Auckland Art Gallery
The Auckland Art Gallery spreads over two neighbouring buildings. The Main Gallery, built in French chateau style, houses important works by Pieter Bruegel the Younger and Guido Reni in the European collection, and an extensive collection of NZ art. It’s worth calling in for the intimate 19th-century portraits of tattooed Maori subjects by Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer alone. The New Gallery concentrates on contemporary art and temporary exhibitions (with varying admission charges).
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This is an excellent modern zoo with spacious, natural compounds. The infrared lighting of the nocturnal house offers a rare chance to see kiwi fossicking about. The big foreigners tend to steal the attention from the timid natives, but if you can wrestle the kids away from the tigers and elephants you’ll find tuataras and a large selection of native birds.
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Dominating the Auckland Domain is this magnificent museum, an imposing Greek temple with an impressive modern dome. Its comprehensive display of Pacific Island and Maori artefacts on the ground floor deserves to be on your ‘must see’ list. Highlights include a 25m war canoe and an extant carved meeting house from the Thames area that you can enter (remove your shoes first). Bookings are required for the museum highlights guided tour. Maori gallery tours (same prices) take place at 11.30am and 2pm. Daily Maori cultural performances provide a good (and good-humoured) introduction to things Maori.
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The impossible-to-miss Sky Tower looks like a giant hypodermic giving a fix to the heavens. Spectacular lighting renders it even more space-age at night. The colours change for special events and shooting fireworks make it even more phallic on New Year’s Eve. The tower is the best part of the SkyCity complex, a tacky 24-hour casino with restaurants, cafes, bars and a hotel. At 328m it is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. A lift takes you up to the observation decks in 40 stomach-lurching seconds; look down through the glass floor panels if you’re after an extra kick. It costs $3 extra to catch the skyway lift to the ultimate viewing level. Late afternoon is a good time to go up: you can sip a beverage in the Sky Lounge as the sun sets.
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Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World
Housed in old stormwater and sewage holding tanks is this unique aquarium. A transparent tunnel runs along the centre of the tank, through which you travel on a conveyor belt, with the fish, including sharks and stingrays, swimming around you. You can step off at any time to take a closer look.The big attraction, however, is the permanent winter wonderland known as Antarctic Encounter. It includes a walk through a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut, and a ride aboard a heated Snow Cat through a frozen environment where a colony of king and gentoo penguins lives at sub-zero temperatures. Displays include an Antarctic scientific base of the future and exhibits on the history of Antarctica. Needless to say, this whole experience is a fantastic adventure for adults travelling with children. Less fantastic are the entry queues at busy times of the year. Book online for a shorter wait.Buses numbered 745 to 769 head here from Britomart. There’s also a free shark-shaped shuttle bus that departs 172 Quay St (opposite the ferry terminal) on the hour between 9am and 4pm (except 2pm) and SkyCity’s atrium 10 minutes later (departing Kelly Tarlton’s 40 minutes later).
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Western Springs Park
This park centres on a lake formed by a confluence of lava flows. Until 1902 this was Auckland’s main water supply; more than four-million litres bubble up daily. Kids come here to be traumatised by pushy, bread-fattened geese and partake of the popular adventure playground. It’s a great spot for a picnic and to get acquainted with playful pukeko (swamp hens). From the city, catch any bus heading west via Great North Rd. By car, take the Western Springs exit from the North Western Motorway.
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Coast to Coast Walkway
This 16km trail links Viaduct Harbour and Manukau Harbour, cutting a path through a bunch of sights and attractions such as Auckland Museum and Cornwall Park. Walk one way, then bus back. Pick up a printed copy from visitors centres or download it from the government's website.
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