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If you’re planning a visit to Auckland soon, then you’re in for a treat. The “City of Sails” is a diverse and lively city that’s one of the best destinations on the North Island. It has a ton of natural beauty to offer alongside its thriving arts and culture scene.
It’s the most popular place to visit in New Zealand and having lived there for a while, I completely understand why. Given how much there is to do in Auckland, it should come as no surprise that there are a ton of amazing tours on offer here. From dolphin and whale watching cruises to exploring Hobbiton and the glow worm caves, you really have endless adventures awaiting you!
I’ve traveled around New Zealand extensively and I actually lived in Auckland for a time, so I’m familiar with the best tours and most reputable operators around. I love Auckland and I want you to love it here just as much as I do, which is why I’ve rounded up the top 10 tours available in the City of Sails.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Auckland is full of amazing tours! Start your trip with a sightseeing tour to get a feel for the city and then plan a day trip to Hobbiton and the glow worm caves. Or get out on the water to go whale watching or take an evening sailboat cruise.
Best Tours in Auckland, New Zealand
1. Hobbiton Movie Set and Waitomo Glow worm Caves
New Zealand is famous for many things – spectacular scenery, unique wildlife, and the Lord of the Rings movies!
The Hobbiton Movie Set is only two hours away from Auckland, so if you’ve always dreamed of exploring The Shire, now’s your chance! There are some really great tours of Hobbiton from Auckland that will take care of all the details. I actually enjoyed my tour so much that I went a second time and brought my mum along!
I love this full-day tour that includes a visit to Hobbiton and some famous glow worm caves. It starts with pick-up from any hotel in downtown Auckland and the first stop is Hobbiton! Along the way, I really enjoyed the scenery and not having to drive or navigate. Then, once you arrive, it’s time to step into Middle-earth.
My favorite part was the guided tour of the set where you get up close to all the Hobbit Holes with smoking chimneys and adorable little doors. My mum and I snapped a few photos here! This tour includes an extended tour here of 2.5 hours, so there’s no rushing through. Then it’s time to visit the Green Dragon Inn for a drink!
Along the way, the guides fill you in on how the movies were made – it’s really insane how much effort and craftsmanship went into bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s books to life. I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, but I still absolutely loved my Hobbiton experience.
After you’ve explored Hobbiton, you’ll head to a cafe for a Kiwi-style lunch and then it’s onto the Waitomo Caves. You’ll glide through the caves on a boat and marvel at the glow worms twinkling in the dark. Pictures really don’t capture how amazing it is – the best way I can describe it is a living night sky with all the twinkling glow worms looking like stars. It’s pretty incredible, and definitely one of those must-dos while you’re in New Zealand!
One thing I love about this tour is that not only does it show you some of the best scenery that the North Island has to offer, but it’s also a small group tour with a maximum of 14 people. This makes it feel super friendly and personal and definitely adds to the overall experience.
This tour costs $370 NZD per adult, $235 NZD for kids aged 8-14, $179 NZD for kids aged 4-7, and $145 NZD for infants. It makes such a fantastic day trip from Auckland, especially for families and of course, it’s a must for any Lord of the Rings fan.
This is a popular tour that tends to sell out WEEKS in advance, so make sure to reserve your spot here as soon as your trip to Auckland is booked!
2. Dolphin and Whale Watching Eco-Safari Cruise
This eco-safari cruise to see dolphins and whales is without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done in Auckland!
The tour takes you to Hauraki Gulf Marine Park where you’ll board a comfortable catamaran and set sail in search of whales, dolphins, and penguins. However, what sets this cruise apart from others I’ve done elsewhere in the world is that Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. You can find six different species of whale here, including sei, Bryde’s, and humpback whales!
I saw whales, dolphins, penguins, and lots of seabirds! It was particularly cool to watch gannets diving at top speed into the water to catch fish! The guides were so great at pointing out all of the different creatures along the way to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The crew was also super knowledgeable (there are onboard marine scientists) and taught our group a lot about the different marine animals and seabirds that we saw.
While this is one of the most biologically diverse marine parks on Earth, nature is unpredictable. But what’s great about this cruise is that it includes a sighting guarantee, so in the rare chance that you don’t happen to see any whales or dolphins, you get to come back and do the cruise again for free!
Going whale and dolphin watching in an area like Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is not an opportunity that comes around every day, so I highly recommend this tour. It lasts for around 4.5 hours and costs $199 NZD for adults and $136 NZD for kids aged 14 and under.
