Auckland is New Zealand’s largest population centre with just over 1 million out of 4 million New Zealanders living in the Auckland area. Auckland is a conglomerate of several cities: Auckland City, which covers the central business district and suburbs close to the city, as well as most of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf. North Shore City covers all suburbs north of the Harbour Bridge. Waitakere City covers not only the Western suburbs but also the Waitakere Ranges all the way to the Tasman Sea. To the South and East, Manukau City is both Auckland’s economic powerhouse and destination for many recent migrants from around the world. If you arrive by air, you’ll land in Manukau City. The town of Papakura south of Manukau City complements the urban area.
Auckland’s inhabitants are a very cosmopolitan folk. New Zealand’s indigeneous people, the Maori, retain a strong presence, and you will see their language used and borrowed from in many contexts in New Zealand life. If you are lucky, you may even hear it spoken. In fact, Auckland is home to people from most Pacific Islands, and faces from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and the Cook Islands are common sights. Some of these communities have more members in Auckland than population back home in the islands.
As a result of New Zealand’s early settlement from the British Isles, many Aucklanders identify themselves as being of European extraction:
The English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh abound from way back, with many recent additions to the pool. However, in the last few decades, many Dutch, South African, and other “European” arrivals have softened this picture a lot. Very visible – in particular in the central city – are Aucklanders of Asian origin. While Asian (in particular Chinese) migration to New Zealand stretches back to the 19th century, further waves came in the late 20th century. Among the larger groups are Chinese from South-East Asia and mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as Indians (many of whom have never been to India but originate from Fiji), Tamils, and Koreans. Most of the more recent Asian arrivals have settled in East Auckland, though – in fact many of the Asian faces you see in the city are tourists or students at the universities or one of the many language schools and new to the place!
Auckland is located on and around a narrow isthmus between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific. The two oceans provide one natural harbour each, the Manukau Harbour to the Southwest and the Waitemata Harbour between Auckland City and North Shore. The Waitemata opens into the Hauraki Gulf with a collection of unique islands and ultimately into the Pacific, whereas the shallow Manukau Harbour opens up to the Tasman Sea.
Both harbours and the Hauraki Gulf create between them countless picturesque bays and estuaries, beatiful beaches and mangrove swamps. The perfect way to appreciate this is from a boat or, if you’re adventurous, from a sea kayak, which can be rented from various places in Auckland.
Towards the West, the rugged Waitakere Ranges shield Auckland from the worst of the weather coming in from the Tasman Sea. The bush-clad ranges are parkland and offer many opportunities for walkers. The beautiful coastline is a mix between black sand surf beaches (warning: dangerous rips in many places!) and rugged cliffs, a marked contrast to the gentle nature of the landscape around the Hauraki Gulf.
It would be completely inappropriate to talk about Auckland’s geography without mentioning that the city is built on an active volcanic field and sports about fifty volcanic cones and explosion craters within the metropolitan area. Many of them have eroded or have been quarried for scoria so that they are almost invisible. Some
still stand, however, and make excellent lookouts, e.g., Mt. Eden, One Tree Hill (whose one tree had to be removed a few years ago), or Mt. Victoria and North Head in Devonport. Auckland’s youngest and largest volcano, Rangitoto Island, is only about 700 years old, a 45 minute boat ride from the city, and a very worthwhile daytrip!
Auckland has a mild subtropical climate. In summer, temperatures hardly ever venture above 25 Celsius even on hot days – it gets humid rather than hot, and colls down relatively quickly at night, especially on days with clear skies. In winter, Auckland is (almost)
frost free. During any season, the sun is never far away, as is rain, and sunscreen and a raincoat are standard kit. Hint: Because of the clean atmosphere, the New Zealand sun burns skin quickly (often in less than 15 minutes). Buy your sunscreen in New Zealand, as the higher protection factor products are often hard to get in other countries.
Economy and Culture
Auckland is home to many types of industries, from heavy to high tech, has New Zealand’s largest sea port and airport, three universities, and four major hospitals. Tourism is an increasing sector as many people realize that Auckland is more than just a gateway to New Zealand. The America’s Cup a few years ago played a part in this, as do the many cruise ships that call each season.
Things to see and do
- Go up the Sky Tower, the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest structure, using the world’s highest cable elevators (with a glass floor) to get a good overview. If you feel like it and have some spare cash, they’ll let you jump down, too.
- Alternatively take a bus out to Mt. Eden (anything that runs along Mt. Eden Rd. will do) and get a similar view for free (plus some exercise)
- Take a walk in the Auckland Domain and visit the Auckland Museum (War Memorial Museum), with exhibitions on New Zealand fauna, flora, culture and a live Maori performance. The more adventure-minded may wish to visit the Domain at night to see glow worms (ask us where to find them – you’ll need a torch/flashlight)
- Head down to the waterfront and marvel at the superyachts in the Viaduct Harbour before visiting the Hobson Wharf Maritime Museum, the Ferry Building and taking a walk along the historic red fence to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial.
- Do a harbour cruise. If you have a day and an interest in marine mammals, then the Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari might be for you.
- Take the ferry to Devonport and climb Mt. Victoria and/or North Head. Take a torch to explore the tunnels and gun emplacements on North Head
- Walk out to Victoria Park or take a bus and take a stroll through Victoria Park Market with its artists’ and souvenir shops
- Take a bus out along Tamaki Drive to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter, then head to Mission Bay for lunch. Great for kids of all ages.
- Talking about kids: There’s a zoo in Auckland, and it’s got a nocturnal house where you can see kiwis (the birds, not the fruit, which is called “kiwifruit”, by the way!). Not far away are the two MOTAT sites, one of which sports a collection of flying planes – New Zealand’s link to the world from the days before the big jetliners.
- Spend a day over on Rangitoto Island (take your lunch and a drink) Spend a day in the Waitakere Ranges, looking at NZ bush, kauri trees, waterfalls, black sand beaches and blowholes.
- Spend a day at Tiri Tiri Matangi Island – an island dedicated to a reforestation and conservation project, where you get to see some of New Zealand’s native bird species in their natural habitat. The ferry service to the island operates every day except Monday and Tuesday. Advanced booking is essential, especially for the weekend ferry services.