Think you know what Auckland has to offer? Think again. Emma Rawson reckons a visit to Tāmaki Makarau will spellbind you with its unexpected charms and hidden delights.
Let’s face it. When you’re thinking of idyllic camping destinations, Auckland might not be front of mind. But put any preconceived ideas about traffic jams and almond milk lattes to one side. With its gorgeous coastlines, 27 regional parks, multicultural community and thriving arts and food scene, Tāmaki Makarau is a holiday haven that deserves a second look. If you’re coming to the City of Sails to explore the Covi Motorhome Caravan and Outdoor SuperShow from March 17–19, most of the city is back to business as usual after the recent cyclone and flooding, although as with any trip it pays to check ahead. Auckland is a city that is best enjoyed when you explore the city’s roads less travelled − that will make all the difference.
Take a Tiki tour
Start your trip off the right way and sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s an obvious point but it needs to be said – it is best to avoid driving into Auckland during peak rush hour. Luckily there are lots of attractions on the outskirts and just beyond the city to make your journey more rewarding.
Approaching Auckland from the south, take a detour to Miranda Hot Springs in Franklin, a classic Kiwi thermal pool built in 1959. Make a night of it (those staying at neighbouring Miranda Holiday Park get free entry to the thermal pools) and then drive along the Pōhutukawa Coast. Alternatively, take the turnoff in Mangatauwhiri to take Paparimu Road and Hunua Roads (check roads are clear after recent storm damage).
Another ritual for many Aucklanders on their way home from holiday is a pit stop into Pokeno to visit the Pokeno Ice Cream Shop. Rumoured to have the largest ice creams in New Zealand, in 2020 this beloved shop won an NZMCA Kiwi Summer Road Trip Award for Best Place to Stop Off for an Ice Cream in NZ. Miss Trumpet ice-cream herself, Rachel Hunter, has even stopped by the iconic shop.
Another foodie detour is the Mercer Cheese shop, started in 1981 by Dutch immigrant turned local cheesemaking legend, Albert Alferink, whose goudas have won a slew of local and international food awards. Those entering Auckland from the north can stop by Te Hāwere-a-Maki/ Goat Island, 27 minutes from the Warkworth turnoff for a sneaky snorkel in the marine sanctuary, or mosey on down to Matakana for a taste of village life; see the giant bright pink snails at Sculptureum Matakana, and stop for a beer at the award-winning Sawmill Brewery. There are plenty of nearby holiday parks, including waterside Whangateau Holiday Park.
Eat your way around Auckland
When it comes to food, Auckland raises the bar. Locals won’t be able to restrain themselves from recommending their favourite cafés and eateries to visitors, but there’s a good reason for this city’s food obsession. The city boasts a competitive and thriving food scene that ranges from artisan producers at markets like Takapuna Market on the North Shore, and Asian delicacies at the Auckland Night Market food stalls, all the way to five-star dining.
An easy way to navigate Auckland’s delicious cuisine is to plan an eatery around other tourism hot spots. Want to check out the super yachts at the Viaduct and visit Auckland’s Maritime Village? Plan a lunch at Soul Bar and Bistro. Taking in the sights at the Sky Tower? Stop by Al Brown’s Federal Deli. Visiting the Auckland Fish Market or Westhaven Marina? Stop by Peter Gordon’s Homeland or the rough-and-ready fish and chip bar Swashbucklers. Heading west? First check you can get there after the recent storm damage, before grabbing a burger and a bevie at Brothers Beer Piha. Fancy an afternoon at the beach? End your day with a drink and dinner at one of the many eateries on Browns Bay’s busy Clyde Road on the North Shore.
It’s worth noting if your vehicle is parked up, senior citizens can travel for free on trains and selected bus and ferry services in Auckland, after 9am weekdays using an AT Hop card. Of course, navigating and finding parking in a city as spread out as Auckland can be tricky particularly if you have a lot of places to cover in one trip. That’s where Elle Armon-Jones and The Big Foody Food Tour comes in. Her ‘Auckland in an Afternoon’ and ‘Tastebud Tours’ let visitors sample the mouth-watering morsels from around the city while their local guides share stories about the local characters, history and architecture. “I started The Big Foody back in 2009. I fell in love with Auckland and New Zealand through my taste buds and it was a natural way to show off a country to people visiting,” says Elle, who hails from the UK. “We do keep some secrets up our sleeve, but some of the tour highlights include trying the most addictive cheese in New Zealand and on our driving tours we head out to suburbs visitors might otherwise not get to. “One of the comments we had on a recent tour was from a gentleman who said, ‘In three hours I feel like a local. I feel like you have introduced me to the most exciting and fun city in the world’.”
