Pixabay© Pixabay

Auckland City Centre – Guide for Backpackers

© Pixabay

The City of Sails, Volcanoes and Parks!

As New Zealand does everything “huge” huge mountains, huge lakes and huge adrenaline activities the country also has a huge city. Auckland is the fourth largest city in the world by landmass. Its Central Business District (CBD) has the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and the region holds a third of the New Zealand population. It is also dotted with 48 volcanic cones! Why does Auckland attract so many people? It has all the conveniences of a city: shops, vibrant nightlife, dining and services, whilst never being too far away from nature with its parks, the Auckland Domain, and nearby islands.

Auckland is many people’s first landing point in New Zealand, and it’s by no means a bad place to start exploring New Zealand. You’ll see exactly why in our guide…

Things You Can’t Miss in Auckland Central

  • See Auckland from the iconic Sky Tower
  • Shop and drink coffee down Queen Street and High Street
  • Go to the quirky bars in Britomart
  • People watch in Aotea Square and Albert Park
  • Walk in the forest… in Auckland Domain
  • Take a cruise from the Viaduct Harbour
  • Stock up on bargains from K Road
  • See sinking buildings in Ponsonby.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

Auckland CBD: Sky Tower, Queen Street and High Street

Auckland’s city centre is perhaps the most buzzing city centre in New Zealand! It has all the elements you need from a city centre, such as vibrant bars, shops, cafes and parks. Plus, extra qualities making Auckland CBD stand out.

Sky Tower

One point of interest, which is an easy thing to look out for if you ever get lost in the CBD, is the Sky Tower. At 328 metres (1,076 feet) tall, it is hard to miss. The tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere is an attraction for adrenaline junkies wishing to walk around its high ledge on the SkyWalk (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or do the SkyJump (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Or you can simply take in the view of central Auckland and the surrounding areas, such as the Hauraki Gulf and the Harbour Bridge, by going to multiple viewing platforms in the tower or having a coffee at the Sky Lounge. Get your general admission ticket to the Sky Tower on Viator or Tripadvisor.

Queen Street

Once you have got your bearings from the Sky Tower, a good place to go next is Queen Street. This is the main street of the CBD, primarily filled with shops. However, this is not the cheapest option for shopping in Auckland so its best to save the shopping until you have the opportunity to go to K Road (see below) or perhaps get the free shuttle to the Dress Smart outlet shopping centre.

High Street

A smaller street running parallel to Queen Street is High Street. This is the place to go if you want to try some of that highly praised New Zealand coffee. Plus, if you are one of those “flashpackers” this street is where you’ll find high fashion clothes and accessories.

Pear285 at English Wikipedia© Pear285 at English Wikipedia

Auckland CBD: Britomart and Waterfront

If you keep heading down Queen Street toward the sea, you’ll come across the Ferry Building. It stands out like a saw thumb with its historic orange building amongst the more modern architecture found in the city. Nearby, you will see the Cloud a building which looks like a cloud inspired by the Maori description of New Zealand being “The Land of the Long White Cloud”. From the Ferry Building you can get a relativity cheap ferry to explore the islands of Rangitoto and Waiheke Island, which you can read more about in our guide: Auckland Hauraki Gulf – Guide for Backpackers or cross over to Devonport, see Auckland North Shore – Guide for Backpackers. From the water, you can get the best views of the city skyline.


The coastal end of Queen Street is also where you will find the Britomart area, indicated by all the bus stops. Not only is this the main transport connection in the CBD, but Britomart has a whole host of cool and quirky bars. Check some of them out here: Guide to Auckland Nightlife. Furnished with bean bags, Takutai Square at Britomart is an excellent meeting place in summer. Gore Street, which comes off Takutai Square, is one of prettiest streets in the CBD in general. Dotted with tiles cone structures and fairy lights strung from building to building, it is definitely worth walking down at night.

ChewyPineapple on Wikipedia© ChewyPineapple on Wikipedia

Viaduct Harbour And Wynyard Quarter

More bars can be found on the Viaduct Harbour. These are especially worth having a drink at so you can look out onto the harbour. Danny Doolans is a particularly good bar for backpackers with decent prices and live entertainment every night of the week! See more from 11 Awesome Bars in Auckland.

