The gems on our doorstep

Last Updated : 04 Nov 2020
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After surviving a tough year, the desire to get out and explore the country is even more pressing. But traveling long distances is not always possible, so we’ve come up with a list of fun things to do right on our doorstep.

By exploring the abundance of hidden gems across Tāmaki Makaurau, many of which Auckland Council provides or manages, you’re also creating opportunities to support Auckland’s recovery. 

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says, “Auckland is one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world, and our many world-class attractions reflect that.

 “Auckland’s Museum, Art Gallery, Zoo and MOTAT (The Museum of Transport and Technology) are renowned and much loved by locals and visitors alike. Our city centre and waterfront precincts are home to world-class dining and shopping options, as well as being vibrant places to meet friends and spend time. And our natural environment is equally impressive, with beaches, harbours, vineyards, Gulf islands and iconic maunga drawing visitors from New Zealand and around the world.

 “But even once you’ve enjoyed these famous attractions, there is still so much to see. Our villages and town centres, diverse outdoor markets, parks, playgrounds, campsites, recreation centres and more all make for an enjoyable day out—they’re well worth a visit and with international borders remaining closed, why not check out some of Auckland’s lesser-known gems.”

Where will you explore next?

Up North

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The newly refurbished Windsor Reserve Playground.

If you’ve never headed north, now’s the time! Jump on the ferry in Auckland’s city centre for a short trip across the Waitematā to Devonport where you can take a dip at some beautiful beaches, get some retail therapy at the village’s boutique shops or try some tasty treats at one of the many local cafes. With its Victorian buildings, art galleries, two maunga to climb, and the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, there’s a lot to see and explore.  It’s also a great area for the whole family with some great parks and playgrounds to enjoy, including the much-loved and newly refurbished playground at Windsor Park for preschoolers up to 12-year-olds located next to the ferry building.

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Enjoying the skate park, Marlborough Park.

Alternatively, Glenfield’s Marlborough Park is another popular spot on the North Shore. A new, bigger skatepark with its flow park design is perfect for teenagers, and the park’s central location make it easy to get to via public transport.  While there the kids can play a game of basketball, have a go on the flying fox or enjoy the junior playground. With plenty of grass and shaded areas for picnics, it’s perfect for a day of family fun. Alternatively, just a kilometre away is the Glenfield Pool and Leisure Centre, ActivZone and library which are all great for those cooler or rainy days. So, whether you are after a dip in a pool, trying your hand at roller-skating, or going for a quiet relax with a good book, there is something for everyone. 

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Te Ara Tahuna pathway as it weaves around the Ōrewa estuary.

The Te Ara Tahuna pathway in Ōrewa is a great family-friendly way to walk or ride along the water's edge through parks and bush trails. Enjoy estuary views and a path that features carved pou (pole) which pay tributes to the estuary's past as a significant food gathering place for Māori. By starting at Ōrewa’s Western Reserve, you can visit the Estuary Arts Centre and café on the way.

Mid-way along the path, the suburb of Millwater offers pleasant views, public toilets and plenty of cafes and lunch options for a bite to eat. This is a great day out, especially if combined with time at the nearby Ōrewa beach, shops, and restaurants. 

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Taking in the beach at Wenderholm.

A little further north, Wenderholm Regional Park has plenty to keep the outdoors types entertained. Auckland's first regional park is cradled by both the Waiwera and Pūhoi Rivers and the headland is rich with native wildlife. Pōhutukawa line the large green area behind the sand dune for picnics and playing sport, while the beach is family friendly. For the more adventurous, kayaking down the river from Pūhoi village is an amazing, fun experience taking in the mangroves that line the river. Book a campsite, one of the baches or glamp it up in the eco-structure and make a weekend of it. 

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Whangateau Holiday Park on the shores of Whangateau harbour.

The Matakana Coast area has hundreds of things to make your break away a real holiday. Stay at one of the baches in Scandrett Regional Park, or in one of the council’s holiday parks at Orewa Beach, Martins Bay or Whangateau. Explore the Matakana markets, shops, cinema, eateries, or take a ferry across to Kawau Island for a day. Snorkel gear comes in handy too as three places close together - Whangateau, the renowned Goat Island Marine Reserve and nearby Matheson Bay, are great snorkeling locations with some of the best mangrove snorkeling in the country in the Whangateau Harbour.

Down South

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Exploring the native flora in Tōtara Park.

There are some great markets all cross the region but a trip to the iconic Ōtara Flea Market on a Saturday morning is a must do for some great bargains, fruit, vegetables, food and music. 

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Feeding time at Ambury Farm.

With daylight saving, now is the perfect time to plan a family day out at Ambury Regional Park.

This gem of south Auckland lies along the coast of the beautiful Manukau Harbour in Māngere Bridge. Here you can wander around the farm checking out cows, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, chickens, turkeys, rabbits. After exploring the farm, the Foreshore Path is worth checking out, with great examples of basalt flows and shorebird habitats.

Overlooking the park is one of the region’s maunga - Te Pane o Mataoho / Te Ara Pueru / Māngere Mountain.  Learn more about the history of the maunga at the Mangere Mountain Education Centre, including King Tawhiao’s cottage on Coronation Road, or test your fitness with a walk to the tihi (summit).  You can then relax at one of the cafes or go shopping in the Māngere Bridge village.

There’s plenty to do if you head further south. Manurewa’s magnificent 216-hectare Tōtara Park is a mountain-biker’s paradise, a network of tracks offering courses for novices through to experienced riders. It also boasts a network of open space, bush walking, a playground, and the famed Tōtara Park Pools.

Follow the Tōtara Puhinui Creek Path along the fringe of a tōtara forest, or the scenic Tōtara Bridle Path for a country experience. Just down the road, the Auckland Botanic Gardens is a must see for garden and art lovers with some stunning sculptures pride of place among the magnificent gardens.

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Strolling through Kirk's Bush in Papakura.

Take the southern line train to end of the line – and visit Papakura where you will find cafes and restaurants for every taste. A short walk along Great South Road is Kirks Bush, a 5.5-hectares of native bush, including kauri and pūriri trees, accessed via a network of gentle walkways that are perfect for casual strolls.  The tracks have recently been upgraded and cleaning stations installed to protect against the spread of kauri dieback disease. Please ensure you use them and play your part in protecting the taonga (treasure) that is the kauri.

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Heritage trains at Glenbrook Vintage Railway.

Follow the signs and drive to Glenbrook and you’ll discover something that even after 50 years of operation, remains a bit of a secret. The Glenbrook Village Railway was established in 1970 to preserve, rebuild and operate the old Waiuku branch railway.   Head further south and you will find the bustling town centre of Pukekohe.

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Manukau Heads Lighthouse.

To make a real day of it, or even a weekend, discover the Āwhitu Peninsula. Āwhitu Regional Park is full of great walks, cycling tracks, and beautiful beaches to swim at. Book in at the campground or in the bach. While you are on the peninsula, check out the west coast beaches before heading to the Manukau Heads Lighthouse.

Head East

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Take a stroll down memory lane at the Howick Historical Village.

When in East Auckland, you can’t miss a trip to Howick Historical Village at Lloyd Elsmore Park, an open-air living history museum offering opportunities to learn how life was during mid-1800s and how early settlers in Auckland lived and worked during the colonial period. Not far away is the popular Lloyd Elsmore Pool and Leisure Centre to cool off, or if the ocean is more your thing, Eastern Beach is a short drive away for a quick dip. A stunning white sand beach with crystal clear water and a few eateries on the strip.   

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Fo Guang Shan Temple in bloom.

Spring is the best time to visit the serene Fo Guang Shan Temple in Flat Bush. The Cherry Blossom Festival attracts hundreds of visitors every year when their gardens are in full bloom. The kids will be thankful if you stop off at the nearby located Barry Curtis Park. Spread over 94 hectares, this park boasts of incredible playgrounds, sports fields, a basketball court, skate ramp, picnic tables, drinking fountains and tracks.

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Snakes and Ladders overlooking the Pakuranga Rotary Path.

The Panmure Basin Path is a 35 minute circuit around Panmure Lagoon which includes 12 exercise stations and takes you past a playground, sailing club and public swimming pool. The basin is walking distance to Panmure transport interchange so leave the car at home and take advantage of public transport. Across the Panmure Bridge is the start of the Pakuranga Rotary Path, a 10 kilometre path for both walkers and cyclists. Follow the path to Farm Cove and discover a snakes and ladders play area near the yacht club.

Take in the views of Tāmaki River and Maungarei/Mt Wellington from the 7.2km Tāmaki Path, which you can enter from Dunkirk Reserve in the south or Wai-O-Taiki Nature Reserve. Great for cycling and walking, the pathway features a playground, barbecues and picnic spots along the way.

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Enjoying a summer dip at Maraetai Wharf.

How about heading a bit further east? Beachlands was once a getaway spot but now it’s a fast-growing urban area with its own ferry link to the city from Pine Harbour, yet still boasts a seaside feel. It’s the start of the Beachlands-Maraetai walkway that meanders through Ōmana Regional Park, and just minutes further on is the magnificent and safe swimming of Maraetai Beach with its view out to Waiheke and Coromandel.  Maraetai is a popular swimming and picnic spot for families and boaties from across Auckland.   

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Wares at the Clevedon markets.

Clevedon is about as country as it gets. Just a half-an-hour or so drive from the central city, it’s the perfect destination for an afternoon drive or a weekend retreat. It’s Sunday Clevedon Village Farmers Market are famed for all things produce, and the Clevedon Market for all things arts and crafts - and a lot more besides. There’s also an arts trail, great food and wine options, interesting and quirky galleries, walkways and the nearby Hunua Falls in the Hunua Regional Park. Heading out to the coast from Clevedon are an additional seven regional parks to choose from – Duder Regional Park; Waitawa; Tawhitokino; Ōrere Point; Tāpapakanga; Waharau and Whakatīwai. Stay for the weekend or just enjoy for the day. Also out from Clevedon is the Te Ara Moana Kayak Trail, a self-guided trail that weaves its way along the south-eastern coastline, traveling one of the sea routes used by Māori to transport goods and food between settlements and villages.

For the ultimate one-day Head East experience, why not explore the Clevedon Markets in the morning, before heading 15 minutes around the coast to Maraetai for an afternoon at the beach, then ending the day with the classic Kiwi dinner of fish and chips before heading home.

Wonderful West

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Strolling along Te Henga at sunset.

Take a trip out west and you’ll find some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Auckland, with some of the very best beaches in the region found on the rugged west coast. From Lion Rock at Piha to the glorious Te Henga, the black sand beaches in west Auckland take some beating and are a haven for surfers not afraid of the big waves. Take a picnic or buy something local, and your togs and enjoy a day out at one of the most dramatic coastlines in the country.

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"Junction" sculpture at Olympic Park symbolising the confluence of the Waituarangi and Whau streams in the park.

To enjoy a walk with plenty to do, try Olympic Park. A three-time winner of the prestigious Green Flag award, Olympic Park in New Lynn has it all, from epic walks straddling the Whau river to stunning scenery and artworks, a basketball court and playground for the kids. If walking strikes up a bit of an appetite for you, about five mins walk away is the Brickworks precinct at Lynnmall, with great places to eat and drink to finish the day.

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Cycle track at Royal Reserve.

Meanwhile, if the kids want thrills and entertainment, Royal Reserve is one of the must-visit destination playgrounds in Auckland. The Massey playground boasts custom-built towers, an accessible junior play area, learn-to-ride bike tracks for juniors and seniors and the only two-metre-wide hill slide in Auckland. Just around the corner, Westgate offers plenty of shopping opportunities or somewhere to relax at the award winning Te Manawa Community Facility which houses the local library.

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Enjoying the playground at Hobsonville Point Park.

Head north-west a bit and check out Hobsonville Point, just 20 minutes’ drive or a ferry ride from the city centre.  While there, check out the Te Ara Manawa pathway which weaves its way around the point’s coastline. The walk is mostly flat terrain and you can do the whole loop or parts of it. Finish off with a coffee or a cool beverage in the old hangers by the ferry terminal that have been repurposed for restaurants, cafes and bars and check out the farmers market over the weekends, or take in the night market every third Thursday during summer.

While much of the Waitākere Ranges is closed off to help stop the spread of Kauri Dieback disease, it is still possible to get outdoors at the Arataki Visitor’s Centre on Scenic Drive. The great views overlooking the Lower Nihotupu Dam isn’t the only thing to check out here. The centre itself is stunning and houses exhibitions that provide information on the ecology and the history of the Waitākere Ranges. After the kids have done some of craft activities, the Nature Trail is a great way to explore and learn more about the uniqueness of our flora.

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Shorebirds take flight at Te Rau Pūriri Regional Park.

But if you want to really escape suburbia then head up to Te Rau Pūriri Regional Park. Located on South Head, this regional park has one of the best beaches on the Kaipara Harbour. A mix of rolling farmland and wetlands make this a real retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Completely Central and islands

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North Wharf looking back to the Wynyard Crossing.

Summer in Tāmaki Makaurau means festivals in our streets and parks - including the return of two much-loved events in Waitematā. Head to Festival Italiano, happening in Newmarket, to experience the largest Italian street festival in New Zealand. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful Parnell Rose Gardens before or after a visit to one of the many shops, cafes and bakeries in Parnell village or nearby Newmarket.

If the city centre is your kind of vibe, you can get fit or relax at the historical Tepid Baths before wandering down to North Wharf, The Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter for some seaside fun and food, or a quick play in the playground for the kids. Or explore the Maritime Museum where the stories of people and the sea are preserved, shared and explored. Exploring the Waitematā on one of the museum's heritage vessels is a must do.

If you want a shopping fix then head to Queen Street where you can find the Commercial Bay precinct, and a host of other retailers and restaurants.  There is plenty going on in the heart of our city

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Running along Mission Bay.

There are some wonderfully located playgrounds that you may want to seek out as the weather warms. Both Mission Bay and St Heliers have mixed age playgrounds right next to the beach as well as an array of great places to shop, eat and relax. Little Rangitoto Reserve on Upland Road creates its own views as the playground is designed around a volcanic crater which makes for rolling green spaces. On the way over from Mission bay to Little Rangitoto reserve stop in at Ōrākei basin for a bite to eat, shopping or even end the day there for dinner and movie. If shops and playgrounds aren’t your thing two minutes away is Ōrākei walkway which pushes its way across the basin inlet to Meadowbank.

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The new boardwalk atop of Maungawhau. PHOTO: Tūpuna Maunga Authority

Looking for that heritage vibe? Then exploring Mt Eden village is perfect for you. It’s dotted with local cafes and if you’re looking for more adventure, then climb Mt. Eden / Maungawhau with majestic views of the city and other maunga. You can’t drive up, however there are parking areas at the eastern and southern ends of Puhi Huia Road. The newly built broadwalk, delivered by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority perched on the northern knoll of the maunga provides great views of Tāmaki Makaurau and is also preserving the last remnants of a pā that once stood there. Be sure to check out Te Ipu Kōrero o Maungawhau / Maungawhau Visitor Experience Centre for more about the history of the region’s maunga before grabbing a coffee at Whau Café next door.

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Exploring Waterview's playground.

Te Auaunga/Oakley Creek is one of Auckland’s longest urban streams, winding its way from Hillsborough through Mt Roskill, Ōwairaka and Waterview to the Waitematā Harbour and has the highest urban waterfall in New Zealand. A now scenic waterway, it supports a range of indigenous flora and fauna and holds social, cultural, and biological importance to the communities it flows through. If you get to the end at Waterview check out the massive playground, skatepark, bike tracks, basketball courts and water play area. Waterview once housed a flour mill, a tannery and a quarry and there are heritage insights to discover, including an old Cornish boiler that was used at the tannery. Go a little further and you are in Point Chevalier with good food, bakeries, and cafes galore in the vicinity.

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Otara Market vendors.

Wesley Markets is Auckland largest and original farmer’s market. Open every Tuesday and Friday between 7.30am - 12.30pm from the Wesley Community Centre. If you’re looking for affordable produce, hot food, second-hand clothing and more this is your place.

If not the Wesley Markets, how about supporting local at one of the many markets across the region? From the night markets to well-loved local markets in Avondale and Māngere and many more in between there are plenty of opportunities to support local businesses and engage with the community.

Aotea / Great Barrier Island

Get off-grid and visit the best little sanctuary in the world, Glenfern Sanctuary & Accommodation on Aotea / Great Barrier Island. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, stay in your choice of two beautifully restored historic homesteads and help to protect precious and endangered native species at the same time. Coming by boat? Remember to leave nothing behind and take your rubbish home with you.

Waiheke Island

Check out Waiheke’s Ostend Market, every Saturday between 7.30am–1pm. Fun, vibrant and diverse, the market has run for years and is a melting pot of all things Waiheke. Add in a multitude of local walks, Whakanewha Regional Park, wineries with their superb restaurants and adventure tourism options, there’s something for everyone and everything under the sun! Finish it off with some amazing food or a quick dip at either one of the amazing beaches of Oneroa or Onetangi.

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Waiheke Island's Whakanewha Regional Park.

With many ferry services running from the heart of the city, you can leave the car at home, use public transport and pick numerous places to go all over the Hauraki Gulf or region to create your own amazing day out. Whether it is off to explore one of the many islands – Waiheke, Rangitoto, Rakino, Motuihe, Motutapu, Tiritiri Matangi – or explore other parts of the region – Riverhead, Hobsonville Point, Gulf Harbour, Half Moon Bay, Pine Harbour – Tāmaki Makaurau is yours to explore.

For more inspiration of what you can do in Tāmaki Makaurau, check out visit Auckland or discover things you can only do in Auckland.


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