Sydney Versus Auckland: 24 Hours In The Great Harbour Cities

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Are you planning a stopover in Sydney or Auckland, Australasia’s two great harbour cities? if you only have 24 hours to spare, what should you do? Here’s a breakdown of a “day in your life” in both.


There’s a good reason Sydney is called “the Harbour City” and with just 24 hours in hand, most of that time will be spent on the water, or on the foreshore looking at the water. It’s a city with the tourist icons of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and the truth is they’re both even more impressive when seen in real life. This is a city that’s built around the water, and the lives of the locals seem to revolve around it as well. Granite cliffs and national parks rise up from the harbour and dotted among the vegetation are homes of the people fortunate enough to live here. On the harbour itself, ferries charge around carrying commuters and visitors to the numerous suburbs and water front villages, and competition sailing boats and pleasure craft somehow mingle comfortably in the setting.  

Ride the Manly Ferry: If you do nothing else while in Sydney, and it’s a nice day, taking the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay is the quintessential experience in Australia’s biggest city. It also means you can kill four birds with one stone. As you chug out of Circular Quay, the famous Harbour Bridge looms large on the left and as the ferry bears right, it cruises straight past the Sydney Opera House. Then it’s a leisurely 30 minute journey through Sydney Harbour itself before arriving at Manly, a seaside town a world away from the bustle of the city which boasts one of the most famous beaches in the world.    

Have lunch on the harbour: There’s no shortage of top class eateries with a view in Sydney and the harbour is has some of the best in the world. Quay is just one of the restaurants in the Overseas Passenger Terminal with unrivalled views of both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, while a more casual option is the Opera Bar, which stands in the shadow of the Opera House. Ferries run to Watsons Bay and the 20 minute ride ends with spectacular views back towards the city. There’s a Doyle’s seafood restaurant here as well as the iconic Watsons Bay Hotel.

Go shopping at QVB: If you need to pick up gifts for loved ones and you’re short on time, the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) on George Street, near Town Hall Station, is a good one-stop-shop option with upmarket clothing and jewellery stores, mixed in with some of the world’s biggest designer names. It’s also one of the most beautifully restored buildings in Sydney, so even if you don’t like shopping, it’s a place to marvel at Victorian architecture. The nearby Pitt Street Mall is also a good option.

Take a day trip: If you’ve been-there-done-that with Sydney it’s possible to get out of the city for a day and experience something completely different. The Blue Mountains are about an hour and a half drive from Sydney and it’s a relatively simple exercise to hire a car to make the trip. The scenery at the top is superb and there are lookouts all along the stunning valley with bush walks of varying grades throughout the whole area. The Hunter Valley is another good option for wine buffs with more than 100 vineyards about three hours north-west of Sydney. It’s possible to drive up and back in a day but a better option is taking a day tour - with someone else driving it means you can taste away and not spit too much good wine out.  


Cosmopolitan Auckland is an appropriate introduction to New Zealand and even though it’s an urban city of just under one and a half million people, it’s a place that reveals the heart of its people. They love the outdoor life and its recreational pursuits but they’re also happy sitting in a cozy bar with a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Along with being New Zealand’s largest city, it’s also the country’s most multicultural and boasts a restaurant scene that reflects that diversity. Like Sydney, it’s a harbour city and islands of green stand sentinel over the main centre and suburbs and daily life here involves being on, or near, the water. Arguably, Auckland’s strongest feature is its people who have embraced the “work to live, not live for work” philosophy and it doesn’t take much to convince them to go for a night out on the town. 

Go up the Sky Tower: It’s an iconic symbol of the city and while locals consider a visit to the observation deck of the Sky Tower as “daggy”, it’s worth doing even just once. From a height of 220 metres, it offers a spectacular 360 degree view of Auckland and gives a great overview of the physical beauty of the city and surrounds. All of the city’s landmarks are put in perspective. The harbour, the islands, the volcanoes are revealed in their full glory, and you can even go for a 192m bungy jump. 

Climb the Auckland Bridge: It takes an hour and a half to do it, but the reward is a fantastic view of Waitemata Harbour and the City skyline. This is where you’ll understand why Auckland is called the City of Sails with yachts and boats of all sizes cruising along the waterways. And of course, you’re in New Zealand, so it means you can go bungy jumping off the bridge as well with the added option of a thrilling “water touch” finish.

Walk to Mission Bay: The walk from Auckland City is about 45 minutes, or reasonable taxi ride, along the oceanfront to one of the most popular spots for locals. It has a nice sandy beach which is good for swimming and a promenade where walkers, joggers and rollerbladers go to work out. Out in the water and sailing boats, windsurfers and kayakers compete for space in the water and if you don’t feel renting any gear and taking part, there’s a slew of restaurants all along the waterfront to sit and watch the world go by.

Go on a wine tour: New Zealand is home to some truly world class wineries and few people realise some of the best of them are on Auckland’s doorstep and easily visited in a day or half day trip. The Auckland region has 100 vineyards and wineries, and tours usually take in at least four of them. It’s a great way to experience the oenophile culture which has developed and also take in the rolling green hills of the districts surrounding Auckland. Most of the wine tour operators do pick up and drop off at hotels in the city.


Ben Hall