Why Auckland Surprised Me

Most people experience the largest city in New Zealand upon entry into the country, but I flew straight from tropical Queensland to Wellington and started working full-time. I didn’t get to experience Auckland for myself until my very last week in New Zealand.

To be honest, I had only heard negative comments about Auckland from Kiwis, unless they were from Auckland. Big cities are looked down on in New Zealand, which when you think about it makes sense with how much of the country is built on farming and epic natural landscapes. New Zealand also has some of the highest amount per capita of outdoorsy people that I’ve come across in my travels.

I heard everything from Kiwis about Auckland – it was boring, unfriendly, sprawling, or ugly whenever it was mentioned. People in New Zealand call Auckland locals Jafas – those from Auckland say it means “just another friendly Aucklander,” non-Aucklanders say it means “just another fucking Aucklander.” Without a doubt, there exists a resentment against the largest city in New Zealand.

Part of this is due to the fact that other Kiwis think of Auckland as using up the majority of natural resources in New Zealand without producing anything of their own, like most of the rest of the country. They don’t see Auckland as a place that holds their own.

When I arrived to the city; however, I was willing to give Auckland the benefit of the doubt and experience it without expectations good or bad. I’m glad I decided to make my own opinion about it since I did genuinely enjoy my time in the city.

Auckland, New Zealand

The first aspect I noticed about Auckland was the fact that it is very similar to Sydney in terms of layout and even the downtown area. With that said, Auckland didn’t quite rival my love for the sunny Aussie city. I’m still happy I chose Wellington instead of Auckland for my year abroad in New Zealand. I don’t think I would’ve been quite as happy in Auckland, especially coming straight from life in Sydney.

Auckland came off to me as Sydney’s younger sister. The people were slightly ruder and fast-paced than what you’d expect in other parts of New Zealand, but I also think that comes with any big city. And let’s be honest, as Kiwis they’re still much nicer than the people you’d probably find in some other large cities around the world.

I found Aucklanders worse when they weren’t actually in Auckland, when they were visiting Wellington. It was as if they had to prove they came from the better city or something and came off as arrogant in the process. Of course, that’s a generalization, but that’s a little facet I noticed from most of the Auckland locals that came into the bar I worked at in Wellington.

New Zealand culture is based off of a certain humbleness and I can see why the Auckland boastfulness wouldn’t sit well with the rest of the country.

Auckland, New Zealand

All of that aside, there were still a good few things I really did love about Auckland. And even though I tried to go into my visit with no expectations, I was still surprised at how much I enjoyed the city even with all of the negative feedback I heard for a good year before I visited it myself.

Sky Tower

I’m a sucker for good views so the Sky Tower seemed like the obvious choice for my first stop in the city. Although overpriced as most large city towers seem to be, the Sky Tower provided the best 360 degree view of Auckland from the top. I also enjoyed the fact that there was a see-through floor to look down at.

Sky Tower - Auckland, New Zealand

At 1,076 feet, the Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and also offers the SkyWalk and SkyJump if you wish to jump off the tallest building in the country. I didn’t partake in the jump this time around but it looked like a fun (and slightly terrifying) experience to have, the SkyWalk didn’t quite seem exhilarating enough for the price tag.

There’s a restaurant called the Sugar Club and a coffee shop called Sky Cafe in the tower as well, the latter I spent a good hour at sipping on caffeine and taking in the best view of Auckland.

Auckland Sky Tower - New Zealand

Single entry to get up to the viewing platform will cost you $28 NZD or you can grab the sun and stars upgrade, which allows you to see the view both in the morning and at sunset for an additional $4. The SkyJump is $225 NZD and the SkyWalk is $145 NZD.

Mount Eden

When I was first asked to describe Auckland while I was there, I said it was a city of boobs. And no, I’m not talking about topless women walking around downtown, there are multiple boob-shaped volcanic hills that exist all over the city. In fact, there are 48 volcanic cones in the area, it truly looks like a city of single boobs when you take a step back and look at it from faraway.

Mt. Eden - Auckland, New Zealand

You may have heard at one point that New Zealand is part of the ‘Ring of Fire’, a ring around the Pacific Ocean that is notorious for volcanic activity and earthquakes. Well Auckland is one of the best examples of this with its many dormant volcanos scattered around the city.

Mt. Eden’s volcanic cone is the most well-known and largest of the group, it’s actually the highest natural point in Auckland at 643 feet high.  Mt. Eden’s original name is Maungawhau, meaning mountain of the whau tree in Maori.

Mt. Eden - Auckland, New Zealand

If you don’t want to pay the exorbitant fee at the Sky Tower or simply want to enjoy a good climb outside, Mt. Eden is a great place to get another stunning view of the city for free.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland War Memorial Museum was also a splurge but I had heard such fantastic things about it that I knew I didn’t want to miss it.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Although it’s not as interactive and fun as Te Papa in Wellington (one of the best museums in the world, in my opinion), I loved how much Maori history there was to find here. The architecture of the building the museum was housed in was also spectacular, located in the sprawling Auckland Domain.

In addition to Maori history, there is also plenty to learn about New Zealand’s natural history and its military history. There are multiple stories to the museum and a lot to see, so unless you’re in a dedicated mood you probably won’t see everything in a day. The museum costs $25 for international visitors but is free for Auckland residents.

War Memorial Museum - Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland War Memorial Museum - New Zealand

Once you’re done with the museum, take the time to explore the green Auckland Domain and perhaps even have a picnic in the park.

Waiheke Island

One of my favorite experiences from my time in Auckland, I spent a day exploring Waiheke Island on my own and checking out the much more tropical version of New Zealand.

Waiheke Island - Auckland, New Zealand

Waiheke Island is known for its wineries and there are multiple wine tours that leave from the city. I was tempted to jump on one of them but in favor of saving $100 I decided to just figure out how to take the 35-minute ferry over on my own and use the local bus system once I was on the island.

I arrived at the island in time to watch the sunrise at the beach and then continued to take the loop bus around to different spots. This was one of the prettiest areas of Auckland, and although I didn’t get to any of the wineries, it ended up being one of my favorite days in Auckland.

Waiheke Island - Auckland, New Zealand

Waiheke Island - Auckland, New Zealand

There are a bunch of little art galleries, boutique shops, seafood restaurants, and coffee shops to keep you occupied when you want a break from the beach or wine tastings. I finished off my time on the island sipping a local beer and eating fish tacos with an ocean views. It was perfect.

Waiheke Island - Auckland, New Zealand

Devonport

Devonport was the other short ferry ride day-trip that blew my socks off in terms of natural beauty and the aquamarine ocean hue that I love so much. It was a great little spot for yet another attractive view of the city and skyline from afar.

Devonport - Auckland, New Zealand

I was recommended by a few locals to not miss Devonport while I was in town and I’m so glad I didn’t. It felt like its own small town and hideaway across the water from Auckland city center.

One of my favorite parts about the suburb of Devonport was not only its deliciously tasty coffee, but it’s adorable colorful houses everywhere I turned.

It has been called Auckland’s prettiest village and once you jump off the ferry the slow-paced vibe really starts to kick in. There was a good view behind me pretty much every time I turned around. It was hard to convince myself to put down my camera and just enjoy it, it was so damn pretty!

Devonport - Auckland, New Zealand

Devonport - Auckland, New Zealand

It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon taking a stroll along the ocean or learn more about Auckland’s maritime history as it’s home to the Royal New Zealand navy.

Westhaven

Auckland is called the City of Sails and with just a quick walk around the Westhaven Marina you can probably guess why. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many sailboats and yachts in one spot and the marina itself was very gorgeous too.

Westhaven - Auckland, New Zealand

I spent an afternoon walking around the marina taking in different viewpoints of the Auckland skyline and trying to find the best named sailboats of the lot. You can tell from one walk around just how much money there is in Auckland.

Yachting and sailboat racing seem to be huge pastimes and highly competitive sports in Auckland, walking around the Westhaven Marina was just another way to take in the local culture.

One Tree Hill

Lastly, I visited One Tree Hill, partially due to my fondness for the American TV series of my youth, but also because it was another place I had heard great things about.

Similar to Mt. Eden, it’s another one of Auckland’s volcanic cones and although it didn’t have the grand view that Mt. Eden did, I found the overall surroundings to be much more beautiful. It was also less touristy than the popular Mt. Eden.

One Tree Hill - Auckland, New Zealand

One Tree Hill, or Maungakiekie meaning hill of the kiekie vine in Maori, used to be one of the largest Maori settlement spots and included three major fortification sites. Today, One Tree Hill is located within the gardens of Cornwall Park that has multiple walking tracks, forests, picnic areas, and some classic New Zealand sheep paddocks.

One Tree Hill - Auckland, New Zealand

At the highest point of One Tree Hill you’ll come across the memorial monument and grave of Sir John Logan Campbell – the founding father of Auckland.

One Tree Hill - Auckland, New Zealand

So, those were the highlights of my short time in Auckland, a city that surprised me and gave me a different take on New Zealand for my last week in the country. Auckland gets a lot of negativity thrown at it sometimes, but I think there are a variety of interesting activities and hidden spots to discover throughout the city. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it next time I’m in New Zealand.

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Why Auckland Surprised Me - New Zealand Travel

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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