Auckland is situated on a narrow strip of land, flanked by two magnificent harbours to the east and west. The shallow Manukau Harbour opens out to the Tasman Sea to the west, while the Waitemata Harbour lies at the heart of the city centre and is Auckland's deepwater port. It has a vibrant waterfront that has flourished with the successful hosting of the America's Cup, and the trendy restaurants and waterside cafes are a constant hive of activity.
Known as the 'City of Sails', with a larger boat-to-person ratio than anywhere else on earth, it is a paradise for sailing enthusiasts. Every weekend the waters of the Hauraki Gulf come alive with a flotilla of colourful sails. The best way to experience the city is from the water, sailing around the attractive harbour or on a ferry cruise to one of the many stunning islands dotted about the Gulf.
Auckland is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand, and acts as a major gateway to the rest of the country. Yet it is also one of the least densely populated in the world, covering an area twice the size of London but with barely a million inhabitants. It has a friendly small-town atmosphere and a relaxed pace of life.
Beyond the bustling downtown area, dominated by the southern hemisphere's tallest building, the Sky Tower, the city sprawls outwards, with low-slung buildings and wooden houses among leafy parks and walking tracks. The suburbs wind their way around picturesque bays and harbours and between volcanic hills that provide panoramic views over the city and mountains, encompassing numerous green urban parklands that are dotted with sheep.
The Auckland Museum overlooks the city and the attractive Waitemata Harbour. It is one of the most visited attractions in the city, housing a remarkable collection of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts and cultural displays. Originally built as a World War I Memorial in 1929, the building was dedicated to the memory of New Zealand victims in both World War I and II. The 'New Zealand at War' exhibition has since been joined by extensive displays about the people and the country, its cultures, art and natural history. A highlight is the Maori cultural performance of song and dance, performed three times daily.
At 1,076 feet (328m), Auckland's Sky Tower is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere and has unforgettable views over the city, the harbour and the gulf islands. It is part of the Sky City Entertainment Complex, with a casino, theatre, hotel, and conference centre. Visitors to the tower can splash out on dinner in the revolving restaurant, or admire the view from one of the four circular observation decks, reached by a glass lift. There is an outdoor deck, glass floor panels, an audio visual guide, and a number of touch computer screens providing geographical information. The Sky Deck is the highest viewing level with spectacular 360-degree views.
Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary and one of New Zealand's most important and exciting conservation projects. A hundred and twenty years of farming had seen this 220-hectare island stripped of almost all its native bush but between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. The Island is now sixty percent forested with the remaining forty percent left as grassland for species preferring open habitat. Visitors can access the island by a regular ferry service, which leaves from Auckland and Gulf Harbour. When on the island, visitors can enjoy a guided walk, explore the beaches or simply admire the natural beauty of the place.
Auckland has an oceanic climate, with warm, humid summers and mild, damp winters. The city experiences plenty of rain throughout the year, but predominantly in winter; the summer months are the driest. In summer, between December and February, temperatures average between 57°F (14°C) and 74°F (23°C); and in winter, between June and August, temperatures average between 44°F (7°C) and 59°F (15°C). The weather can be very changeable in Auckland year-round, with tropical cyclones and cold fronts causing occasional extreme conditions like hailstorms.
Auckland has a diverse and full-flavoured variety of eating establishments. From Indian to Japanese, and Turkish to French, there is a veritable rainbow of cuisine available from which visitors can choose.
Fuelled by entrepreneurial immigrants and New Zealand's strong focus on artisanal food, wine, and beer, the bustling local markets of the country's biggest city are excellent shortcuts to understanding Auckland's cultural mosaic. With well-established farmers' markets complemented by newer specialist markets, Auckland emerges as New Zealand's only truly international city and it is certainly reflected in the variety of its restaurants.
Although Auckland's food scene is a melting pot of national cuisines, locals still love their traditional New Zealand cuisine. Staples, such as roast lamb are a favourite, along with all kinds of fresh seafood, including of course, the famous New Zealand mussel. Auckland has no shortage of brilliant restaurants serving this type of local cuisine, with establishments such as One Tree Grill creating inspired Pacific Rim style dishes for patrons to enjoy, which can be deliciously paired with a wide selection of New Zealand's world famous wines.
There are many areas in Auckland to enjoy a bite to eat, but if one wants an authentic seafood experience why not cruise around the Viaducts and Waterfront where one can find a variety of fresh seafood treats to choose from. Other popular clusters of eateries can be found in High Street, Queen Street, the Wynyard Quarter, and the Arts Precinct, each with own unique atmosphere and speciality restaurants.