This melting pot of a city is overflowing with culture. Many local and international artists choose to make Tāmaki Makaurau their main New Zealand port of call. When planning a trip to Auckland, visit the Heart of the City website for a list of upcoming shows. For those visiting the city for the Covi Motorhome Caravan and Outdoor SuperShow, there are many stage shows on in the same weekend and in the weeks dovetailing that could piggie back onto your trip. Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki / Auckland Arts Festival (March 9-26,) is Auckland’s premiere arts event featuring a variety of theatre, dance and cultural acts. Aotea Square is transformed into the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, home to the festival’s big acts including this year’s headliner is Blanc de Blanc Encore, a circus cabaret act.
Also in town: experience Auckland’s vibrant Pacific Island community at the Pasifika Festival at Western Springs (March 18-19) and BBC science journalist and author Dr Michael Mosley takes the stage at The Civic for his presentation, A Life Changing Experience – Weight loss, Sleep, Wellness and How Your Body Works (March 15).
Also taking the stage are comedian Danny Bhoy (March 24), jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux at Holy Trinity Cathedral (March 18), indie rock group Florence and the Machine at the Spark Arena (March 22), 80s rock pop group The Proclaimers at the Powerstation (March 25) and Wicked the Musical at the Sky City Theatre (March 31-April 22). If scrums and run-outs are your kind of show, catch the Blues vs Crusaders on March 18 and Black Caps vs Sri Lanka on March 25, both at Eden Park.
Auckland’s sub-tropical climate makes it great for growing and a visit to one of the many gorgeous gardens is a must-do. The Victorian glasshouses at the Auckland Domain Wintergardens are one of Auckland city’s historic treasures. They were first built in 1913 and feature rare plants such as the morphopallus titanum (corpse flower) as well as subtropical and seasonal displays. No matter the season there’s always something to see at the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa (25km from the city exit 451 if driving south). Mosey through the grounds, which include a native plant ID trail, camellia gardens, an African plants garden and a Gondwana arboretum. It’s hard to imagine that a four-hectare country garden established for more than 50 years could still be a secret, but Ayrlies Garden in Whitford is one of the city’s hidden treasures with its beautiful old fashioned roses, ponds, waterfalls, liquidambar as well as subtropicals and wetland areas. The annual plant fair on March 17 and 18th could be perfect timing if you’re here for the Covi SuperShow.
Auckland’s regional parks make it easy to forget you’re in the country’s biggest city. From Te Ārai point north of Wellsford all the way to Whakatīwai Regional Park east of Hunua, there are 27 regional parks and you can camp in some if you have booked and paid online for a spot in a designated camping area.
One option to use as a base is the campground at Ambury Park in Māngere Beach, where campers can see the shorebirds of the Manukau Harbour alongside farm animals such as sheep, goats, and sometimes even peacocks in the working farm. There are several walks at Ambury, including the Foreshore Walk and the Lost Gardens walk, which explores stone mound remnants of the ancient Māori garden. Energetic travellers can take in the views from the top of Māngere maunga (mountain).
North of Auckland but still close enough to the city for easy travelling are Long Bay Regional Park (overnight parking) and Shakespear Park (Te Haruhi Bay campground); both are great swimming spots. A nudge further north at the mouth of the Puhoi and Waiwera River is Wenderholm Bay Regional Park, Auckland’s first regional park (overnight parking and Schischka campground). At Wenderholm there’s a bounty of natural attractions including a safe swimming beach, forest headlands, salt marshes and a sandspit. The area is historically significant for both Māori and Pakeha and there are archaeological sites and historical buildings and gardens around the park to explore. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip spent a day picnicking here, so make sure to bring your most regal thermos for a cup of tea beneath the pōhutukawa.
