AUCKLAND: GATEWAY TO NEW ZEALAND
Published on 01/09/2017.
A rare island of city life surrounded by vivid natural beauty, Auckland is the perfect starting point for an adventure in the wilds of New Zealand. Whether it's hiking volcanoes, biking through 1,000-year-old forest or kayaking through national parks, New Zealand is the definitive natural playground. Bungee-jumping might be the typical image, but there's so much more to enjoy on a trip to Auckland than the dubious pleasures of throwing yourself off a bridge (though if that appeals, you're definitely in the right place).
If you're thinking about booking a flight to Auckland, here are our top, can't-miss sights and activities.
Auckland: island within the island
Auckland is by far the country's largest city – with almost 1.5 million people it is home to nearly a third of New Zealand's population. That's testament to how much there is going on in Auckland, but also how remote and untouched most of the country is (4.7 million people in a country larger than the UK).
So think of Auckland and New Zealand as the exact opposite of most European countries: where the UK has the odd patch of wilderness hidden away from a densely populated sprawl, Auckland is the exceptional outpost of city life in a land otherwise defined by spotless natural beauty and rugged backcountry.
There are some great cultural sights, with the Auckland Museum a must-visit – it focuses on Maori and Pacific culture, with exhibits on subjects such as the history of tattoos, and the building is also a war memorial.Auckland is a great place to get stuck into New Zealand's excellent food-and-drink culture, and has the country's most varied nightlife. Head to the Viaduct Harbour for some of the city's best restaurants, then visit the Arts Precinct in the city centre for live music.
If you're intent on doing a bungee jump while you're here then the SkyTower is, admittedly, one of the best places to do it.
You can easily base yourself in Auckland for the duration of your trip and explore the surrounding sights, or use it for a North Island round trip, heading further afield. There are some outstanding sights within striking distance of the city, including wineries, rainforest and some gorgeous beaches. Here are some of the standouts less than three hours' drive from Auckland.
- Mount Maunganui
A couple of hours south of Auckland, Mount Maunganui is one of New Zealand's best beaches, with a long stretch of white sand that makes it great to swimming, lounging or surfing. A walk up 'the Mount' – the extinct volcano that gives the beach its name – gives you a superb view of the sweeping beach.
- Waiheke Island
Water and wine are what this place is all about. Waiheke Island is in the Hauraki Gulf, just a 40-minute ferry ride from central Auckland. It's known as a bohemian enclave, with a laidback atmosphere and an emphasis on living well. There are more than 20 vineyards on the island and it's a great place to visit for tastings. But Waiheke is also heavy on beach culture, with little coves all over the island, including several near the main town of Oneroa.
- The Coromandel
If New Zealand is all lush greens and deep blues, then the Coromandel is New Zealand in a nutshell. On a peninsula across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland, the spotless beaches and rugged peaks bely the fact that you're under two hours from the capital. If you're looking for a varied adventure paradise you can't do much better - whether that's abseiling down Sleeping God Canyon or snorkeling among the fish in Cathedral Cove.
The Best of the North
If you have time to tour the North Island before a flight back from Auckland here are the must-sees a little further from the city.
- Bay of Islands
Picturing pristine beaches and water sports galore? You need to visit the Bay of Islands. Just three hours' drive north of Auckland, the name tells you what you need to know: the sparkling gorgeous bay is dotted with over 100 untouched islands, ready for exploring. One of the country's best summer destinations, this area is as ideal for gentle dolphin-spotting cruises as it is for sailing, paddling adventures and diving. Base yourself in Paihia.
- Ninety Mile Beach
Now before you get too excited, know that it's only a trifling 55 miles long. So-called as it's roughly 90km long, this unbelievable beach is an unbroken stretch at the far north of the country, looking west on the Tasman Sea and backed by windswept sand dunes. Ninety Mile Beach is officially a highway and you can take a coach tour out on the sand, but it's also one of the country's best surf breaks (at 55 miles it's really several breaks).
- Tongariro National Park
New Zealand's oldest national park is one of a handful of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that has both cultural and natural status, putting it up there with Machu Picchu and Uluru. It's also home to one of New Zealand's best classic outdoor adventures – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If you have any kind of hiking ambitions it's a 100% must-do. The Alpine Crossing is one of the world's best single-day hikes, with spectacular volcanic landscapes over a challenging 12-mile route. Expect to pass hot springs and vents billowing steam as you climb from Mangatepopo, ascending for incredible views, passing craters, mineral pools and forest before descending to Ketetahi hot springs.
- Whanganui National Park
There's a range of walking tracks through this wild and mysterious park, which is dominated by lush forest that provides a habitat for masses of wildlife, including kiwis. You can choose from easy hour-long walks through the dense trees to sights like the Bridge to Nowhere, or multi-day 'tramping' expeditions, camping in the forest. One of the best things to do here is a kayaking or canoeing trip on the Whanganui River – it's manageable even if you're not an experienced canoeist.
Base yourself in the town of Taumaranui for easy access to both national parks and Pureora Forest Park, where you can explore a tract of ancient rainforest by mountain bike on the Timber Trail cycle route.
Great NZ Road Trips
Planning a longer stay? Hire a car and Auckland makes a great starting point for road trips all over the country, whether that's a two-week epic trip to the South Island to conquer Fox Glacier or cruising around the North Island's varied scenery. Highway 2 starts just south of Auckland and takes in the Bay of Plenty coastline and the wine country of Hawke's Bay. There are dozens of wineries around the area and the Food and Wine Classic takes place in November.
Flying with THAI
Flying with THAI gives you one of the shortest routes available between the UK and New Zealand; the flight path from Heathrow to Auckland via Bangkok is almost a dead straight line. Our evening departure from Heathrow at 21:25 also means a short layover under four hours, and you can get some sleep flying through the night. Building on our recent win for World's Best Economy Class at the Skytrax Awards 2017 we're constantly making improvements, so we've introduced the new, modern Airbus A350 onto the route.
We're also running more frequent connecting flights from Bangkok to Auckland this November, so you'll be able to get to New Zealand seven days a week rather than five. What's more, we've deployed the state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner on this route. Head to our timetable page for more details on flight times and route options.
Ready for adventure? Book your flight to New Zealand with THAI. Check our special offers to see if your dates are covered by our current deals.