Stunning viewpoints, culinary excellence, beautiful beaches and an abundance of activities — all supported by a fascinating history. This is your motorhome guide to New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland.
The City of Sails
Auckland became New Zealand’s second capital in 1841 — with its easy port access and economic potential proving to be big drawcards. However, it only remained capital for 24 years when central Wellington took over that mantle.
Originally a Māori settlement, Auckland is also known as Tāmaki Makaurau and is nicknamed the City of Sails. It’s a testament to the city's strong affinity for the water and its vibrant sailing community. You’ll see boats ranging from little getaway vessels to some of the world’s most expensive superyachts.
An urban mecca located around two harbours, Auckland has incredible cultural diversity and is recognised as one of the most multicultural cities on Earth. You’ll find more than 220 ethnic groups living here.
You can view Tāmaki Makaurau’s dramatic skyline from the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge, the North Shore and the many volcano summits. Set on a volcanic field, the city is shaped by 53 volcanoes with the largest and youngest being Rangitoto — an island just off Auckland’s coastline.
Rangitoto may be dormant but all the other volcanoes are extinct — leaving a safe, undulating city that features some of New Zealand’s best things to do and see.
The first capital of New Zealand
Perhaps surprisingly, the country’s first capital was little Okiato — also called Old Russell. A small town in the Bay of Islands, it was chosen due to the existing European settlements there and the positive relationship with Māori chiefs.
Getting around Auckland
You’ll most likely fly into Auckland and the airport isn’t far from State Highway 1 (SH1) which runs north to south through the city. You can essentially branch off to anywhere in Auckland from SH1.
Most of the city is well-signposted — making the drive along SH1 an adventure in itself. You’ll pass famous landmarks like the sparkling Waitematā Harbour, breezy Hauraki Gulf, impressive SkyTower and iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Several grassy volcano peaks dot the skyline, including Mount Eden, One Tree Hill, Mangere Mountain, North Head and Mount Wellington.
Parking your motorhome or campervan hire at a regional park or campground outside central Auckland can open the door to exploring on two wheels. Try riding The Lightpath — a protected pink path, it’s a fantastic way to see the city.
Essential scenery — Tiritiri Matangi
The pest-free island of Tiritiri Matangi is a scientific sanctuary and nature reserve — and home to thousands of native and endangered species. Watch out for dolphins and penguins during your trip over on the ferry.
Things to see and do in Auckland
Drive into the heart of Auckland's vibrant tapestry in your motorhome rental. It’s a place where volcano hikes, cafe chats, harbour sails and waterfront dining all meet.
Explore the CBD
Whether on foot, by bike, on the free CityLink bus (when transferring from another bus or train) or an e-scooter, Auckland’s central business district is a place to adventure.
Walk up One Tree Hill
Why not begin by getting your bearings from altitude. Above popular Cornwall Park (where you can spot city sheep and spring cherry blossoms) Maungakiekie One Tree Hill has great significance to local Māori culture — along with sublime city views.
At 182m above sea level, it’s arguably Auckland’s most famous traditional landmark. Considered a sacred place, or tapu, it demands respect as it was once the largest and most strategically important fortified villages in pre-colonial New Zealand.
Today, the summit features an obelisk which commemorates both Māori and European figures.
No Tree Hill
A lone pine tree was planted at the summit of Maungakiekie in the 1840s. Over time, this solo tree essentially made One Tree Hill a prominent Auckland landmark.
However, the tree was non-native and planted atop the mountain — a location that’s sacred to Māori.
In 1994, the single tree was taken to by a single protester using a chainsaw meaning it eventually had to be removed due to safety concerns.
Today, indigenous heritage including cultural artwork and restored native flora are focal points for One Tree Hill.
Visit Auckland Domain
This 75 hectare (ha) quiet space of recreation and history is more than simply a park. Pukekawa Auckland Domain also has volcanic origins, was once the site of an important fort for a few Māori tribes, and became the city’s first public park in 1843.
A visit to the domain will offer you:
- Native bush — where you can view ferns, kauri trees and birdlife
- Scenic paths — to picnic spots and ponds with ducks
- Secret charms — like the Wintergarden and Pukekawa Memorial obelisk
- Auckland Museum — featuring plenty of culture, history and art.
Stroll down the Auckland Waterfront
Pulsating with energy and providing a wealth of entertainment, food and drink for passersby, the Auckland Waterfront area is worth some of your time.
You’ll enjoy views of the expansive Waitematā Harbour, the captivating Hauraki Gulf, mesmerising Rangitoto Island and the dynamic interaction of sailboats.
