From natural beauty and historical sites to adrenaline-pumping thrills, there are plenty of unique things to do in South Auckland.
We spanned an area from Auckland’s east to the west coast, discovering the diversity of nature one expects to see on any coast-to-coast adventure, but in New Zealand we could span the course in a few hours.
Filled with natural beauty and history, the region is alive with colourful parks, waterfalls, streams, and coast views. There is a seemingly endless number of outdoor free things to do in South Auckland. This only mirrors the massive number of man-made opportunities.
In fact, it’s the region where we find the country’s biggest Polynesian-style market, the largest theme park, the most celebrated vineyard, and the location holding the longest continuous liquor license. There’s even an Olympic training ground.
On the flip side, the region also had the nation’s worst maritime disaster.
South Auckland is also home to New Zealand’s largest international airport, and it is the starting point for most international visitors arriving via air travel. So, if you are going to spend any time here, read on and discover some fascinating things to do south of Auckland city.
First, be inspired by the city…
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Mapping our favourite things to do in South Auckland
The map features our favourite things to do in South Auckland divided geographically. Below we have offered a bit more on each activity, along with any discounts we have discovered. The descriptions are organized into five categories (historical beauty, adrenaline rush, regional parks, kick back and relax, and weekend markets.)
- Manukau Heads
- Otara Flea Market
- Villa Maria Vineyard Estate
- Rainbow’s End
- Vector Wero Whitewater Park
- Auckland Botanic Gardens
- Omana Regional Park
- Maraetai Wharf
- Duder Regional Park
- Clevedon Village Market
- Hunua Ranges
Places to visit in South Auckland for historical beauty
Manukau Heads lighthouse and Awhitu peninsula
With black sand on one side and white on the other, the Awhitu Peninsula is an adventure on its own, as well as one of Auckland’s most beautiful places. However, we focused on our destination, the Manukau Heads Lighthouse. Once at the end of the peninsula, we climbed the lighthouse, as it’s one of the few remaining lighthouses in NZ that is still open to the public (and free!).
Here, despite the wind, we had spectacular views, including the sandbar responsible for the wreck of the HMS Orpheus. It remains the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s nautical history.
If you have allocated enough time, be sure to stop for a hike through the Awhitu Regional Park on your way back down the peninsula.
Auckland Botanic Gardens
Roam through 156 acres (including 10 acres of native forest), passing 10,000 plants from around the world. The Auckland Botanic Gardens attract nearly one million visitors annually, suggesting it is the most popular of the South Auckland activities.
Opened in 1982 and run by the Auckland City Council, the gardens open daily at 8am and have an on-site cafe. We always stop here when driving south, even on longer trips, like a road trip to the Bay of Plenty.
Getting here is half the fun, as the drive is alongside the pōhutukawa coast. Here we enjoyed a stroll along the peaceful walking path passing a children’s playground and views out as far as the Coromandel Peninsula on a clear day. There’s an overall romantic feel, especially when there are couples cuddling together at the end of a wharf overlooking the water.
Things to do in South Auckland: adrenaline rush
Rainbows End Amusement Park
New Zealand’s ultimate theme park, Rainbows End will push adrenaline junkies to the edge of their limit with unique rides like the Stratosfear (photo above), Fear Fall, or Corkscrew Coaster. It’s the country’s largest theme park and a great day of fun for the entire family. If you are headed to Rainbows End, be sure to check for discounts and reserve your tickets here.
Vector Wero Whitewater Park
Imagine a whitewater rafting experience in the city with an adrenalin-pumping 300m Grade 3-4 course that was even used by some of our Olympians for their training. If you are ready to enjoy one of the most thrilling things to do in South Auckland. Reserve your often discounted time slot here.
Free things to do in South Auckland: regional parks
There are 28 regional parks in Auckland, each amazing, and each with its own features and highlights. About a third are in South Auckland. Three of our four favourites are listed just below, the fourth being Awhitu Region Park, which we already recommended above.
Hunua Ranges and waterfall
With hours of hiking trails and the impressive Hunua Falls, the Hunuas are easily a destination on their own. My daughter has spent more time here than I have and shares her photos above.
Ōmana Regional Park
The first stop on the east coast section of our road trip exploring things to do in South Auckland was the Beachlands Maraetai Walkway in Ōmana Regional Park. For us, it was interesting to notice that Rangitoto seems to look exactly the same regardless of which side you view it from. Historically,Ōmana park was one of the region’s first farms.
Duder Regional Park
While most visitors to Duder Regional Park come for the peninsula walk and that feeling as if you are on your own island, we went in lambing season to enjoy the spring lambs. It’s home to one of Auckland’s best walks.
Things to do in South Auckland: kick back and relax
The delightful town of Waiuku is home to the Kentish Hotel, which holds New Zealand’s longest continuous liquor license.
Nearby, don’t miss the black sand, rugged cliffs, and impressive waves that match the generally windy atmosphere at Kariotahi Beach.
And if you want to complete the day in luxury, head to Castaways Resort for a clifftop meal overlooking the water. Or, go for the ultimate in pampering, book a spa treatment and then spend the night. Book your stay here.
Villa Maria Vineyard
One of New Zealand’s most celebrated wineries is Villa Maria Vineyards. It has been awarded the New Zealand Wine Company of the Year at least 15 times in the past 20 years. With a location quite near Auckland Airport, a stop here is ideal before your next flight.
Stroll through the grounds (last time we saw hand-pickers harvesting the grapes), have a winery tour, or enjoy a snack, meal, or a glass of wine at the cafe.
Things to do in South Auckland: weekend markets
- Otara Flea Market on Saturday
A Saturday morning flea market, Otara is the largest Polynesian-style market in New Zealand.
- Clevedon Sunday Farmers Market
I think it’s the overall relaxed and rural atmosphere that makes this farmers’ market so popular in the region. In fact, this lively market is so popular that there’s even a transit option from downtown Auckland that will let you leave the car at home and simply enjoy the views along the way. Check for family discounts and book your transit here.
A bit farther away
Photo credit: Waitomo Glowworm Cave: Corin Walker Bain / 100% Pure New Zealand.
Both images are used with permission.
Where to stay
Our favourite getaway spot is located in the region, and you can read our full review of Quail Lodge here.
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Do you now know what to do in South Auckland?
More from Auckland you might also like … starting with these 75 free and nearly free things to do in the city
All photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such or stock images from Depositphotos.