New Zealand's biggest city is a diverse multi-cultural blend of art galleries and museums steeped in Maori and Pacific Island culture. So whether you’re starting or ending your journey on the Northern Explorer train in Auckland, you’ll want to spend a few days in this vibrant city to enjoy the irresistible feast of activities.

We've got information on:

•  Auckland must-do activities •  Where to stay in Auckland •  Eating out in Auckland •  Getting around Auckland •  A little bit of history

Glimpse into New Zealand’s history

Auckland War Memorial Museum is an outstanding historical building which sits majestically on top of the volcanic cone of Auckland’s Domain, Parnell.   It’s a great introduction to the story of New Zealand; its land, people and culture.  Highlights include an interactive volcano exhibition showing the geological history of New Zealand with a simulated ‘real-life’ experience of what would happen if an eruption were to go off in the Hauraki Gulf.  The museum is also home to the largest collection of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts including an entire carved meeting house (Hotunui) built in 1878 and a Maori war canoe.   They regularly have special exhibitions, and you can check their website to find out what’s on when you’re in Auckland.

Stand on dormant volcanic cones

Auckland is home to 48 volcanic cones, all dormant thankfully so you won’t be dodging hot lava flows, and offer amazing views of the cityscape.  Many are nestled in luscious green parks meaning pleasant surroundings for a stroll to the summit too. Mount Eden is Auckland’s highest natural point, and after taking in great views of Auckland harbour, you can grab brunch, lunch or dinner in one of the many eateries in the quaint village at the base of the mount.

Alternatively, take a ferry to Devonport and hike up Mount Victoria for a view back towards the city. For the more adventurous, carry on to Rangitoto Island, the youngest of the volcanic cones, for a one hour walk to the summit to soak in the views of Auckland CBD.

Shop ‘til you drop

You’ll be able tick off the souvenir shopping in Auckland with a bounty of Kiwiana shops.  Hit Queen Street to find All Black gear in Champions of the World, greenstone, Maori art and clothes from local designers such as Trelise Cooper and Karen Walker in the nearby Britomart.  For the fashion-forward, head to Ponsonby and Newmarket for threads from more of the best New Zealand designers including Juliette HoganAnna StrattonZambesi and World.   

Black sand between your toes

If you have time to venture further afield from central Auckland, visit the black iron sand beaches of Piha.  Made famous by the movie The Piano and TV show, Piha Rescue, this stunningly beautiful surf beach is more than worth the 40 minute drive to get here.  

CBD and Auckland Waterfront

The CBD which covers Britomart, Queen Street and K Road, is home to a stable of hotel chains such as The Hilton, serviced apartments and backpackers.  The waterfront, close to Auckland’s Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter is mainly serviced apartments and hotels with some apartment options also available on Air BnB.   Visit Auckland is a great option for finding accommodation in this central Auckland location as a starting point.


Parnell is the closest suburb to the Northern Explorer Strand station and one of the oldest, most upmarket parts of Auckland.  The area is home to elegant, historical buildings including Auckland Museum while the high street is dotted with art galleries, expensive boutiques and fancy restaurants.  Despite the affluent appearance, there is still a decent range of accommodation options to suit most budgets.


Conveniently located 10 minutes from the city centre, Ponsonby is chic, lively and overflowing with boutique hotels, villas and unique B&Bs.   The area is also well-known for its restaurant options; from exquisite fine dining and award-winning coffee shops to pop up street stalls so you won’t go hungry if you choose to stay in this next of the woods.

Mount Eden

Sitting at the base of Mount Eden (Maungawhau), the village has a charming vibe with artisan food stores, heritage buildings and neat little cafes.   It’s also close to the magnificent Eden Park which hosts sporting events including All Black games.  If you’re looking for the more authentic Kiwi accommodation of B&Bs or self-contained villas, this would be the place.


A short 10 minute ferry ride from the CBD, Devonport will serve you with views of Auckland CBD as well as a relaxed atmosphere in its quietly pleasant high street and nearby Cheltenham beach.  

Takapuna (North Shore)

Longing for the feel of sand between your toes and breathing in the salty sea air?  Just a 20 minute bus ride from the CBD, you can cross the harbour bridge to the North Shore’s unofficial capital ‘Takapuna’.  Takapuna has a beautiful white-sand beach will give you views of Rangitoto and has a host of restaurant, cafes and bars to choose from.  This is a great spot for families as there is a playground on the beachfront and the majority of eateries are kid-friendly.    It also has a great range of accommodation from hotels, motels to hostels. 

Fine Dining

If you want to experience New Zealand’s Master Chefs, you don’t need to venture far from Auckland’s CBD.  Irresistible dining options are clustered around Britomart, High Street, Federal Square and Auckland’s waterfront and the perfect place to start your culinary adventure.  The notable magazine Metro annually announces the Top 50 restaurants in Auckland and the perfect place to research what might tickle your fine-dining taste buds.  

Café Culture

You won’t be able to turn a corner without stumbling across a café, Aucklanders can’t start the day without a trim flat white or soy latte.  Add in some smashed avocado on toast with a side of bacon and you’ll be ready to start the day (or afternoon should you be there for brunch).   Whichever part of the city you’re in, we suggest you check The Urban List of Auckland’s Top café so whatever brew you choose, you make sure it’s a good one.

Quick Bite and Cheap Eats

The multi-cultural blend of Auckland brings a welcomed selection of food to grab on the run. Burgers, bagels, noodles, dumplings, hangi, sushi, curry – are you hungry yet?  We have to recommend some Kiwi icons which aren’t to be missed including Burger FuelBest Ugly BagelsLittle Bird Unbakery and the best fish and chip shops in Auckland!

Dessert Only

There are not many places that offer ‘desserts only’ but in Auckland, there are a fair few to keep the sweet-tooth fans happy!  If you like a generous scope of ice cream smothered in fanciful garnishes, Giapo’s is a must while for pure chocolate scrumptiousness, munch through the dessert degustation menu at Milse.  Here’s some more sweet treat suggestions for your delight in Auckland!  

Public Transport

It is easy to travel by bus or train throughout the city and beyond. Britomart is the central transport hub for bus and train journeys, just a short walk from The Strand – your stop on the Northern Explorer train.

Maps and timetables can be found at Auckland Transports Journey Planner. To pay for most public transport in Auckland you’ll either need cash or an AT HOP card.  If you're staying for a little longer in Auckland,  it might be worth investing in a Hop card (they're only $5) as you get some savings on your trips.

Driving – hire a car or motorhome

Driving is a popular choice if you are wanting to explore more of Auckland. The Northern Explorer stops a short walk to “rental car road” with many rental companies to choose from including Go RentalsEzi Car Rental and Jucy.

Make sure you carry your driving licence with you at all times which driving in New Zealand, failure to do so can cause a hefty fine. Check who can drive and what is required from NZ Transport Agency.


If rush hour traffic isn’t your thing, explore the city by bike. Easy routes go along the waterfront or  if you are feeling energetic tackle a trail through the suburbs. Head to the i-SITE for more information on bike hire or take a look at these cycling routes for some 2 wheeled inspiration.

Getting there and away

Auckland is very well connected, with major highways, airways, and railways heading both north and south. However, New Zealand is bigger than it looks - partly because the roads are single carriageways that wind through incredible scenery. So be sure to consider the journey times when planning your holiday - a 300km car journey can take several hours.

Connecting with Auckland by train

Rather than tackle the long drive through the North Island, set off on your North Island adventure from the comfort of the Northern Explorer train, previously known as The Overlander. You can do the 680km trip in one go, taking in the extremes of the North Island scenery in a day. Or make the most of the popular destination the Northern Explorer stops at; Otorohanga for the magical Waitomo Caves, Tongariro National Park, the mountain town of Ohakune and finally the cool little capital of Wellington where the journey ends.

The Northern Explorer departs from Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

Auckland train stations

We have two Northern Explorer stations in the Auckland region. At the centre of the city, Auckland Strand Station is the exclusive home of the Northern Explorer train. To the south of Auckland, Papakura Station offers excellent train connections around the greater Auckland region.

Auckland Strand Station

Set in the heart of the city, Auckland Strand Station is dedicated to our Northern Explorer train

Auckland Papakura Station

Located to the south of Auckland, Papakura Station is on the local Metro network that provides rail connections across the Auckland region.

Auckland travel and tours options

Auckland by air

Auckland Airport's international and domestic terminals are 45 minutes from your stop on The Northern Explorer. Shuttles, transfers and bus services are available to get you there and back 24/7.

Since the beginning of the 20th century Auckland has been New Zealand’s fastest growing city, also referred to as “the big smoke”.  Some of the most famous landmarks, such as the Sky Tower were constructed and the Harbour Bridge opened to connect Auckland and the North Shore. In fact, Auckland has not always been one city, until 2010 Auckland comprised of several separate cities; this included large areas such as North Shore City and Manukau City.

As a young booming global city, Auckland is more diverse than Sydney, Los Angeles, London and New York. Just take a look around on your travels and you will see the multicultural nature of the city. Auckland has the balance just right in embracing its heritage and opening its arms to new foods, music, traditions beliefs and interests. There’s always something happening in Auckland – come and visit!