Related Read: If you want to see more whales, head to the South Island and do some whale watching in Kaikoura!
3. Black Sand Beach and Rainforest Tour
This wilderness tour is an awesome way to get out of the city for the afternoon and check out some of the impressive places nearby.
You’ll visit the unique and beautiful Piha Beach, which is one of my favorite beaches in New Zealand. With its black sand and bright blue water, it’s very striking and also one of NZ’s most popular places to surf.
You’ll go on a guided walk along the beach and the Waitakere Ranges rainforest, learning all about its unique ecology and stopping at viewpoints to enjoy some wonderful panoramic vistas of the coast. Along the way, your guide will also teach you about Maori history, which is so interesting and a really important part of visiting New Zealand.
I also really like the fact that this tour includes a visit to the Arataki Visitor Centre, where you can learn more about the natural history of the area and visit the gallery to check out some nature photography and art installations.
This tour does a fantastic job of showcasing how rugged and interesting the North Island scenery can be, and it’s perfect for anyone who’s keen to spend some time in nature. I love visiting Piha Beach so I highly recommend this tour if you only have a couple of days to spend in Auckland!
The tour is run by a reputable company that has been offering tours in the area for more than 30 years! It costs $185 NZD when you book in advance including hotel pickup and dropoff, and a complimentary New Zealand-style afternoon tea with cookies, manuka honey, and hot drinks.
4. Flavours of our City Food Walk
In order to truly get to know a city, you need to get to know its food scene, and that’s exactly the point of this walking food tour of Auckland! It allows you to get your bearings in central Auckland while discovering lots of delicious food, beer, ice cream, and wine. Seriously, what could be better?
One of my favorite things about this food tour is that it has a big focus on local producers. You get to try lots of goodies that can only be found in Auckland because you didn’t come here to eat generic food!
As well as stopping off at artisan food stores and an amazing ice creamery, you’ll also see the sights of Auckland and learn more about how multiculturalism has shaped this city. It’s a nice introduction to the city’s history and I love the fact that this tour moves at a relaxed pace. There’s a maximum of 12 people per group, so it feels nice and personal, too.
The tour begins at 2:30 pm and it ends at around 5:30 pm with a beer or wine tasting. It’s the perfect way to spend a leisurely afternoon getting to know Auckland and enjoying lots of delicious food. I don’t recommend eating a big lunch beforehand – this is one tour it’s best to arrive hungry for!
This tour costs $185 NZD per person which includes your guide and all of your tastings. It’s super well-rated and books up fast, so get your tickets online while you can!
5. Auckland Harbour Sailboat Cruise including Three-Course Dinner
I think that a harbor cruise is definitely one of the best things to do in Auckland, and having dinner out on the water is always a fantastic experience. So if you’ve got room in your budget, I highly recommend this dinner cruise on a sailboat!
During this luxurious boat tour on Waitemata Harbour (the official name of Auckland’s harbor), you’ll be able to spot famous landmarks including the Harbour Bridge and the Sky Tower, and watch the city light up as the sun goes down. There’s also engaging commentary from your captain along the way, so you get to learn more about Auckland as you enjoy your cruise.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a buffet, but I do always prefer a plated dinner, which is exactly what this sailboat cruise serves up. The menu does change seasonally but your main course options might include smoked New Zealand fish, beef steak with sweet potatoes, or a poke bowl. The dessert options are also really decadent!
I think that this cruise is the perfect way to spend a romantic evening in New Zealand. If you’re aiming to pull out all of the stops to impress someone special, this cruise will definitely do the trick! Plus you can even try your hand at helping the crew steer the boat and hoist up the sails if you like – or just sit back with a drink and take in the view.
This tour lasts for around 2.5 hours and costs $150 NZD per person. This doesn’t include alcohol, but there are drinks available to purchase on board. For a great way to spend an evening in Auckland, book a spot on this sailboat cruise here.
6. Rotorua Highlights Small Group Tour
Rotorua is famous for its Maori heritage and geothermal activity, and it’s a must-visit while you’re on the North Island. Truth be told, I think that Rotorua merits at least a few days’ stay, but I also know that this isn’t always possible! So if you’ve got a tight timeframe, I definitely recommend taking this small group day trip to Rotorua.
