Whatipu Beach, Auckland. © Visit Auckland

Auckland Kiwi Gems


Did you know that you can visit a reptile park in Auckland? Or an incredible Buddhist temple? How about stargazing at an International Dark Sky Sanctuary or getting up close with friendly donkeys? We've picked 13 Kiwi Gems around Auckland that you won't have discovered yet.

Yoga in the Sky

Sun salutations take on special meaning during a sunrise yoga class more than 180 metres above Auckland City. The morning light will fuel your practice in Yoga in the Sky, held every Sunday on the Sky Tower’s Main Observation Deck as you breathe in spectacular 360-degree views across a dazzling Waitematā Harbour. Suitable for yogis of all levels from beginners to advanced, classes are taught by instructors Danielle Timbers and Lizzie Rous and focus on breathwork with a light-hearted, rhythmical and fun invitation to self-exploration. Yoga mats are available upon arrival.

Highfield Garden Reserve Donkeys

Comprised of two adjoining blocks of land in Algies Bay, the Highfield Garden Reserve on Māhurangi East Road has incredible panoramic views across to the surrounding peninsulas and offshore islands, pretty bush walks and, most notably, resident donkeys. Gifted to the people of New Zealand by Māhurangi locals, Ted and Alison Roberts in 1985, the reserve has always been home to a herd of donkeys that were once used to carry loads for the Roberts’ gardening projects and to keep the grass under control. Today, the park is maintained by a community group and you can make your way through several donkey-proof gates to meet the friendly animals. They’ll happily take a snack from you, too – so long as it’s only apples, carrots or silverbeet – and will pose for photos. 

Kawau Island

One of the best ways to discover Kawau Island in Auckand’s Hauraki Gulf is onboard a Royal Mail Run Cruise, departing from Sandspit. You’ll take a tour of the island’s bays, coves and tranquil harbours stopping along the way to deliver post and parcels to the local residents. Learn about the intriguing history of Kawau – once owned by Sir George Grey who purchased the entire island in 1862 as his private playground. Today, Mansion House Bay is still a testament to Grey’s eclectic and exotic tastes. Importing foreign flora and fauna, including monkeys, zebras and many species of tropical trees, Grey created an environment unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. Because of this you can wander amongst towering palm trees alongside resident peacocks and spot wallabies on the island’s walking tracks. Step back in time inside Mansion House, where you can explore stately sitting rooms, small sculleries and sumptuous bed chambers preserved in the style of the 1800s. 

McCahon House

Almost hidden in the bush below a winding road leading down to French Bay near Titirangi, McCahon House is the small, basic, bach-like house where one of our most notable artists lived and worked in the 1950s. Surrounded by magnificent kauri trees, Colin McCahon painted some of his best-known works here. An on-site docent will interpret and explain as required; and inside cupboards are videos and recordings to give a fuller picture of the artist. The house itself, though, will prompt some sympathy for his family, especially his daughters, whose room with its wooden bunks was sited below the house, one wall open to the bush – and the prevalent mozzies. But photos show that they led a social life, and close inspection in the kitchen will prove that McCahon had practical skills too: he made the plate rack out of knitting needles.

Karioitahi Beach

The magnificent black sand beach of Karioitahi on Auckland's West Coast is a windswept landscape that suits all sorts of invigorating activities. From hang gliding to paragliding, blo-karting to surfing, you can even take your four-wheel drive for a spin along the beach if you’re game. There’s not much there in the way of commercialism, no shops or cafés, and aside from the surf life-saving club and the public toilets, it’s really just a whole lot of nature, much as it would’ve looked thousands of years ago. A mere eight kilometres from Waiuku, grab your favourite takeaways on the way through and settle on down to watch the sunset.

Parnell Rose Gardens 

An oasis of colour and fragrance on Parnell’s central Gladstone Road, the rose gardens are officially known as Dove-Meyer Robinson Park, after Auckland City’s longest serving mayor, Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson. With more than 5,000 rose bushes, the park is best visited in late spring and summer to catch these beauties in full bloom. Alongside incredible rose specimens – ranging from new varieties to heritage flowers in a myriad of hues, Dove-Meyer Robinson Park is also home to the the oldest mānuka and largest pōhutukawa tree in Tāmaki Makaurau. Pack a picnic, or make a day of it by following the pathways to Judges Bay and the iconic Parnell Baths on Tamaki Drive for a refreshing saltwater dip.

Fort Stony Batter

Waiheke Island's historic WWII tunnels have been restored after being closed to visitors for a number of years. Head to the ‘bottom end’ of the island through farmland on gravel roads to reach the incredible underground network of tunnels and bunkers. Fort Stony Batter is named for the intriguing rocky formations that pop out of the grassy paddocks on the surface. Below ground, 1.2km of passages, tunnels, staircases and vast subterranean chambers were all constructed by hand in a top-secret military project in 1942. Today you can take a guided tour with a knowledgeable expert who will lead you through the huge vaulted engine room, up to gun emplacements and down the mind-boggling grand staircase that descends 42 metres underground.  

