{going solo in NZ} Part 1: exploring Auckland and all its hills

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going solo in NZ: Itinerary | Auckland | Wellington | Picton & Kaikoura | Christchurch | Queenstown | quirks & perks of solo travelling |

I chose to start my adventure in Auckland, since I have friends there and it was the northernmost and warmest city. Coming from Singapore, where sweltering 30-degree days are the norm, I reckoned I’d let my body acclimatise to the cool weather slowly.

During the days I was there (13-19 Jul), the weather was sunny and fairly warm, averaging 15 degrees, and it only rained on my first two days there. My friends living in Auckland commented that it was highly unusual to have so many days of sun (Auckland winters are usually rainy) – maybe I accidentally brought Singapore’s weather with me??

Having been stuck in a city my whole life, my objective for this leg of the trip was to do everything that I couldn’t easily do back home, like hiking mountains, visiting huge museums and soaking up chill suburban vibes just out of town.

Auckland Itinerary (13-19 Jul)
Day 1 (Wed)SG✈️AKL
🏨 Check in @ The Quadrant Hotel & Suites
🌅 Exploring University of Auckland & Emily Place
🍽️ Xi’An Food Bar (Chinese)
Day 2 (Thu)🥾⛰️ Morning hike up Auckland Domain
🌿 Domain Wintergardens
🏛️ Auckland War Memorial Museum
🏛️ Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
👾 Odyssey Sensory Maze
🌭 Mighty Hotdog (Korean)
🍽️ Canto Canto @ Westfield Newmarket (Chinese)
Day 3 (Fri)🥾⛰️ Mt Eden hike
📚🍰☕ Chapter Book & Tea Shop + exploring Mount Eden Road
🥾⛰️ One Tree Hill hike
🍽️ Udon Works @ Dominion Road (Japanese)
🎤 Karaoke Coin Singing Booth @ CBD
Day 4 (Sat)🐟 SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium
🍽️ The Seafood Collective (Western)
🍨 Kapiti Ice Cream
🏖️ Mission Bay Beach
🛍️ Auckland CBD
🍽️ Xi’An Food Bar (Chinese)
Day 5 (Sun)🛍️ Central Flea Market, every 2nd Sunday of the month
🛍️ Junk & Disorderly antique store
🍽️ Spicy House @ Dominion Road (Chinese)
🛍️ Auckland CBD
🌄⛰️ Maungauika/North Head Reserve
🍽️ The White Lady (American)
Day 6 (Mon)🥾 Exploring the CBD harbour – Viaduct Harbour, Wynyard Quarter, Silo Park
🍽️ Daruma Ramen (Japanese)
⛴️ Exploring Devonport – Auckland suburb, 12 min ferry from CBD
🍽️ The Don (Japanese)
Day 7 (Tue)AKL✈️WLG
Day 1 – room review + first impressions

After a 9.5h overnight flight from Singapore with 2h of sleep (interrupted by screaming babies in the section behind me), I arrived around midday, ready to begin my adventure on a drizzly Auckland afternoon. I hopped on the AirportLink bus, a 15-minute ride that dropped me conveniently at Puhinui train station, which has 2 direct train services to Britomart, Auckland’s CBD.

*All public transport in Auckland uses AT HOP cards (our EZlink cards), so I purchased one for NZD$5 (excluding stored value) at the airport convenience store once I exited the arrival hall.

When I arrived at the CBD, I was expecting a quick and easy walk to my hotel, only to realise with stark horror that Auckland is not flat like Singapore. Even within the CBD, I was greeted by steep slopes with 20-40 degrees of incline, so I slowly but surely pushed my suitcase uphill, as my hotel was located at the top of 2 slopes. Seeing the locals effortlessly stroll up and down in heels, pushing prams, or even running uphill, I knew I was in for a great cardio workout throughout my stay!

Let me just say that The Quadrant Hotel & Suites was absolutely worth dragging my suitcase uphill for. They kindly gave me a high floor with a sea view (as I requested), affording me a lovely view of the harbour from my balcony.

The Quadrant is an apartment hotel, which I booked for ~$115/night – my room was a studio apartment kitted out with cooking amenities, a dishwasher, and a washer-dryer. The room size was decent, the adjacent rooms & corridors were quiet at night, and the hotel’s location was safe and accessible, so I wouldn’t mind staying here again as a solo female traveller.

Apart from unpacking and a quick grocery run in the rain, I didn’t get up to much on my first day here. I had a generous bowl of mala beef noodles at the Xi’an Food Bar just down the hill from my hotel (I liked that place so much I ate there again), and the sun had set by 5.30pm, so I called it an early night.

Day 2 – Auckland Domain + 2 museums in a day

I’ll admit that I didn’t plan this day out properly, but it turned out way better than expected! I started the morning off with a leisurely stroll through the University of Auckland campus, conveniently located opposite my hotel, cutting through it on the way to Auckland Domain.

