The best things to do in Auckland for families

Auckland (or Tāmaki Makaurau in Māori) is an incredibly beautiful and diverse city. There are so many unique things to do in Auckland. Some of the best things to do in Auckland for families include climbing volcanoes, taking a boat around the Hauraki Gulf and climbing the second largest structure in the southern hemisphere. 

Why visit Auckland?

Many people ask whether it is worth spending much time in Auckland when they visit New Zealand when there are so many other incredible places to see in the country. But even if you spent just 24 hours in Auckland you would get a taste of what this amazing city has to offer. 

While Auckland is not the capital of New Zealand it the most populous city in New Zealand where around a quarter of the population reside. It is a melting pot of different cultures and traditions that come together in a beautiful and interesting way.  

Also known as the City of Sails, Auckland has a relaxed coastal vibe but with a lot going on. From climbing a volcano, tasting locally produced wines to visiting beautiful islands, there are so many fun things to do in Auckland for families. If you needed any more convincing, Auckland has been ranked fifth on the New York Times’ list of 52 places to go in 2023. 

The best things to do in Auckland for families

There is so much to do and see here so if you’re visiting for a short time you may be wondering what the must do activities in Auckland are.  I have put together a list of what I think are the best things to do in Auckland for families, and the best thing is that most of them are free!

#1: Climb a volcano

View of Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland is home to over 40 dormant volcanoes across the city so while you’re here climbing one should definitely be on your itinerary. These volcanoes really characterise the Auckland landscape and also hold huge historical, spiritual and significance to Auckland Māori. 

Mt Eden is the highest, offering fantastic views over the city, while the famous Rangitoto is a short boat ride away and is home to the largest Pohutukawa forest as well as over 200 plant and flower species.

Kids will love climbing the volcanoes and discovering pieces of volcanic rock. This definitely has to be on the list for top things to do in Auckland for families. 

#2: Auckland Museum and the Domain

The T-Rex at Auckland Musuem

A great rainy day (or any day) activity is the Auckland War Memorial Museum. It’s a fantastic museum with a lot of great exhibitions – from Maori culture to World War. The kids will love the huge t-rex skeleton in the entrance of the museum. 

The museum has lots of interactive exhibitions for kids. Just a warning, the earthquake simulator is quite realistic! Even I was a bit freaked out. There is also a lovely cafe as well with some kid-friendly bites.

The building itself is set in the beautiful grounds of the Domain which is the largest and one of the oldest parks in Auckland.  There is so much to explore and enjoy in the Domain including the Wintergardens filled with tropical plants, watch the ducks in the ponds and marvel at the huge ancient trees. 

The museum is free to enter for Auckland residents, by donation for New Zealand residents but international visitors must buy tickets which are $28 per adult and $14 for a child aged 5-13. Buy your tickets here.

#3: Head over to the west coast – Piha and Kitekite Falls

A view of Piha beach. A must visit when in Auckland.

One of our favourite things to do in Auckland is to head over to the stunning west coast and enjoy the beaches there. The drive down to the coast has dramatic views across the coastline.

Piha is a beautiful black sand beach characterised by Lion Rock, a large rock formation in the middle of the beach. It is actually the eroded neck of a volcano that erupted 16 million years ago. You can climb to the top for some breathtaking views of the area. 

Piha is a surfing beach so a great place for kids to bodyboard (staying close to the shore as there can be rips there).  Careful on the black sand in the summer as it gets scorchingly hot.

There are some great walks that you can do with young kids nearby. Our favourite is Kitekite falls. In recent years the paths have been upgraded so a lot of the walk is a decked walkway. It takes about an hour but longer if you go to the top of the falls. You find the start of the path and the car park at the end of Glen Esk Road. 

Just a note for 2023, due to the recent devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, much of these areas are not accessible at the moment so check on the Auckland Council website before you go. 

#4: Explore Auckland CBD

View of Auckland's viaduct harbour

Auckland’s CBD is a vibrant and picturesque area to explore. Take a stroll around the Viaduct Harbour and admire the many yachts moored there. Auckland is not known as the City of Sails for nothing! 

There are many waterfront bars to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat at the harbour and the Wynard Quarter. There are also some great play areas around Silo Park, which is an old industrial site which has been turned into a public park.  

The city has been undergoing regeneration works in recent years and as a result, the whole area is stylish and accessible. Queen Street has a lot to offer shoppers, as does the relatively new Commercial Bay. 

#5: Check out the views from the top of the Sky Tower

Skytower, Auckland, New Zealand

The Sky Tower is the defining feature of the Auckland city skyline. At 328 metres, it is the second tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. At this great height, it is the perfect place to get 360 views of Tāmaki Makarau. There are three restaurants and cafes in the tour to enjoy a meal while taking in the views. Check out this link to get discounted admission to the Sky Tower on Klook.

The Sky Tower is also home to some great exhibitions and attractions including the Sky Slide – a virtual reality slide from the top of the tower and the All Blacks Experience – an interactive, state-of-the-art showcase of the All Blacks rugby team.

For the adrenalin seekers, you can take a walk around the outside of the Skytower at 192 metres or bungy jump from the top. 

#6: Get out on the water

View of the coast from a paddleboard in Auckland

With more than 3,000km of coastline across three harbours it would be criminal not to spend some time out on the water while you’re in Auckland. From a sunset cruise around the Hauraki Gulf to stand-up paddleboarding around Mission Bay to adrenalin-fueled jet boat ride to a guided kayak trip over to Rangitoto Island. 

