Three Days in Auckland
Eat, drink, hike, explore islands and local beaches.
Rangitoto Island and Auckland
To avoid afternoon crowds, we started the morning by going to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is a volcanic island with a hiking trail that leads to panoramic views of Auckland from the top. We went to the Viaduct Harbor area and bought ferry tickets with Fullers360 (the main ferry operator in Auckland) to go to Rangitoto. You can also buy ferry tickets online in advance. Take the first departing ferry to the island to minimize the amount of crowds that will be on your hike. It is only a 25-minute ferry ride to the island and the round-trip ride is $39NZ. The ferry boats are large and have bathrooms, snacks, and refreshments.
The Rangitoto Summit Track is the most popular route to the top. It is a 4.3-mile trail that takes 1.5-2 hours to hike out and back. It is uphill most of the way to the top, but it’s a gradual incline, so easier than most hikes we completed on the South Island. When you disembark the boat take a right to find the trailhead. The hike itself is on unique terrain and at times feels like you are on another planet with all of the black volcanic rock. At the peak, you’ll have Auckland views and can walk around the crater. You can also add on a 15-minute side hike to see lava caves. Bring a flashlight for exploring them. There is well-marked signage to find the Lava Cave Track.
After you complete the Summit Track, you will likely have some spare time before your ferry comes back to pick you up. Once at the base of the island walk past the ferry dock in the opposite direction of the Summit track, along the water. There is a sign for the Kowhi Grove and Historic Baches. I would recommend walking along this trail, out and back with any time you have left. The trail wraps around the edge of the island with water+volcanic rock+Auckland views, as well as the historic Baches (beach homes). It is 45 minutes out and back but only walk for as long as you have time.
There are bathrooms on the island, but no restaurants or food. Bring your own water and snacks.
We arrived back in Auckland in time for lunch, check out Where to Eat for some lunch options. Then we went to see another volcanic crater in the city, Mt. Eden. It is a larger crater that also offers Auckland city views. You can’t drive to the top, so it is another short hike. There are public parking lots at the ends of Puhi Huia Road and toilets too. From those lots, you can then walk up the road to the summit. There are turn-offs for various other trails and stairs that all lead you to the top as well.
That evening you should have dinner at one of my recommendations in Where to Eat and then walk around the Viaduct and the waterfront area to see it lit up at night.
It is a 45-minute drive from Auckland to the Piha Beach area. The area is not accessible by ferry. We started the morning hiking the trail to Kitekite Falls. It is a 2.1-mile hike that will take half an hour to reach the base of the Falls. When you reach the falls you can take a swimming break in the pool at the bottom. Wear a swimsuit and pack a towel. If you want more hiking, you can also continue on to trek to the top of the falls for a view of the area. There are toilets near the start of the hike.
Once back down at the base of the falls, you can loop back on a different trail for part of the way back, until the path merges into the same out-and-back trail.
We then went to Piha Beach and ate lunch at Murray Piha. We walked along the black sand beach of Piha and watched surfers before heading back to Auckland. There are bathrooms at the beach.
Explore a new neighborhood in Auckland that night, K Street (Karangahape Road), and St. Kevin’s Arcade is an artsy neighborhood where you could eat at Gemmayze Street.
Waiheke Island is an island off the coast of Auckland, that is a popular vacation destination for locals. There are beaches, vineyards, local shops, honey stores, and more.
We took the Fullers360 Ferry again, on a large boat with bathrooms, snacks, and drinks. It’s a 40-minute ride to the island and our ticket cost $42NZ per adult.
Once in Waiheke, there are many options for activities and transport for a day there.
Options for getting around:
Public buses-I would not recommend using them. They are unreliable, often too full for a pick-up and it’s difficult to navigate which bus number to take where.
Ferry your rental car. The cost to ferry a car is $250NZ, so this is an expensive option.
Rent a bike. This option works well if you only want to stay in one small area of the island all day. It is a big island though, and hilly, so not the best option if you want to explore multiple areas.
Hop on Hop Off Fullers360 bus. This is the transit option I would recommend. Fullers360 offers this option to be included with your ferry ticket. It’s an easy way to combine vineyards, beaches, and multiple stops with friendly bus drivers/guides to help you navigate it all. It’s $68NZ for the ferry ride and bus pass.
