First 24 hours: Auckland, New Zealand
Many travellers skip the big city in a rush to reach the country’s wilder attractions. But Auckland has plenty of wild right on its doorstep, discovers
While most swerve the North Island hub for sights beyond, Auckland’s volcanic isles, doorstep rainforest and wartime tunnels are a match for even New Zealand’s big hitters
Before you arrive
One in three New Zealanders call Auckland home. Yet ask locals outside this great northern hub and they’ll say they were glad to escape: too busy, too expensive, too built-up. True enough, it is a city of rampant growth; much of its waterfront is reclaimed land, snatched out of the sea from the mid-20th century onwards. Today, most visitors stroll its steel-and-glass downtown, the shops of Queen Street and the pretty wharf, then make for the beach or bus station. And there it usually ends…
But – and there’s a big ‘but’ – spying the urban sprawl from atop grassy Mount Eden (one of nearly 50 volcanic cones that blister the city), you will see another side to the metropolitan area. There’s so much variety here, from the Victorian seaside of Devonport, flush with war tunnels and history, to the volcanic isles of the Hauraki Gulf. Rangitoto, the closest island, is just 600 years old. Apart from the odd bach (summer house – visitors are only recently allowed to stay overnight) and an old military lookout, it’s never been inhabited, while hikes to its summit and coal-black lava caves are great fun. By contrast, Waiheke Island ( just 40 minutes by ferry) has nearly 9,000 residents, yet was little more than a hippy hangout a few decades ago. Today, it supports dozens of star vineyards (Mudbrick, Stonyridge), making it a busy weekend escape. But go during working hours and you’ll find empty trails around its coast and Onetangi Reserve.
To the west, the city limits suck in the sprawling natural rainforest of Waitakere, which bleeds all the way to the coast. But while Waitakere is not closed per se, most walks are, in a bid to fight the loss of its kauri trees – sacred to the Maori – to disease. To help, it’s best to avoid all trails, though the coast is less affected and the beaches there are truly wild.
In fact that’s the thing with Auckland – look past the obvious and there are flickers of New Zealand’s raw grandeur. You just need to stick around to see it.
At the airport
Auckland Airport lies 20km south of the city centre. There are no direct flights to Auckland from the UK; airlines fly via Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore and others. China Southern (csair.com) offers the cheapest flights, via Guangzhou, from £655pp return. Flight times from around 25 hours.
Those carrying used hiking equipment (tents, boots, etc) will need to have them disinfected at the airport, to avoid the spreading of diseases.
Getting into town
Skybus (skybus.co.nz) services run regularly from the airport via both Mount Eden and Dominion roads to downtown (NZ$16/£9 one way). Tickets are available at airport kiosks or on board (cash only). For onward travel to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf (Waiheke, Rangitoto, etc), ferries leave the City, Devonport and other harbours; tickets can be bought at the counter or online (fullers.co.nz).
Gulf in class The harbourside of Auckland is a ticket to the volcanic highs and wild trails of the Hauraki Islands