Viaduct Harbour has impressive yachts that you can observe from its trendy restaurants and bars. Nearby Wynyard Quarter boasts historic wharves transformed into popular cafes, art galleries and innovative public spaces.
While you’re here, pick up some fresh seafood from the Auckland Fish Market.
No visit to Auckland CBD is complete without discovering the Sky Tower — the city’s iconic 328m high building where you can eat, drink and even jump off. During your visit, consider:
- Taking the glass-bottomed lift up to the viewing deck — for a stunning 360 degree panoramas
- Stopping in at Wētā Workshop Unleashed — for their 90 minute movie making tour where you can explore interactive fantasy, horror and sci-fi film sets
- Enjoying a meal at Orbit — the revolving restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower.
Wander Auckland Art Gallery
The Auckland Art Gallery houses over 17,000 pieces of artwork. Take a journey through time from the 11th century to today as they include:
- Māori and Pacific art
- Historic, modern and contemporary New Zealand art
- International paintings and sculptures.
Amble up or down Queen Street
Queen Street feels like the spine of Auckland CBD. It runs from an elevated south to a sea level north and is within walking distance of most central attractions.
On Queen Street you can indulge in a fancy meal, watch a movie, shop for all manner of interesting items and relax in Myers Park or nearby Albert Park.
Take a trip to Auckland Zoo
Heading west on SH16 will bring you to Auckland Zoo. It’s New Zealand’s largest and most diverse — home to more than 130 species and 2,800 animals.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to time your visit to coincide with talks about native kea and kiwi. These are two of New Zealand’s most precious species — one a cheeky alpine parrot and the other a nocturnal flightless bird.
Check out the Museum of Transport and Technology
This interesting museum, affectionately known as MOTAT, is just down the road from Auckland Zoo. You can reach there by tram or park your campervan rental in the parking area.
If you have kids with a keen interest in trains, transport and how they work, it’s an ideal activity.
At MOTAT, you and your kids can:
- See the exhibitions — such as model railways, the fire station, machine makers and the aviation hall
- Experience steam trains, blacksmith forging and restoration projects
- Take a look at the immersive digital experience in the aviation hall
- Get your kids involved in the active play areas.
Be sure to take the heritage tram that loops between MOTAT, Auckland Zoo and Western Springs.
Between MOTAT and the zoo is Western Springs — a green space offering something for everyone. Jump off the tram here and check out the:
- Birdlife — including black swans which may be a novelty if you’ve only ever seen white ones
- Japanese Gardens — a tranquil sanctuary of bonsai trees, water features and relaxing pathways
- Stadium — where there may be live music or an event
- Playground with elephant noises and lion growls in the background.
Dive into Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium
On the theme of child-friendly experiences that are also fun for adults, a visit to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is ideal on a rainy day. You’ll be able to watch sharks and other sea life on the underwater travelator — and marvel at the penguins.
The aquarium also features some interesting exhibits, such as:
- Scott’s hut — a replica of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic hut
- Shipwreck discovery — where you can view eagle rays and a variety of local fish species
- Sea cave adventure — the rocky world where you can encounter native octopus, eels, sea stars and crayfish.
Essential activity — Sail the Hauraki Gulf
Being in the City of Sails so close to the sea means one of the greatest adventures you can have here is on a boat. Look into sailing or cruising Waitematā Harbour or the Hauraki Gulf on a day charter or even a ferry ride.
For more interesting things to see and do, see our blog on the top ten things to do in Auckland.
Venture out from the centre
The CBD isn’t the only part of Auckland that’s worth discovering. Adventuring to the north, south, east and west also has plenty to offer.
Experience northern beauty
Drive over the scenic Auckland Harbour Bridge to experience history and culture — along with some of the country’s best international cuisine. For a taste of naval and war history, take a trip up Takarunga Mount Victoria and Maungauika North Head — two peaks which rise up above the little village of Devonport.
Grab a coffee at the Catch 21 Eatery in Takapuna, then drive along Beach Road and stop at a few of the many safe east coast beaches.
Taste the pride of the south
- Take a nature or beach walk
- Try mountain biking
- Give fishing or horse riding a go.
On Saturdays, the Otara Markets feature truly international stalls — including bone carving, wood carving and all manner of food and crafts.
Encounter the wild west
West Auckland has a wild side in the form of a few famous beaches. It’s worth the journey driving over to popular Muriwai, Whatipu, Karekare, Piha and Bethells beaches — all only about an hour from Auckland CBD.
Out west you’ll be able to:
- Watch surfers catch waves — or go for a surf yourself
- Enjoy a picnic lunch at Piha Beach — then take a walk through native forest.
The wild surf
Auckland’s west coast beaches are beautiful but dangerous. Only swim between the flags and keep a close eye on children.