Options for things to do and see:
Ostend Saturday Market- A mix of a farmer’s and craft market, it’s an easy way to sample Waiheke honey, olive oils and produce all in one stop.
Rangihoua Estate- A stop for olive and olive oil shopping and tasting
StonyRidge Vineyard- They are known for their red wines and cabernet blends. Their restaurant and tasting room are set in an old estate that has indoor/outdoor seating and small shareable plates to snack on as well. It is next door to Te Maku Vineyards if you want to easily stop at more vineyards in the area.
Wild on Waiheke- A Wine tasting and restaurant stop. They have indoor/outdoor dining and a large lawn with a trampoline, lawn games, and archery. It is walkable to Stonyridge Vineyard if you want to go to multiple vineyards in the same area easily.
Oneroa Village-A quaint beachside town with cafes and shops.
Onetangi Beach- The largest beach on the island. It has white sand beaches and clear water.
Oneroa Beach- A beach close to the town of Oneroa, so an easy stop for eating, shopping, and beach time in one place.
Optional Day Four
The Coromandel Peninsula is a 2-hour drive each way from Auckland. That driving time will vary depending on where in the Peninsula you go though. You can also take a ferry from Auckland, but only on certain days of the week. There are a few spots worth visiting in the area:
Hot Water Beach- You can rent a shovel at this beach to dig your own personal hot tub to relax in. Below the top layer of the beach, there is hot water that you can easily dig a pool into.
Cathedral Cove Walk- A 1.5-mile walk that will take an hour to walk out and back. The path leads along the coast of the beach and takes you to the famous Cathedral Cove archway.
Mount Paku Summit- A .7-mile hike up a volcanic peak to a viewpoint of the Coromandel Peninsula and surrounding area.
Build an Itinerary
My Auckland trip was part of a month-long trip throughout New Zealand. I will be posting articles for all of the other stops I made, so check back for them. Bay of Islands, Tongariro, or Queenstown would work well as add-ons to make a longer trip.
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Auckland. Staying in an apartment rather than a hotel was the best choice for us because we could make our own breakfast, easily pack hiking snacks, and do laundry regularly for our hiking clothes. Our rental was in the Victoria Park area. It was a local neighborhood walkable to all the main sites, but not right amongst them. I would recommend staying there for a more local experience.
It’s easy to book excursions and activities online for New Zealand. We traveled during high season and were able to make bookings a couple of days out without issues of excursions or rentals being booked up. The one advantage to booking more last minute is that you can make decisions based on how the weather is looking those days. If you are planning to do one of the multiple-day treks in the area (not included in the itinerary below, but the Milford, Routeburn, Kepler, etc), the huts for those should be reserved months in advance.
What to Wear and Pack
Check out my Packing List for more recommendations on specific gear.
What to Wear
Comfortable hiking clothes that you can easily layer and take on and off.
A waterproof outer layer.
Waterproof hiking sandals
A hat for hiking. You can sunburn easily in New Zealand.
What to Pack
A lightweight daypack and a water bladder for all of the hikes.
Drybag- A small one for your wallet and phone in case you are caught hiking in the rain.
Motion sickness remedies-These are important if you are susceptible to car or boat motion sickness, Many of the drives are on windy roads and the boats could end up in high wave conditions too.
A packable beach towel you can bring with you on hikes
What to Eat
Lamb- New Zealand is known for its lamb, as you’ll be able to tell from all the sheep you see on your drives.
Ice Cream- New Zealand dairy products come from grass-fed cows that can graze year-round. This makes for creamy, fresh ice cream.
Roadside fruit- If you travel during New Zealand’s Summer, stop at any berry, peach, or cherry stand you see on road trips. Their produce straight from the farm will make it hard to go back to grocery-store fruit at home.
Cheese- They make a variety of local cheeses. Gouda, Cheddar, Brie, Goat, and Blue Cheese were regulars that we saw in restaurants. They make a milder blue cheese that was unlike any blue cheese I had eaten before, so make sure to try it. Their cheese boards at restaurants are filled with creamy local cheese, raw honeycomb, nuts, meats, and more. We ordered them frequently.
Honey- New Zealand is known for its honey, especially Manuka honey, and its healing properties. Make sure to try many honey varieties throughout the trip.