In a small group of no more than 16 people, you’ll travel from Auckland to Rotorua for a guided experience to discover its history and Maori heritage, which is super interesting to learn about. You’ll see highlights including the Government Gardens, Lake Rotorua, and the Blue Baths, and then get free time to check out your must-see attractions.
There are different add-ons you can choose from to experience some of Rotorua’s highlights. You can select up to two or just enjoy free time exploring independently.
One bonus activity is visiting the geothermal wonderland that is Wai-O-Tapu. Here you can check out sulfur lakes, volcanic craters, and the Lady Knox Geyser that shoots water as high as 10-20 meters (33-65 feet) in the air!
You can also go on a guided tour of Te Puia, which is one of only two remaining natural geyser fields in the world. Not only is it an amazing sight to behold, but it also has an amazing history and heritage.
Another option is to visit the Polynesian Spa, which has 28 different hot pools to bathe in! It gives you a more traditional spa experience and the water is said to be very therapeutic. It’s definitely relaxing, and the mineral pools in the adults-only section offer fantastic views of Lake Rotorua. I love stopping here when I’m in Rotorua!
I like the fact that you can design your own day in Rotorua and choose an option that suits your budget. Prices start from $225 NZD per person for the standalone city tour of Rotorua, to $385 NZD per person if you choose to visit both Wai-O-Tapu and Te Puia in the afternoon. You can look at all the options and book online with Viator.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
7. Half-day Discover Auckland City Sightseeing Tour
A guided sightseeing tour is always a great way to get acquainted with a new city. I like booking them for when I first arrive in a new place, so I can get my bearings, find out some recommendations from my guide, and make a mental note of the places I want to come back to later. It’s also a great way to fit a lot in if you’re short on time!
This small group sightseeing tour shows you a lot of Auckland in just 3.5-4 hours. You’ll drive over the Harbour Bridge, head to the top of Mt Eden to enjoy amazing views, check out the Mission Bay Beaches, and travel through some of Auckland’s coolest neighborhoods to see where the locals really hang out.
I particularly like that this tour stops at Westhaven Marina. You can get great photos of the harbor and Harbour Bridge from here. It’s also one of the best bungy jumping spots in New Zealand, so sometimes you can even spot people jumping off! That’s not included on this tour, although your guide can help you book it if you want!
Another highlight is definitely the view from the top of Mt Eden. It’s only a 10-minute walk from where the tour van parks to the top and it’s well worth it. If you do have mobility difficulties, this tour has permission to drive to the very top so no hiking is required.
The tour guide, Michael, is a friendly local who brings the city’s history to life and tells lots of entertaining and funny stories along the way. He’s so passionate about Auckland and his enthusiasm is contagious! Whether you’re stopping for photos or driving past landmarks, he will offer tips like where to find the best fish and chips or you can just ask for recommendations on whatever you’re interested in.
This tour is the ideal introduction to Auckland and I recommend taking the tour on one of your first days in Auckland. It costs $71 NZD including pickup and dropoff from central hotels. You can choose a morning or afternoon departure, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule.
It’s a highly-rated tour with a Viator Badge of Excellence, so if you’re ready to book, reserve a spot now!
8. Auckland Scenic Day Tour Full-Day – 8 Hours
If you want a more in-depth guided tour of Auckland, then a full-day sightseeing tour is the way to go. I think that this is an amazing option if you don’t have long to spend in the city, because you get to see so much in just one day.
You’ll see Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Sky Tower, explore the North Head Historic Reserve including some of the underground tunnels here, enjoy amazing views at Achilles Point and Mount Eden, stop to smell the flowers at the Domain Wintergardens, and explore the fascinating suburb of Remuera. Basically, you’ll find a lot of the top things to do in Auckland on this itinerary!
One thing I love about this tour is that you also have time to visit less touristy locations like Muriwai Beach which is my favorite beach near Auckland, and Parnell, which is one of the neighborhoods I love most in the entire city.
But perhaps my favorite thing about the tour is that it includes wine tasting! You’ll visit the West Auckland wine region of New Zealand to sample a few amazing wines at the Soljans Estate Winery. If you ask me, it’s the perfect way to unwind during a busy day of sightseeing.
This tour costs $210 NZD per person. It’s an ideal way to see a lot of Auckland in a relatively short space of time, and all of its 5-star ratings certainly attest to that! You can check out all the glowing reviews and reserve a spot before it sells out here.
