoto

Rangitoto is the volcanic cone that dominates the Auckland landscape and has been a symbol of Auckland for as long as any of us can remember. But you don’t need to view it from afar. You can climb it. The climb, all 259 vertical metres of it, takes you through lava fields, forest and lots of scoria. And should you need a diversion/distraction/excuse to stop climbing, peel off the main track and check out the lava caves. Bring a torch. When you get to the top – whether you take the direct route or one of the more gentle, encircling-type ones – you can then walk around the edge of the crater. The whole thing feels moon-like, but then you look across that sparkling gulf see Auckland from a completely different perspective.

2. Cycle Auckland’s Waterfront

Cycling Auckland’s waterfront makes for a flat, entertaining and family-friendly ride. You can begin near Westhaven Marina at the foot of the Harbour Bridge and ride, mostly on designated cycle paths, for 13 easy kilometres along the coastline to St Heliers. Cycle past the forest of masts in the marina, through the vibrant hospitality precincts of Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter and the Viaduct, to Tamaki Drive where you’ll wind your way around Auckland’s curvaceous coast to finish at St Heliers Beach. There are plenty of diversions to enjoy along the way, from hot coffees to cooling swims at any of the many beaches and bays. The seaside promenade path is popular with active types, especially on weekends, so be mindful of other riders, walkers and dogs and remember to keep left.

3. Whoa! Studios

Combine a film studio, an excellent restaurant and possibly the best playground in New Zealand and you’ve got a recipe for a great family day out. Whoa! Studios in Henderson is a multi-faceted family extravaganza designed to surprise and delight. The Whoa! Studios Urban Playground is unlike any other play experience in New Zealand. With a rocket ship, pirate cove and a centrepiece of the country’s only hand-crafted crochet climbing net that took Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam two years to complete, it’s a compelling destination for kids of all ages. And to top it off, the onsite restaurant, The Grounds, conceived by renowned Auckland chef Ben Bayly is a beautifully designed eatery with an equally stylish menu.

4. Te Henga Walkway

Near the top of any Aucklander’s Must-Do list for their city are the dramatic black sand beaches of the west coast. Piha is famous for its surf breaks and next door, Karekare was the site of an Academy Award-winning movie. But it’s Bethells Beach, or Te Henga, further north which is one of the most popular and accessible. It has the signature surf, the scorching iron sand, but some of the main highlights at Te Henga are the vantage points to be had from the clifftop walkway. Survey the thunderous sea, lagoons and sprawling sand dunes as you stride along the windswept cliffs. The Te Henga walkway is part of the larger Hillary Trail through the Waitākere Ranges, much of which is currently closed to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease. But you can still tackle Te Henga, the section that runs from Bethells north to Muriwai.  

5. Sculptureum

Experience sprawling world-class sculpture gardens, multiple art galleries and a fine dining restaurant on the outskirts of Matakana. Sculptureum is home to three beautiful sculpture-filled gardens and six indoor galleries featuring the works of world-famous artists including Picasso, Cèzanne and Chagall. Each of the six galleries has artworks centred around a different theme – from glass to recycled or modern abstract. Over 1.5km of flat paths wind through the outdoor gardens, which bristle with sculptures, live animals and colourful plants that evolve with the seasons. Alongside the more than 700 local and international artworks is an 11-acre vineyard, producing Sculptureum’s very own wines which can be enjoyed with the superb cuisine at Rothko Restaurant

6. Hauraki Gulf Islands

In the Hauraki Gulf there are an abundance of intriguing, easily accessible islands to explore, right on Auckland City’s doorstep. A short ferry ride from downtown Auckland will take you to the island of your choice, from vineyards to volcanoes, there are activities to suit most interests and energy levels. Immerse yourself in the vocal birdlife in the sanctuary at Tiritiri Matangi, explore the history of Motutapu and Rotoroa, or indulge in the hedonistic delights of Waiheke Island. Take your pick from bush walks and beaches, wine and wildlife or culture and conservation. Or do a little bit of everything on these offshore gems. And, when you’re travelling by boat, getting there is half the fun.  

7. Lake Wainamu

Hidden behind the towering black sand dunes near Auckland’s Te Henga / Bethells Beach is a freshwater lake, ideal for safe summer swimming. Lake Wainamu can be reached on an easy stroll up a shallow stream bed, which keeps your feet off the scorching iron sand. If it’s not too hot, the vast, desert-like dune system makes for an exhilarating walk through an otherworldly landscape, scrambling up and down the shifting slopes. Although there is no real lakeside beach, plunging down the steep dunes to leap into Lake Wainamu is all part of the experience. Boogie boards are recommended. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the Lake Wainamu Loop Track around the shoreline and discover the pretty Waitohi waterfall. 

8. Auckland Regional Parks

From ancient lava flows to tidal estuaries and pōhutukawa-fringed coastlines, there are many landscapes to explore in the 27 regional parks around Auckland. From Ambury Farm on the shores of the Manukau Harbour with its interactive animal encounters to the pest-free environment of the open sanctuary at Shakespear at the tip of the Whangaparāoa Peninsula, recreational opportunities abound. At the mouth of the Pūhoi River, Wenderholm – perhaps one of the prettiest parks – has one of Auckland's best examples of mainland coastal forest, Tāwharanui boasts some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches, and the Whakakaiwhara Peninsula in Duder Regional Park provides 360-degree views of the Hunua Ranges and Hauraki Gulf islands. Bushwalks, beach walks, swimming spots and secret coves can be found in parks across the region, and best of all, they’re free and available for everyone to enjoy. 

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