Most Aucklanders live well outside the city centre, only venturing in for business or a night out. There’s plenty to do during the day though, especially when you’re out exploring the sparkling Waitemata harbour. Take a break when you’re in town, and try some of the best things to do in Auckland’s biggest harbour.
For the fastest 35 minutes on the Waitemata harbour, you have to jump in the Auckland Jet Boat Tour’s 600-horsepower “Ruby Red Lips”. This bright-red beauty will take you through a series of drifts, slides and spins — and the iconic high-speed 360-degree spins, dead stops and ‘turn on a dime’ cornering that Hamilton jet boats are famous for. If the timing is right, you’ll also see our next activity… but from below.
It’s only a 40-metre jump, but the Auckland harbour bridge is the only place in the world where you can touch the sea during your dive. You also might have to dodge a couple of super yachts as they cruise below, but that’s all part of the fun!
And if you wanted to know what I looked like with dreadlocks, check this out:
While you’re at the bridge, take the time to walk over the bridge, learn about Auckland’s early history and the Nippon Clip-ons, and see amazing panoramic views of the natural harbour and the southern hemisphere’s largest marina.
The first aquarium in the world to have bent acrylic ‘glass’ to move under, Kelly Tarlton’s has added an Antarctica section with penguins and information about the world’s first Antarctic explorers, and several more areas as well. There’s regular interactive feeding displays and special, seasonal events. Kids will love it, adults enjoy it.
The eastern bays of Okahu Bay, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers all offer something different, but they’re all great beaches with plenty of space, located just 10-20 minutes by bus from the central city. If you’re more energetic, it’ll take you about two hours to walk from the city to St Heliers, passing the other beaches on your way. There’s good swimming at high tide, lots of places to fish off the wharves, and gear to hire if you want to skate, ride a bike or paddle a kayak. There’s good bars, cafes and restaurants at Mission Bay and St Heliers.
Unless it’s winter, you can head out with Auckland Sea Kayaking. I loved the trip to Browns Island; a comfortable distance to paddle, a well-preserved volcanic island with an interesting Maori and European history, a swim, and a fantastic freshly-cooked lunch after a hike to the summit for great views of the eastern bays.
Whale and dolphin watching
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is home to many marine mammals; a day on the ExploreNZ Dolphin Explorer gives you a chance to find some. The big comfy boat is equipped with multiple viewpoints, and a fairly-priced little bar to help you celebrate spending time with rare dolphins or whales.
Their 99% success rate didn’t fire on my trip; I am the 1%. But I console myself with the knowledge I can go back out any day that I like… A guarantee that’s available for all customers.
Wine tasting on Waiheke
Waiheke Island is one of the most prestigious islands in the Gulf, with a large selection of accommodation and things to do. There’s lots of local art and craft to explore, but perhaps wine-making is the highest craft of all.
Most Waiheke wine finds itself on the tables of top overseas restaurants, so expect boutique experiences and boutique pricing. In fact, Waiheke was one of the first places to mainstream pay-for-a-tasting pricing in New Zealand; it’s easy to drop over NZ$100 on a day of swirling, sniffing and sipping, although you can get away with less.
Nearby Rangitoto Island could be on a different planet for all you know. Instead of Waiheke’s rich sedimentary soil, this almost-symmetrical, shield-shaped cone is pure scoria. Literally exploding onto the scene around 600 years ago, it’s the youngest island in the country, and that gives its slopes a dramatic quality. All that dark volcanic rock reflects the sun like nothing else, so if you’re visiting in mid-summer, aim for a morning trip and take plenty of water and snacks, as there’s no shops — or anything else — there.
Now, we all know Auckland has not one, but two harbours — the city-facing, east-coast Waitemata which we talked about today, and the Manakau. But the west is for another day.
This was originally published as Things to do in Auckland Harbour, on Indie Travel Podcast