9. Northern Explorer Train Journey from Auckland to Wellington
This scenic train service connects two of New Zealand’s most famous cities, and on the 11-hour train journey, you’ll get to experience the beauty and diversity of the North Island’s landscape. In fact, you’ll see it change right before your very eyes! Trust me, the time will fly by when you’ve got such amazing scenery to gaze out.
You’ll see farmlands, volcanic peaks, national parks, and a gorgeous coastline as you travel between the two cities. This isn’t just a journey to get you from A to B – it’s a whole sightseeing experience in itself. There’s also commentary on board so that you get to learn about what you’re seeing as you pass by, and there are open-air viewing decks for even better views.
Tickets for the Northern Explorer cost $252 NZD for adults, $177 NZD for children aged between 2 and 14, and infants ride for free. This price doesn’t include food or drinks, but there’s a cafe on board where you can buy drinks, snacks, and light meals.
If you’re ready to leave the driving to someone else and explore a new city, book your train tickets online!
Related Read: Once you arrive in Wellington, don’t miss seeing the Wētā Workshop and Cave which showcases the special effects company behind many famous movies like Lord of the Rings!
10. Piha Waitakere Rainforest Wine Tour from Auckland
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good wine-tasting tour, and doing one on Waitakere Island is a very unique experience. Rather than European-style vineyards and a Mediterranean climate, you get to see native rainforests, volcanic beaches, and pretty waterfalls.
On this tour, you’ll travel around the Henderson Valley and Waitakere Ranges, where you’ll visit several family-owned wineries to taste their best wines. You’ll sip on delicious local wine and learn all about the craft of winemaking, which New Zealand is famous for! Plus, a lot of these places offer amazing views of the area’s incredible scenery, and you also get to enjoy lunch at one of the wineries you visit.
However, it’s not just about wine on the tour. You’ll also visit black sand beaches, get up close to one of New Zealand’s most beautiful waterfalls at Karekare Falls, and enjoy excellent views of the rainforest from the Arataki Visitor Center.
Basically, this tour combines my two favorite things: wine and scenery!
This wine tour is so unique in terms of the scenery that you get to enjoy, and the guides are really passionate about both aspects of the tour. It’s such a fun day trip from Auckland so if you enjoy a nice glass of vino every now and then, I highly recommend it.
The tour costs $295 NZD per person, which I think is totally worth it because you get a sightseeing and a wine tour in one! Reserve a spot here for this memorable day out!
Where to Stay in Auckland
Auckland is a huge city, so deciding where to stay in Auckland can be a challenge. Luckily, I’ve stayed in Auckland countless times (and even lived there for a few months), so I know the best areas. Below are my favorite hotels/hostels in Auckland to suit all budgets and travel styles:
$$$ – The Grand by SkyCity
The Grand by SkyCity is an Auckland accommodation unlike any other. Treating you to a lavish stay right in the heart of the city, this five-star hotel is exactly where you want to be if you’re after luxurious rooms and city views.
Rooms are typically $400 NZD and up, but I have found some stellar deals on Booking.com, so it’s worth checking before you book!
$$ – Marsden Viaduct Hotel
One of the Auckland hotels with the best views, the Marsden Viaduct Hotel puts you right on the harbor without breaking your budget. This world-class accommodation is within walking distance to the Wynyard Quarter and the restaurant and bars in the Viaduct Harbour, so you’re pretty much in the center of it all.
Rooms are around $300 NZD nightly and can be reserved on Booking.com.
$ – The Attic Backpackers
The Attic is one of my favorite budget-friendly accommodations in the heart of Auckland city. Although The Attic isn’t as high-end as the other hotels in the area, you can still call it your home away from home, and it’s actually pretty cozy. You have some chill-out areas a few steps away from the room for chatting with friends and watching TV.
There’s also a spacious outdoor covered deck to enjoy the sun in. Dorm rooms start around $50 NZD nighly and private rooms are available for $120 NZD. You can book The Attic online on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.
For more detailed info on the best areas to stay in Auckland and the best hotels, check out my blog!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re planning a visit to Auckland, I definitely recommend taking in a couple of tours while you’re here! Hopefully, this list has helped you narrow down your favorites and find a tour in Auckland you love. There is so much to see and do in Auckland that I’m excited to come back again for another visit.
For more about some of the top sights and destinations in New Zealand, check out my blog. I’ve lived here for some time and traveled all throughout the North and South Islands and love sharing my favorite places. Here are a few related blogs to get you started: