Seven secret spots of Auckland

Auckland is far more than our largest city, with a kaleidoscope of different landscapes to discover. It has 50 subtropical islands on its doorstep, home to a vast array of wildlife, including whales. And in the city, you can explore secret tunnels and underground markets.

Here are seven of Auckland’s best secret spots, so good, that they’re worth the trip alone.

1) SkySlide

Forget jumping off the Sky Tower; you can now slide around it.

I want to make a public apology. If you were recently enjoying the vistas up the Sky Tower and heard a chilling scream – don’t worry; nobody was murdered. It was my partner sliding off the side of the Sky Tower. She lived to tell the tale, and so will you.

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The virtual reality slide takes you for an adventure around the Sky Tower.

Skycity/Supplied

The virtual reality slide takes you for an adventure around the Sky Tower.

That’s because it’s a virtual reality (VR) experience. Your ticket on the “SkySlide” includes a ride up the Sky Tower, where you can first enjoy the sights of the city.

Then, on level 51 (186 meters above the ground), you’ll find the launchpad for the new slide. Here, you put on a VR headset and seatbelt yourself into a moving platform near a window overlooking the city.

The ride is located on the 51st floor of the Sky Tower, near a window overlooking the city.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The ride is located on the 51st floor of the Sky Tower, near a window overlooking the city.

You have two choices of slides, depending on your fear factor. We picked the advanced course, which is like a roller coaster with jumps.

As you’re sliding around, you can look over the side of the slide – it really feels like you’re almost 200 meters above ground. Kids will love it.

2) Cinema of 32,000 roses

The Paradiso theater has 32,000 roses.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Paradiso theater has 32,000 roses.

In the age of Netflix, going to the cinema seems a little old-fashioned. But a cinema in Matakana embraces that and will make you fall in love with the romance of going out to watch a movie.

Matakana Cinemas has three boutique theaters; The Paradiso theater has 32,000 paper roses hanging from the ceiling, the Tivoli has an enormous chandelier, while the Roxy is draped in fabric for a more intimate setting.

After a day exploring Matakana’s wineries, restaurants and incredible landscapes like Tāwharanui Regional Park – this is a great place to unwind.

3) The wild side

Some of around 100 dolphins we spotted on our cruise.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Some of around 100 dolphins we spotted on our cruise.

Few people realise Auckland has a permanent whale and dolphin population, which can be seen on a wildlife cruise.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park covers more than 1.2 million hectares and is home to the critically endangered Bryde’s whale.

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari has a high success rate, with a 95% chance of seeing either dolphins or whales.

While we missed out on seeing a whale on our particular cruise, the several dolphin encounters alongside seabirds and even a hammerhead shark more than made up for it.

Other sightings have included orca, humpback whales, southern right whales, leopard seals, turtles and manta ray.

Few people realise more than 50 islands make up the Hauraki Gulf, and the cruise is also an excellent chance to discover a few lesser-known gems.

If you don’t see either whales or dolphins on the trip, you get a voucher to try again on another cruise for free.

4) Auckland Night Markets

The Auckland Night Market has something for every taste bud.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Auckland Night Market has something for every taste bud.

Feeling like some delicious food but can’t quite pinpoint what you want? The Auckland Night Market runs each night at different locations throughout the city, and you won’t leave disappointed.

Each market has dozens of stalls, ranging from delicious dim sum to Rarotongan-style doughnuts – and everything you can imagine in between.

The markets started in Pakuranga in 2010 and are still held there every Saturday night. If you head to just one – make sure it’s here. You’ll join thousands of others in a large underground car park full of sizzle, sound and lots of salivating as you walk around the stalls.

Some of our favorites included giant pork buns, a chicken egg burger and Hungarian langos.

5) The war tunnels

Maungauika/North Head Historic Reserve has a series of tunnels to explore.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Maungauika/North Head Historic Reserve has a series of tunnels to explore.

One of the best views of Auckland’s harbor and CBD can be found at Maungauika/North Head Historic Reserve.

This beautiful volcanic cone, sitting on the harbor’s edge, has a fascinating history and secret series of tunnels.

Maungauika (meaning the Mountain of Uika) was the home of an early Māori community, attracted by the abundant marine life and rich volcanic soil.

By the time the 1880s rolled around – and with growing fears of a Russian invasion – it became a fort with a series of underground tunnels. Some tunnels remain open to the public today, and it’s an adventure the kids will love. And best of all, it’s free to visit.

6) Wētā Workshop Unleashed

Wētā Workshop Unleashed is one of the country's best attractions for kids – but adults will love it too.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Wētā Workshop Unleashed is one of the country’s best attractions for kids – but adults will love it too.

One of the country’s best attractions to open during the pandemic is found in Auckland’s CBD.

Wētā Workshop is best known for its world-class special effects and props they’ve created for movies like Lord of the Rings and Avatar. While the company is based in Wellington and operates tours there, it was really out of necessity – because fans turned up wanting to see something.

So, co-founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger have long wanted to create a dedicated tour – where people can experience a live workshop and then see it being used on a film set. After years of planning, the spectacular tour opened in late 2020.

You’re first led into an enormous workshop where three different films are being made. The first is a horror studio, where you can touch, play, manipulate and experience dozens of different activities, such as a zombie game of “operation” or a makeup chair that will magically turn you into a horror character.

The second film set involves walking through a spectacular fantasy workshop, before finally moving on to a sci-fi film with an enormous robot and crashed UFO.

Unlike a real film set, kids can play and interact with almost anything. It’s like Te Papa meets Disneyland.

7) A bush bath

The Totara Tree Tent has a bush bath.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Totara Tree Tent has a bush bath.

Just an hour south of the CBD, on Karioitahi Beach, you’ll find Castaways Resort. The main hotel-like accommodation is up on the windswept coastal cliffs, but you will also find a series of glamping tents if you really want to feel like you’ve escaped the city.

One of the more adventurous is the Totara Tree Tent, cocooned in native bush with a bathtub suspended from trees. The fridge is stocked with food, including steak and salmon; the barbecue is ready to go, and to top it off, wine and chocolates sit next to the bed. A night in the bush has never looked so good.

More information

Staying there: The Grand by SkyCity offers a central city location with rooms from $386 per night. See: skycityauckland.co.nz

Getting around: Avis has an increasing selection of electric rental vehicles which are available from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – with more locations coming soon. See: avis.co.nz

Playing there:

Skyslid from $40 for adults and $28 for children. Includes entry to the Sky Tower. See: skycityauckland.co.nz

Matakana Cinemas from $18 per adult. See: matakanacinemas.co.nz

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari from $99 for children and $149 for adults. Family passes from $369. See: whalewatchingauckland.com

Wētā Workshop Unleashed from $49 for adults, $25 for children. See: wetaworkshop.com/unleashed

Totara Tree Tent is $429 a night, including meals and a drinks package See: canopycamping.co.nz

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of traveling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, head to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.

Staying safe: New Zealand is under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.

The author’s trip was supported by Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Avis, and Skycity. This story was produced as a part of an editorial partnership with Tourism New Zealand. Read more about our partnership content here.

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