Revel in the eastern promise
In the east is where urban vibes meet rural charm — from Buddhist temples to night markets to art exhibitions.
Get a sense of the area on the East Auckland Coastal Loop Road which takes in:
Where to eat in Auckland
The sheer variety of culinary experiences in Auckland can be a pleasure to navigate. You’ll find cuisine for all tastes, cultures and budgets.
We highlight some unmissable eateries that feature highly every year.
Inspired by family and tradition, Baduzzi has Italian-based fare that’s styled by American-born owner Michael Dearth’s take on a New York-style meatball joint — but it’s so much more.
Dine on New Zealand octopus, wood-fired king prawns, Karitane crayfish meatballs, wild red deer meatballs and handmade pasta down at the Wynyard Quarter.
Soul Bar & Bistro
While away an afternoon at the Viaduct watching the boats at this central Auckland institution. Whether you’re after a quick cocktail, a long lunch or a romantic dinner, Soul Bar & Bistro is undoubtedly a destination restaurant.
Named by Michael Pierre White as the best restaurant in New Zealand for owner Jessabel Granada’s Filipino food, Nanam is the place for a food made with love experience. Located to the north in Takapuna, the wagyu sausage longganisa is beyond divine.
Unquestionably the place for the best beef wellington in Auckland, Moxie is run by a husband-and-wife duo who’ve made a big name for themselves on the North Shore. It’s also a fantastic place to go for high tea.
Essential eatery — The Grove
For impeccable service and sensational food, call into The Grove in St Patrick’s Square in Auckland’s CBD. Choose from the six or eight course degustation menu — featuring fresh local food like crayfish, paua (abalone), oysters and aged beef.
Check out our top 20 food experiences blog for more places to eat throughout New Zealand.
Where to stay in Auckland
Campgrounds are often hard to come across in larger cities — though Auckland goes against the grain with a number of options.
Big Bay Holiday Park
At the tip of Awhitu Peninsula is a small, family-owned holiday park — Big Bay Holiday Park. This camp features beautiful beach walks, safe swimming, great fishing and a free-to-use wood fired pizza oven.
Orere Point TOP 10 Holiday Park
About an hour’s drive from Auckland and close to the Hunua Ranges in Waitakere is Orere Point. It’s a popular spot for bikers and trampers — and has plenty of water activities including hot springs..
Arataki — Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
A basic council campsite set in the enchanting Pararaha Valley is Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Close to rugged black sand beaches such as Piha, Karekare and Anawhata, this camping spot features nature trails and sightseeing of the city and harbour.
Cliff Top Campground
In Omana Regional Park close to the beach is Cliff Top Campground. This grassy camp on a gentle slope sits on the eastern side of the park — the perfect location to explore this beautiful rural area.
Takapuna Beach Holiday Park
Fairly central, right on the shores of Takapuna Beach, is popular Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. Perhaps the best aspect of staying here is that it’s located right by the beach. You can wake up to a sunrise over Rangitoto Island and panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf.
Check out our blog on the best campsites in the Auckland region for plenty more options.
Events and festivals to go to in Auckland
An event or festival takes place in Auckland almost every week so we’ve highlighted a few favourites.
Auckland Gin Festival
Normally hosted at The Cloud on the Auckland waterfront at the bottom of Queen Street, the Auckland Gin Festival is a must-do if you love gin. Late summer sees more than 40 New Zealand and Australian distillers promoting over 150 gins.
The Lantern Festival
Park up to enjoy a stunning sight as over 800 handmade chinese lanterns light up the night. Experience chinese cultural through:
- Martial arts displays
- Traditional dances
- Authentic cuisine and handicrafts.
This free event takes place at the ports of Auckland in late summer.
Celebrate everything Pacific over a March weekend at Western Springs by attending the popular Pasifika Festival. Eight villages showcase the best of the eleven Pacific Island nations through performances, food and fun.
Auckland Arts Festival
During a few weeks every March, the Auckland Arts Festival comes alive with theatre, music, dance, cabaret and kōrero. The festival is hosted at multiple venues across Auckland — and has been operating in its current incarnation for more than 20 years.
New Zealand Boat Show
Dare to dream at the country’s largest and longest running boat show, with its gorgeous boats and cutting-edge fishing technology. If you’re into motorhome gadgets, you may also find some boating gadgets just as interesting.
You can find the New Zealand Boat Show at the Auckland Showgrounds.
Auckland Folk Festival
Looking for music that suits the whole family on your motorhome hire around New Zealand? Plan to attend the Auckland Folk Festival if you’re in Auckland City in late January. The festival has just celebrated its 50th annual event so has plenty of history behind it.