Auckland is the largest metropolitan area in New Zealand, with a population of over one million. It is in the northern half of the North Island, on a narrow isthmus of land that joins the Northland peninsula to the rest of the North Island.
This article only deals with Auckland City itself. In November 2010, four formerly separate cities were amalgamated. These four were Manukau in the south, Waitakere in the west, North Shore in the north and Auckland City itself, on and around the isthmus. These other cities, rural areas, small towns and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf can be found in the Auckland Region article.
The city and suburbs have developed within the same time frame and similar urban patterns as California (Los Angeles and Auckland have shared urban planning designs and are sister cities). Today the city and suburbs sprawl over a large urban area, hemmed to the east and west by two large harbours (Waitemata and Manukau) and ocean (Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea) beyond.
Many suburbs were once separate towns and offer examples of early European settlement (Devonport, Mission Bay, Parnell Village, Ponsonby and Howick are historic suburban centres that remain well preserved and contain good examples of Victorian, Edwardian, Deco and Bungalow residential styles).
An extensive tram system was removed in the 1960s and motorway systems have since been implemented, although recent efforts to return two areas to trams for tourism purposes (in the CBD Wynyard Quarter and at Western Springs linking the Zoo and Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)) have been successful.
Because of its large geographic sprawl (and urban design focus on motorway systems) public transport can be frustrating and is not cheap by international comparisons – however – most destinations within 5 km of the CBD and of appeal to visitors are served by frequent bus, train and ferry services from the Britomart transport centre (located in the downtown area of the CBD). An information desk operates at the ferry building and from inside the street level entrance to the train station with information for all public transport options across the city.
Regular ferry services depart the ferry building; with historic Devonport just 15 min away – the view of the city and islands of the harbour make this a highly recommended trip. Further away with plenty of good beaches, boutique accommodation, wineries and olive groves is Waiheke Island (45 min). Also worth a visit by ferry is Rangitoto (the large volcanic island that flanks the eastern horizon) – take good walking shoes, food and water to walk to the top – it can be very hot in summer – a bus service operates on some days for those that dont want to walk (enquire at the Britomart or ferry building information centre before setting out – and don’t miss the last ferry back to the city as there is no accommodation on Rangitoto).
Popular areas on good bus routes include Ponsonby, Newmarket, Parnell, Mission Bay, Takapuna. A tourist explorer bus also completes a regular circuit of popular tourist sites. For travel to more distant suburban locations a car is recommended – many car hire firms have set up business in Auckland and rental rates are reasonable especially if renting for longer periods of time. Be aware that parking in Auckland can be complicated – make sure you read and understand parking control signs ( local government enforces parking fines and has no hesitation to have your vehicle towed). Be aware also of bus lanes (zones marked out on the road where only buses are permitted at certain times). These zones are also signposted but it can be easy to miss seeing them if concentrating on traffic. Fines are large and the authority administering is not tolerant.
The Auckland area was first settled by a confluence of Māori people of different tribes more than 700 years ago. From 1600 to 1750 the Tāmaki tribes terraced the volcanic cones, building pā(settlements behind protective palisades). Across the isthmus they developed 2,000 hectares of kūmara (sweet potato) gardens. These earthworks are easily seen on Mt Eden – a volcanic hill easily accessible from the CBD.
European settlement began in the early 1800s. The settlement resembled a shanty town in parts and ran along the gully in what is now Queen Street – alongside a creek (now under the road). The original shoreline remained until port reclamation and road development obscured it (although the original sea cliff can still be seen in Shortland St, Fanshawe St and along The Strand in Parnell). The port is the biggest in New Zealand and continues to grow but continued harbour filling is controversial.
In 1840 the city became the capital of New Zealand for 25 years and migration from Europe and Australia began in earnest. The University of Auckland celebrates 130 years in 2013 since it was founded in 1883 and historic buildings and fortifications can be seen on campus.The War Memorial Museum (which houses a good collection of early Māori and European settlement on the ground floor and top floor respectively) was built in 1929 and the eight lane Harbour Bridge (linking the North Shore to the rest of the city) was completed in 1959 (and carries some 170,000 vehicles per day).
Dominating the midtown skyline of the CBD is the Sky Tower – an observation, restaurant and telecommunications tower completed in 1997. It is 328 m (1,076 ft) tall, as measured from ground level to the top of the mast, making it the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Auckland is often known as the “City of Sails” for the large number of yachts that grace the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf. It could also be known as the “City of Extinct Volcanoes”. Much of its natural character comes from the fact that it is built on the Auckland Volcanic Field which consists of about 48 volcanoes. All of the volcanoes are individually extinct but the volcanic field as a whole is not. Auckland is the largest city in Polynesia. For some Polynesian island nations there are more expatriates living in Auckland than in their homeland. Auckland’s rich Pacific cultural mix is celebrated at festivals and sporting matches.
Auckland often rates well in international quality-of-life polls, consistently rating in the top five. Culturally, the city is an interesting mix. As Europeans only settled in New Zealand less than 200 years ago, an immigrant culture is prominent – many migrants from the British Isles and their immediate offspring populate the city. The city has attracted a sizeable population of Asians and Pacific Islanders in recent years and in some areas Asian migrants represent 50% of the enrolled voting population. Along with changing demographics and decentralisation of commerce to suburban nodes, the central city has witnessed significant residential influx over the last decade. Education facilities and related services, many aimed primarily at Asian students, now represent a significant portion of commercial and residential building use in the CBD.
The indigenous peoples of New Zealand are the Māori, a large portion of whom have emigrated from their tribal villages in the last 60 years to cities such as Auckland. Representing about 11% of the city, most of these Māori are fully integrated into the urban culture and many are estranged from their tribal roots. Intermarriage rates have been substantial, so rather than appearing only as a prominently distinct ethnicity, an entire spectrum from European white to Māori has emerged. Like many indigenous peoples, the Māori suffered historical injustice/genocide at the hands of the colonizing British, though since the 1960s a revival of the Māori culture and language has emerged with New Zealand now celebrating the distinctness of its native inhabitants. Though most Māori speak far better English than Te Reo Māori, New Zealand added native Māori as an official language in 1987; however, English is overwhelmingly dominant.
Many think that central Auckland does not have enough green space. Instead of parks having been planned as centre pieces of the city from inception, as most other British Empire cities were, Auckland parks were after-thoughts, located on marginal land, as if no one ever expected Auckland to grow beyond being a port town. Meyer’s Park (previously a shanty town, bought for the city by the Meyers family) is tucked out of the way in a gully. Albert Park is difficult to access but well worth a visit and adjacent to the University of Auckland main campus and historic buildings. Further up, Grafton Bridge crosses an historic cemetery where it is an easy walk to the Botanical Garden and Domain – although not actually in the CBD proper.