I walked about half an hour from my hotel to the top of Auckland Domain, a large hill/park on the cone of an extinct volcano, with its main attractions being the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Domain Wintergardens. Unfortunately, Wintergardens was undergoing seismic strengthening renovations, so only 1 tiny greenhouse and the fernery were open. I walked through it in 5 minutes and headed off to the museum.

If you’re a museum enthusiast like me, I’d recommend setting aside a full day for it; I managed to complete it in 4 hours, but it would definitely have been more leisurely if I had spent 8h just soaking it all in. There were 2 cafes for mid-day snacks, one with an especially excellent view of Peter*!

Peter the T-rex at the Auckland War Memorial Museum
*Peter the T-rex (one of the most complete T-rex skeletons in the world) at the Auckland War Memorial Museum

Personally, my favourite areas in the museum were the WW1 & WW2 and the Natural History galleries, so I spent most of my time poring through their artefacts and displays. Entry is free for locals and NZD$28 for tourists, but it was well worth the price!

I then met up with a local friend who drove us to the Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tāmaki) in the CBD. We got there an hour before closing time, and entry was free, so we briefly walked through the various galleries. We had pre-dinner Korean-style corn dogs at the nearby Mighty Hotdog @ Chancery Square; it was a nice warm snack for a rainy day.

We then walked further into the CBD to try the Odyssey Sensory Maze, which touts itself as a ‘unique sensory wonderland with obstacles, fun illusions, lighting effects, scents, sound effects and strange sensations.’ For NZD$24, it felt like a regular fun house, worth trying once (especially if you have kids) but probably not again. Our last stop was Westfield Newmarket, where we had a casual dinner at Canto Canto and called it a day.

Day 3 – hiking 2 hills in 1 day + the coziest book cafe

This morning was particularly sunny, so I spontaneously decided it would be the day I hiked Mt Eden! It was a short bus ride from my hotel, and the bus stop happened to be just a short walk away from the road leading to the peak.

There’s 2 different paths to the top (on GoogleMaps), one being steeper and shorter, versus the one I chose, which was less steep but longer – I preferred my route, as I was able to walk a lot faster and still reached the top in 20 minutes. The view was spectacular, providing a bird’s eye view of Auckland and its surrounding waters. The boardwalk lined the edge of the crater, giving a vertigo-inducing view into the former-volcano (don’t worry, the last eruption was 15000 years ago!).

I headed back down and hopped onto the same bus as earlier, which brought me into the quaint Mount Eden neighbourhood. The bus fortuitously stopped right outside Chapter Book and Tea Shop, a cafe that I had been intending to pay a visit to.

The highlights of this little tea shop are that it serves excellent pastries, offers a wide selection of teas (the tea menu is a few pages long and meticulously sorted) and has shelves upon shelves of books! I stopped there for a quick break, popping into the quaint shops that lined Mount Eden Road.

To kick off my second hike of the day, I opted to walk ~2km through the Mt Eden neighbourhood (instead of taking the bus) just to enjoy the sunshine and suburbia, to reach Cornwall Park. Fun fact, Cornwall Park is a functional farm with pastures for sheep and cows to graze on, and I passed by many on my way up.

The hike up to One Tree Hill was arguably more scenic than the Mt Eden hike, because I did it right before sunset, and overlooking the vastness of the city under the golden light was truly magnificent.

source: jontynz

After walking back down, I hopped on a straight bus to Dominion Road (near Mt Eden Road), a street known for its variety of Asian food – from the usual Japanese/Chinese, to rarer cuisines like Uyghur! I met up with a Singaporean friend for dinner at UdonWorks. Their $23 seafood udon came with a platter of fresh sashimi, ahi, shrimp & eel – extremely good value for money and a definite must-try if you’re in the area! We ended off the night with a coin booth karaoke session back in the CBD.

Day 4 – aquarium, Mission Bay & exploring the CBD

I decided to make a trip to the SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, because I felt the need to do something vaguely touristy (and I refused to pay to visit the SkyTower). It was a short 15-minute bus ride from Britomart, via the TMK bus, and many others also hopped off at the aquarium stop.

I pre-booked my ticket on Klook [SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium Ticket in Auckland, General Entry Ticket (Off-Peak Weekend), SGD$31.99], since it offers better prices than the official website; remember to use my referral link to sign up for a Klook account for $5 off your first purchase!

It was a quaint aquarium, its main highlights being the penguins (they have King & Gentoos) and an ‘underwater tunnel’/travelator that makes you feel like you’re swimming with the mantas & sharks. I spent about 2h there, enjoying the penguin feeding session (do check the timings) and going round in circles on the travelator.

My next stop was Mission Bay Beach, just a few stops further down the TMK bus route. I had the quintessential beach day meal of fish & chips and ice cream, but it was slightly chilly so I didn’t spend too long on the beach, opting to return to the CBD.