Leisure Time INP

Redeem your AA Member discount with Leisure Time Travel here

Ti Point Reptile Park 

With expansive ocean views and a lovely bush walk, Ti Point Reptile Park, just before Leigh on Auckland’s Matakana Coast, also houses New Zealand’s largest and most diverse collection of reptiles. Established by Ivan Borich in 1968, the park was converted from an existing zoo to showcase his passion for reptiles. For an animal to be classed as a reptile it must have scales, be cold-blooded and breathe air. Current Ti Point residents meeting this criteria include American alligators, iguanas, giant tortoises and native tuatara. You may even spot a furry tarantula! The best time to visit Ti Point Reptile Park is on a sunny day when the cold-blooded inhabitants will most likely be out catching some rays.

Ayrlies Garden

Ayrlies Garden in Whitford – the small village at country crossroads in south-east Auckland – was one of only two of New Zealand gardens featured in the BBC series, Around the World in 80 Gardens. Encompassing nearly six hectares of informal country garden and 10 hectares of protected swampland, Ayrlies Garden is nearly 60 years old, so its huge exotic trees, including liquidambar, swamp cypress, pin oak and sequoia, are reaching maturity. Wander alongside tranquil ponds and take in beautiful vistas and intimate areas with rare flowers. There is also an easy one-hour loop across wetland boardwalks where you can spot native and exotic water fowl and carefully cultivated native plantings designed to support the local ecosystem.

Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple

Find serenity at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in the East Auckland suburb of Flat Bush. Designed in the opulent architectural style of the Tang Dynasty, a visit to Fo Guang Shan, the largest Buddhist temple in New Zealand, is like stepping into southeast Asia. Explore the grand temple building with its curved, green-tiled roof or relax in the pagoda next to the soothing water feature. Visitors are also welcome to stroll the four-hectare site, that includes beautifully manicured gardens, a huge buddha statue and a two-tonne bell. And make sure you stay for a deliciously nourishing vegetarian meal and aromatic tea at the lovely Water Drop Teahouse.

Aotea Night Sky Tours, Great Barrier Island

On Aotea Great Barrier Island there’s not a lot of nightlife, unless you count nature. Then there’s plenty. As well as kiwi to spot at night, there are stars galore – many, many more than from mainland New Zealand. The visibility is so good that the island has International Dark Sky Sanctuary status. And while it is utterly thrilling to experience a clear, moonless night here with a blanket and a pair of binoculars, opting for a tour with a dark sky ambassador takes it to another level. They will point out the various planets, stars, galaxies and constellations and put it all into mind-boggling perspective. Twilight tours and astrophotography workshops add to the heavenly mix; Aotea’s info centre has all the details.


Whatipu Scientific Reserve is a particularly special place on Auckland’s west coast. The beach, on the northern mouth of the Manukau Harbour, is battered and exposed, known for its wide openness and its history as the scene of kauri logging enterprises and ships coming to grief. It’s at the end of a challenging road so has maintained its isolation and, for this reason, it’s designated an area for science and education, with an emphasis on conservation and protection of its dunes, coastal vegetation, wetland and extensive birdlife. While you can visit and take long, wind-blown walks along the beach, you can’t take your dog, not even on a leash. There are several spectacular walks to enjoy here; a good short option is the Whatipu Heritage Walk which goes from the car park to the beach and is about 40 minutes return. To get to Whatipu, head west to Titirangi then take the road to Huia. Whatipu is at the very end of it.

Wai Manawa / Le Roys Bush 

Wai Manawa / Le Roys Bush in Birkenhead on Auckland’s North Shore is quite the surprise! One minute you’re in the bustle of the North Shore village with its cafés and shops; next you’re in the midst of native forest with tall kauri, tōtara and nīkau, enjoying tūī, kererū and pīwakawaka flitting about. The path through Wai Manawa / Le Roys Bush provides an hour’s leisurely walk featuring rainforest, a wetland, a waterfall and views of the Waitematā Harbour and the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It dips down into Little Shoal Bay where, if the tide is high, you can take a dip. There are several access points to the track, off Onewa Road, Hinemoa and Enterprise streets and directly opposite the Birkenhead library.

Check out these Must-Do Auckland activities while you're here: 

More stories like this

Find out more

Get outdoors

Surround yourself with birdsong on Tiritiri Matangi Island

One of the world’s most successful conservation projects can be found just off the coast of Auckland’s Whangapāraoa Peninsula.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more


Raft the rapids in Manukau City

In Auckland’s Manukau City you can raft down the world’s highest artificial waterfall.  Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Kiwi Gems

Immerse yourself in art at Sculptureum

Experience sprawling world-class sculpture gardens, multiple art galleries and a fine dining restaurant on the outskirts of Matakana. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Family fun

Enchant your inner child at Whoa! Studios

Combine a live theatre experience, 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.  Read the story . . .