Get on the water
There’s much talk of Auckland’s two harbours: Manukau and Waitamata, but there’s actually three harbours if you include Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand’s largest estuarine ecosystem. Other water attractions include the wild West Coast beaches facing the Tasman Sea, and eastern beaches edging on the Firth of Thames. The waterfront powered sites at Takapuna Beach HolidayPark are great for water babies and it’s deliciously close to the Takapuna Beach Cafe & Store, one of the North Shore’s most popular cafés, a great stop for excellent coffee, food and ice cream overlooking the beach. To explore the water, take in the views of Rangitoto while from a paddleboard at Takapuna Beach, surf or boogieboard at Piha or set sail on The Auckland Maritime Museum’s heritage scow, Ted Ashby. Gold Card holders can hop onto the Fullers Ferry to Waiheke Island for free, using an AT Hop card to visit sheltered beaches, vineyards such as Mudbrick and Stonyridge and eateries such as The Oyster Inn. To travel to islands further afield, Auckland is just a four and a half hour ferry ride to the pristine white beaches and native forest on Great Barrier Island. The sealink ferry travels from Auckland to Great Barrier Island regularly and prices vary depending on the size of the vehicle.
The Te Ara Moana sea kayak trail on the south eastern coast between Ōmana Regional Park and Waharau Regional Park, traces traditional Māori transport routes and is designed for all sea kayak craft and for kayakers of all levels. It can be kayaked in its entirety over five days with kayakers staying at campsites along the coast or alternatively do segments of the trail or a day trip.
Some of the campsites along the trail are only accessible via sea kayak and are often empty – a great way to feel total freedom while only 40 minutes from the city.
Shop until you drop
Whether you’re after a souvenir or a whole new wardrobe, the City of Sales is nirvana for retail therapy. Big shopping malls like Commercial Bay in the CBD, Westfield Newmarket and Sylvia Park in Mount Wellington are ideal if time is a factor, or make a day of it by shopping at a more leisurely pace with exclusive boutique shopping on Ponsonby Road in Ponsonby, High Street in the CBD, and Teed Street in Newmarket. Ōtara and Avondale markets are the places to go to pick up bargains or second-hand treasures and perhaps even some Pacific Island delicacies for lunch. If you’re in the market for a new motorhome or RV, naturally the Covi SuperShow is the obvious must-see.
In Māori, Tāmaki Makaurau means ‘the area desired by many’ and with its abundant kai and natural wonders, it’s easy to see why the area gets its name, and why this vibrant North Island city ranks highly in international surveys of the world’s most liveable cities. Even if Auckland isn’t your home, you’ll feel welcome here – even if you don’t like almond milk lattes.
Check before you drive
While most of the cyclone damage in Auckland has been cleared away, look online or call ahead to double check your destinations are open as usual.
Where to stay
Book accommodation at Auckland’s regional parks such as Ambury Farm and Wenderholm at aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/parks-recreation/stay-at-park/Pages/find-accommodation.aspx
Aviation enthusiasts will love camping at Ardmore Airfield NZMCA Park.
Takapuna Beach Holiday Park has waterfront powered sites and views of Rangitoto. Further north, Red Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is 25 minutes from the CBD, and nearby Orewa Beach Holiday Park is right on the seafront, with stunning views out to sea.
If opting to freedom camp in Auckland, familiarise yourself with the new local bylaw Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau Te Ture ā-Rohe Noho Puni Wātea ā-Waka 2022 / Auckland Council Freedom Camping in Vehicles Bylaw 2022 as freedom camping is not permitted in some areas. In other areas, freedom camping is allowed subject to four general rules:
• use a certified self-contained vehicle;
• stay a maximum of two nights in the same road/off-road parking area;
• vacate parking space by 9am on the day of departure;
• not return to the same road/off-road parking area within a two-week period.
On Waiheke Island there is no public dump station and the “stay for no more than two nights” rule applies to the entire island. If you are freedom camping on Waiheke, you must leave on the third day to dispose of your waste. You can only stay longer if you have booked other accommodation for the rest of your stay.
On the outskirts