Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and, as the site of the major international airport, most visitors’ first view of the country. Planes bank over the island-studded Hauraki Gulf and yachts with bright spinnakers tack through the glistening waters of the Waitemata Harbour towards the “City of Sails”. The downtown sprouts skyscrapers and is surrounded by the grassy humps of some fifty-odd extinct volcanoes, and a low-rise suburban sprawl of prim wooden villas surrounded by substantial gardens. Look beyond the glitzy shopfronts and Auckland has a modest small-town feel and measured pace, though this can seem frenetic in comparison with the rest of the country.
Auckland is one of the least densely populated cities in the world, occupying twice the area of London and yet home to only 1.5 million inhabitants. It is also the world’s largest Polynesian city. Around eleven percent of the population claim Maori descent while fourteen percent are families of migrants who arrived from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and other South Pacific islands during the 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, the Polynesian profile has traditionally been confined to small pockets, and it is only now, as the second generation matures, that Polynesia is making its presence felt in mainstream Auckland life, especially in the arts.
Many visitors only stay in the city long enough for a quick zip around the smattering of key sights, principally the Auckland Museum, with its matchless collection of Maori and Pacific Island carving and artefacts. A better taste of the city is gleaned by ambling around the fashionable inner-city suburbs of Ponsonby, Parnell, Newmarket and Devonport, and using the city as a base for exploring the wild and desolate West Coast surf beaches and the wineries, all less than an hour from the city centre. With more time, head out to the Hauraki Gulf islands: craggy, volcanic Rangitoto, sophisticated Waiheke, bird-rich Tiritiri Matangi and chilled-out Great Barrier.
Auckland’s climate is temperate and muggy, though never scorching hot, and the humidity is always tempered by a sea breeze. Winters are generally mild but rainy.