AUCKLAND’s urban sprawl smothers the North Island’s wasp waist, a narrow isthmus where the island is all but severed by river estuaries probing inland from the city’s two harbours. To the west, the shallow and silted Manukau Harbour opens out onto the Tasman Sea at a rare break in the long string of black-sand beaches continually pounded by heavy surf. Maori named the eastern anchorage the Waitemata Harbour for its “sparkling waters”, which constitute Auckland’s deep-water port and a focus for the heart of the city. Every summer weekend the harbour and adjoining Hauraki Gulf explode into a riot of brightly coloured sails.

Auckland is increasingly focusing on its waterfront, with former docks and fishing wharves now dotted with bobbing yachts and the rejuvenated surrounds converted to flashy restaurants and swanky apartments. This is very much the place to hang out, sucking life from downtown Auckland, which is fighting back with the superbly renovated Auckland Art Gallery.

At the top of Queen Street lies Karangahape Road, an altogether groovier strip of cheaper shops, ethnic restaurants and more down-and-dirty clubs. To the east lies The Domain, an extensive swathe of semi-formal parkland centred on the city’s most-visited attraction, the Auckland Museum, exhibiting stunning Maori and Pacific Island artefacts.

Neighbouring Parnell forms the ecclesiastical heart of the city, with one of Auckland’s oldest churches and a couple of historical houses. At the foot of the hill, Tamaki Drive follows the eastern waterfront past the watery attractions of Kelly Tarlton’s to the city beaches of Mission Bay and St Heliers.

West of the centre, the cafés, shops and bars of Ponsonby Road and up-and-coming Kingsland give way to Western Springs, home of the MOTAT transport museum and the excellent zoo.

Across the Waitemata Harbour the seemingly endless suburbs of the North Shore stretch into the distance, though you’re only likely to want to spend much time in the old waterside suburb of Devonport and perhaps the long golden beach at Takapuna.

Immediately south of the centre, two of Auckland’s highest points, Mount Eden and One Tree Hill with its encircling Cornwall Park, provide wonderful vantage points for views of the city. Pah Homestead presents more great art, but the main reason for heading further south is to visit Saturday’s Otara Market.

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