As I walked towards the CBD, I heard chants and naturally walked towards the source. Turns out, I had chanced upon my first-ever peaceful protest (in the wake of the USA’s Roe vs Wade debacle). The energy was electric, and the people were passionate – the organised march felt more like a celebration, and it was conducted safely with police supervision.

source: stuff.co.nz

After the crowd cleared, I continued roaming the CBD. The shopping along Queen Street was nothing special (mostly chain and luxury stores), High Street had some unique stores (but they weren’t very affordable…), and the area near Sky Tower had souvenir shops where I picked up a bunch of postcards to mail to my friends & family back home. Mercifully for my wallet, my shopping haul was nonexistent.

Day 5 – flea markets, antique stores & suburban road trip

It was the 3rd sunny day in a row, and the good weather was starting to feel like a miracle. I headed out bright and early to the Central Flea Market (8am-1pm), which happens on the second Sunday of every month and I was fortunate enough to be around for.

Auckland Central Flea Market

Located at Balmoral Road car park (near Dominion Road), flanking Junk & Disorderly, the venue was packed with various stalls selling secondhand clothes, antiques, old records, etc. Like a human magpie, I had a decent haul of coins, rocks and trinkets!

Junk & Disorderly, a massive warehouse selling antiques, was also a sight to behold. Packed with vintage pianos, leather trunks, old gardening tools, toy soldiers circa the ’40s and pretty much any item under the sun, it was truly an antique lover’s heaven. If I lived in New Zealand, I might have bought half the warehouse…

Junk & Disorderly

After grabbing a quick Chinese lunch at Spicy House (the food was great btw), I headed back to the hotel to wait for my friends to pick me up for our mini road trip.

My friends had put together an impromptu excursion to North Head Reserve to watch the sunset from the top of the hill. Just a short 20-min drive out of Auckland’s CBD, the panoramic view of the CBD & surrounding ocean was to die for, and I’m not exaggerating. There were also some cool former army bunkers built into the hill which we were able to explore, but they were damp and mouldy (ew).

We then headed into a quiet and dark (but safe) suburb to stargaze for a while, before returning to the CBD for American-style burgers at Auckland’s oldest and most famous food truck, The White Lady. I had their classic burger, and boy was it deliciously warm and satisfying on a chilly night! Then we rounded off the night with another karaoke session.

Day 6 – Viaduct harbour, Devonport

Alas, it was the last full day I had in Auckland, so I decided to take it slow and wander around the city to soak up the sights one last time. I started off with a leisurely morning walk along Viaduct Harbour (adjacent to the CBD), to Silo Park at Wynyard Quarter – it was a lovely walk that took me past the Maritime museum, rows of yachts, and far too many seagulls. I walked a full loop and took my time, finishing in time for a warm lunch of ramen back in the CBD.

Since the ferry terminal was nearby (and cheap ferry rides across the harbour run frequently), I spontaneously hopped on the one to Devonport, since my local friends had mentioned that it was a pretty seaside town. After a short 12-minute ferry ride, I was greeted by a quaint English-style town, with a lush green seaside park next to an unspoiled stretch of beach. I’ll admit that it was slightly underwhelming, and I finished exploring the town in time to catch the next ferry back.

After a final stroll up the challenging CBD hills and past my favourite stores, I headed back to my hotel to begin packing for the next leg of my trip in Wellie!

Places for my next visit

As you can probably tell, I’m already planning for my next trip back to these lovely islands. I’ll go back during summer time to make full use of the sunshine & longer daylight hours to explore the great outdoors to my heart’s content!

Here are some places near Auckland (or the upper half of the North island) I’d recommend for visitors going during non-winter months:

  • Tiritiri Matangi Island is a ferry ride away from Auckland, and is best known for birding. It’s probably best to visit in summer, when the birds and greenery are out in full force. The island has guided tours and walks, to teach visitors about conservation and local birds.
  • The Coromandel Peninsula is a 2h ferry ride or drive out of Auckland, and is perfect for a weekend getaway. There’s various vineyards/breweries/restaurants, hiking/biking trails, and not to mention, the iconic Cathedral Cove (as seen in the Prince Caspian movie/Narnia and many other shows).
  • The Hobbiton set is definitely a must-visit, but since I haven’t read the books or rewatched the movies recently, I decided to save it for another trip, when I can fully appreciate the set details and lore around the story. And I reckon it would be even sunnier and golden in summer.
  • If you have extra time, Napier (a short domestic flight away) is definitely worth visiting too! The city’s architecture looks like it’s straight out of the art-deco era, and it has plenty of vineyards, posh seaside hotels, and nice restaurants. The accommodations there were slightly out of my budget for this solo trip, but I’ll definitely live out my ‘wine & seafood by the beach’ dreams another time!
All the posts in this series

In my next post, I’ll be sharing my 9-day itinerary in Wellington, and recommending the places to visit or skip if you only have a few days there.

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