Auckland would not be a very good “City of Sails” without a museum dedicated to voyages! Visit the Maritime Museum for insights into New Zealand’s maritime heritage. The harbour is also where you can depart on Auckland’s cruises, such as a dolphin and whale spotting cruise with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari.

There are a lot more natural experiences like this to be had in Auckland too.

Walking over the Viaduct Harbour Bridge brings you to Wynyard Quarter. A platform along the side of Silo Park allows you to see the silos, sculptures, the water feature, bars and restaurants from above.

During summer, go to the Silo Cinema event, projecting a movie onto one of the silos every Friday or Saturday.

The freshest fish n’ chips in central Auckland can be found at the Fish Market. Down Jellicoe Wharf is Auckland’s only 7-day fresh food market.

ChewyPineapple on Wikipedia© ChewyPineapple on Wikipedia

Auckland CBD: Park and Square

Aotea Square is an area of pavement and small green areas. It is also the place for outdoor events in the CBD. In winter, come and skate on the ice rink or browse the Friday and Saturday markets all year round. Summer often sees a series of free music gigs in the square. Even if there isn’t an event coinciding with your visit in Auckland, Aotea Square is a good place to people watch.

There’s even a bit of greenery to enjoy the CBD in Albert Park. See the water fountain and bandstand, while walking past a variety of New Zealand trees. On the edge of the park, is the Auckland Art Gallery. With free admission, how can you say no?

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

Auckland Domain

For your dose of bushwalks in Auckland Central, head to Auckland Domain. This huge park and forested area are where you can enjoy the great outdoors in the city. With football and cricket fields, gather a group of backpacker buddies to have a kick-about. You’ll see that this is where Aucklanders get their miles in by going for a run.

On the other end of the scale, if your feeling worse for wear, the hospital sits on the edge of the park.

Take the Lovers Walk: something you would never expect to find in a city. You would think you were in the middle of the forest as you take this short walk through trees and following a stream.

The star of the Auckland Domain show is, of course, the Auckland Museum. Impressive architecture is seen from the outside and a vast amount of interactive New Zealand displays are on the inside. The top of the museum building gives you excellent views of the domain, city skyline and Rangitoto Island. You can even see as far as Waiheke Island on a clear day. Get your Auckland Museum general admission ticket on Viator or Tripadvisor.

Sids1 on Flickr© Sids1 on Flickr

K Road

That’s right, there’s a “hip and happening” spot in Auckland for alternative shopping and nightlife. It also showcases the creative side of Auckland with quirky boutiques and street art. Backpackers will find K Road, short for Karangahape Road, a good place to stock up for their travels around New Zealand. It’s thrift shop-galore! Plus, the army and sports surplus stockists can provide you gear to prepare for activities you might do along the way. As cheesy as it is to say, there’s something for everyone, from vintage lovers to comic book geeks.

As Auckland’s gay scene, there are fun nights out waiting on K Road. Check out more on Auckland’s gay scene in our Guide to Auckland Nightlife.

 Teacher Traveler on Wikipedia© Teacher Traveler on Wikipedia


Ponsonby is as posh as it sounds. It shares similarities to K Road in the theme of alternative shops, such as vintage attire, and street art. On the other hand, it has a difference in vibe.

When making your way to Ponsonby, be sure to walk via Western Park with its fun sculptures of buildings sinking into the ground. More building photo opportunities are in Ponsonby at the grand Old Post Office.

Keep an eye out for the renowned Ponsonby Market. A market day like no other, all the shops and residents get involved by selling their wares on the street. Even the butchers have a BBQ on the street. This market only happens 3 times a year; March, September and December.

If You Have More Time in Auckland Central…

  • Walk up Mt Eden to get the tallest natural lookout in the city
  • Play basketball in Silo Park
  • Take a 10-minute drive or bus journey to Mission Bay for the beach and ice cream
  • Discover more excellent dining and bar options down Vulcan Lane, just off Queen Street
  • Check out more things to do in 14 Free or Cheap Things to do in Auckland


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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