Craft Peanutbutters- If you stop in a grocery store for hiking snacks, try some local artisan peanut butters. Pic’s Peanut Butter was our favorite brand, but there are many flavors (smoke and fire, chocolate) and other New Zealand brands to try.
Snack Balls- This is another one to look out for in grocery stores to grab for hiking snacks. They have many varieties of date-based snack balls (mango, salted caramel, chocolate peanut butter) that work well for healthy hiking snacks.
Passionfruit YoYos- We found these cookies in some grocery stores and roadside cafe stops. They are two butter biscuits with passion fruit frosting sandwiched in between.
Afghan cookies-Another grocery store find that became a favorite road trip snack of ours. They are a chocolate and cornflake-based cookie and a New Zealand favorite.
Where to Eat
Auckland Fish Market- A lively food hall that includes a fresh seafood market. You can stop here for a casual lunch or dinner or buy fish or other seafood from the market to cook on your own. It’s close to the Viaduct area so an easy stop after a ferry ride or for dinner in the area.
Rude Boy Deli and Bakery- A casual breakfast option with picture-perfect, and equally as tasty baked goods.
Odettes Eatery- A modern Mediterranean restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating.
Baduzzi- A popular Italian restaurant with homemade pasta dishes and other lighter Italian fare. It has friendly service and a European cafe vibe. It’s also close to the Viaduct area so an easy option for a night when you want to walk around there. Reservations are recommended.
Gemmayze Street- A restaurant with upscale Lebanese food with a charitable focus as well. It’s located inside the historic St. Kevin’s Arcade on K Street.
Food Truck Garage- A popular local weeknight spot with fresh ‘food truck’ dishes. A casual option for lunch or dinner.
The Federal Delicatessen- A New York City Jewish Delicatessen restaurant with soups and sandwiches.
Murray Piha- A casual beachside restaurant with beanbag seating. They offer fresh seafood, vegan options, and ice cream and donuts.
We unfortunately never shopped while in Auckland proper. There are a few well-known shopping areas though, Newmarket, The Queens Arcade Mall, Britomart, and the suburb Ponsby. We had been told by a local that Queenstown has a better selection of wool goods and art for souvenirs and gifts so we focused on shopping time there.
We shopped on Waiheke Island though, for honey, olives, and olive oil to bring back home.
Auckland is a walkable city if you don’t mind a few hills. If you want to skip the day trip to Piha you can avoid a rental car for this portion of the trip. Rangitoto and Waiheke are accessible via ferries departing from Auckland. The Coromandel Peninsula can also be accessed via ferry from Auckland, but only on select days of the week.
If you want to take a road trip to the beach areas then you will need a rental car. Reserve a four-wheel drive SUV so you can handle any gravel roads, stream crossings, or wet conditions. The roads in New Zealand are well-maintained and well-marked. You will still need maps to drive around though. I would not recommend renting a GPS with the car. We rented one and it would not recognize trailhead names as points to drive to. We often had to use data or Google to find them. You should instead set up a data plan on a phone or download offline maps ahead of each drive.
In New Zealand, they drive on the left side of the road and many of their roads carve along the edge of mountains, so it's not easy driving. Whatever time your GPS or Google says for the drive, add a buffer to it for your planning. There's frequent construction and even animal crossings that will slow you down without warning.
When to Go
December, January, and February are New Zealand’s Summer and its high season. Temperatures are in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit) during the day. Summer also means crowded trails, overfull parking lots, and more expensive lodging. The local New Zealand Summer holiday runs late December to late January so you will fight local tourism during those months as well. In Spring and Fall the weather will be much more unpredictable with chances of freezing temperatures and many trails could still be snow-covered.
Be ready to adjust your itinerary based on the weather. One advantage of road-tripping is that the weather may vary in each location you are going. We were able to move around what day trip we took each day to avoid any rainy days hitting us during our hikes.
Credit cards are widely accepted in New Zealand, the only times we used cash were at farmer’s markets and when we stopped to buy roadside fruit.
Clean, modern, (and sometimes even music-playing) public restrooms are easy to find in New Zealand.
Tipping at restaurants is not customary in New Zealand
Trip Dates: February 28th-March 2nd, 2020