There are so many water based activities to choose from in Auckland. It is a great way to experience the beautiful Hauraki Gulf and if you’re lucky to see some of the resident marine life. 

#7: Catch a ferry to Waiheke Island

View of the bay from Oneroa, Waiheke Island. A must do when in Auckland.

Look at any list and a trip to Waiheke Island will be on the list of top things to do in Auckland for families. Beautiful Waiheke Island is a 45-minute ferry ride from downtown and this is a day trip from Auckland not to be missed. There are over 30 wineries across the island where you can sample some locally produced wine and enjoy some delicious food. There are some great kid-friendly places, such as Wild on Waiheke and The Heke, where the kids will have plenty to do while you’re sampling some delicious wines and beers. 

Waiheke also has some stunning beaches with clear blue water that is just perfect to swim in. There are also many great walks to enjoy as well as some other fun activities such as ziplining. There is plenty to keep the whole family entertained for the day. 

#8: Relax on one of Auckland’s many beaches

Murrays Bay Beach, Auckland

One of the most popular things to do in Auckland for families, local and visiting, is to visit one of the city’s beaches. There is nothing better than relaxing on the beach and taking a dip in the warm waters around Auckland. There are a huge amount of beaches to choose from. From the city beaches around Mission Bay, to the black sands of Piha to the beautiful chilled out North Shore beaches. 

Don’t forget a beach shade in the strong Auckland sun. The UV levels are very high so you definitely need to bring some shelter for a day on the beach. The Sun Ninja is a great option as it is easy to set up, fit into a portable carry bag and offers 50SPF. 

#9: Take a day trip to Matakana

Matakana, Auckland, New Zealand - Wine tasting in Matakana - Auckland activities

Head north to spend a day in and around Matakana, a small town less than an hour from from Auckland City. Each Saturday morning there is farmers market in the middle of the town. With a great range of sellers and with a lovely riverside setting it is a great way to start the day. 

There are also many wineries around Matakana where you can dine and sample some locally produced wine. One of my favourites is Brick Bay. The beautiful Glasshouse Restaurant is set in some beautiful gardens by a lake, and is child and dog friendly so that’s a big tick for us. They also have a sculpture trail which takes about an hour to complete. 

Herons Flight is also a lovely little vineyard which is child and dog friendly. In the summer they are open every day otherwise just at the weekends. While enjoying the views of their beautiful grounds, you can sample some of their delicious wines and put together your own cheese and meat platter. 

If you have time you can visit one of the stunning local beaches such as Omaha or Snells Beach.  

#10: Go whale and dolphin watching

Auckland Whale And Dolphin Safari - a top Auckland activity

The waters around Auckland are full of wonderful marine wildlife from dolphins to orcas to brydes whales to seals and more. You may to lucky to see some from the shore but for your best chances head out on a whale and dolphin safari. Not only is it a great opportunity to see some wildlife but also a great way to see the Hauraki Gulf and spend the day on the water. 

We went with Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari and had a wonderful day. The boat is really comfortable and the staff were really knowledgeable. The staff were also great with our kids and answered their many questions. Another great thing about them is that they offer a no-expiry date return ticket if you don’t manage to see very much on your trip. That is what we did five years after our first trip! Going whale watching is definitely an Auckland must-do activity. 

#11: Climb Auckland Harbour Bridge

Another one for adrenalin junkies or those who want to see Auckland from a unique perspective. You can climb Auckland Harbour Bridge with a fully-guided tour and enjoy 360 views of Auckland. The minimum age is 7 and the price is $135 pp.  The whole experience takes about 2 hours. For the more daring, you can also bungy jump from the bridge. The minimum age for this is 10 and prices start from the price is $175 pp. 

#12 Go bird spotting on Titiri Matangi

Titiri Matangi is a beautiful island 80 minutes by ferry from Auckland. It is home to a huge range of wildlife thanks to successful community-led conservation projects.

You can take a guided walk to help you spot the birds and other wildlife on the island. There are lots of walking tracks to enjoy the island. Don’t forget your swimwear so you can enjoy a peaceful swim from one of the lovely sandy beaches.  The ferry costs $95 per adult and $50 per child return. 

#13 Take the kids to Rainbows End

The kids will have a blast at Rainbows End. There are rides and attraction for all ages. From the Big 5 thrill rides, to the Log Flume Enchanted Forest, to the Kidz Kingdom for the under 8s, there is something for everyone. 

Tickets start at $68 for over 14s and $58 for 2-13 years. You can book online here.

#14 Visit Auckland Zoo

Visit Auckland Zoo - Bes things to do in Auckland for families

Auckland Zoo is a great day out for the whole family. Recent upgrades have created beautiful enclosures for tigers, and orangutans and simangs.

There are some wonderful interactive displays where you can get up close with some of the zoo’s residents and learn more about them. You can learn about many of New Zealand’s native birds and animals.

There are great facilities including cafes around the zoo and a great playground featuring a big slide and a giant dragon.

Auckland should be on your New Zealand itinerary!

As you can see there is so much to see and do in Auckland and it is definitely worth adding a trip to Auckland to your New Zealand itinerary. 

Whether it is one month or just two days you spend in Auckland, I’m sure you will fall in love with this beautiful city. There are some many things to do in Auckland for families, I hope this guide will help you decide where to go when visiting Auckland. 

Let me know your must-do activities in Auckland in the comments!

After Auckland, I recommend heading down to Rotorua to check out the geothermal wonders there. 

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