Bodrum is arguably one of the best Turkish restaurants in Auckland. It was created in late 2015 by Turkish restaurateur duo, Alex Isik and Nigar Ivgen. People visit for the fall-off-the-bone lamb, and stay for the Turkish Delight and coffee. Bookings recommended.
Punjab Palace is one of Auckland's many Indian restaurants. What sets Punjab Palace apart is their extensive menu and the pride and personal involvement that the owners take in the day to day running of this great restaurant. With piping hot curries, perfectly cooked naan and meat dishes done to perfection, Punjab Palace serves food fit for royalty. Try the Mango Chicken for something different, or the Lamb Rogen Josh for some of India's finest spices and New Zealand's best lamb. Bring along a bottle of wine and enjoy a great Indian feast. Bookings essential.
For French cuisine at its best visit Saison. This French restaurant serves up an exciting array of stylish dishes. Using seasonal vegetables and only the best meat available Saison will tantalise your taste buds in all the right ways. Saison has a great wine selection including local and international wines. The tasting menu comes highly recommended. Reservations essential.
Auckland has a large selection of Japanese restaurants and sushi bars, but Industry Zen is a cut above the rest. With authentic Japanese decor and traditional Japanese meals this restaurant will transport you to Japan for the evening. Industry Zen is definitely one of the best sushi restaurants in Auckland and is often fully booked. Their sushi is made to perfection and the sushi wraps are a hit. Industry Zen also serves a decadent selection of Japanese tapas including crumbed rock oysters, fried squid legs and traditional Japanese Gyoza. The green tea ice-cream is the perfect way to end your meal. Bookings essential.
One Tree Grill Restaurant is an upmarket dining experience which serves up traditional Pacific Rim cuisine and boasts a very impressive array of wines from the region and abroad. The restaurant prides itself on its professional service and quality food, making every dining experience a unique and special evening out for its customers. The food is beautifully presented and tastes equally as delicious. Although rather a bit more expensive than other options in the area, the quality certainly lives up to the price point. Bookings are essential.
Auckland boasts the world's largest Polynesian population, and celebrates the art, culture, and lifestyle of this vibrant native community with the annual Pasifika Festival. The festival opens on Friday evening with a concert showcasing talented Polynesian music artists. On Saturday the entertainment continues with local church music and dance groups while visitors can sample traditional food, view art and handcrafts, browse at more than 300 stalls, and wander through the series of 'Pacific Island villages' for a total cultural experience.
International fashion buyers and writers descend on Auckland during October each year to celebrate in grand style the unique indigenous-inspired collections of New Zealand's talented designers. About 50 designers show their collections at this major event. Some shows are open to the general public, but on the final day of the week everyone can join in the fashion extravaganza when Aotea Square becomes a hive of fashion, music, markets, and interactive and educational activity for all.
Being known as the 'City of Sails,' Auckland is recognised as a yachtsman's paradise, so it is no surprise to discover that its annual official Regatta is the biggest one-day Regatta in the world. This historic event was first held in September 1840 and has sailed on through turbulent years and changing social trends to become a family outing full of fun and excitement. Numerous events take place in the harbour and surrounding waterfront to complement the actual yacht regatta.
Some of the best and brightest comedians from the international circuit join some of New Zealand's top acts for over three weeks of comedy madness. Started out in 1993, it continues to present diverse performances including stand-up, improv, clowning, and musical theatre. Past acts have included Bill Bailey, Alan Davies, Rich Hall, Cal Wilson, and Ewen Gilmour.
Auckland's 'city of sails' reputation and natural beauty make it an ideal destination for tourists wishing to take part in sightseeing. But never fear, party-goers: Auckland comes alive at night. With clubs, bars, cinemas, and pubs, Auckland is arguably the kiwi nightlife capital. The Tourist Times is a great source of hip and happening entertainment listings and is distributed free of charge throughout the city.
The city has a great selection of clubs and bars catering for up and coming businessmen, highflyers and young students. The main nightlife areas include High Street, Ponsonby, Viaduct Harbour, Parnell, and Karangahape Street. There is a great mix of bars, clubs, and quirky establishments in Auckland from which visitors can choose, including a great live music scene.
If one is looking for something totally different, Auckland does provide some places that are a bit of an oddity, such as a bar which constantly has the temperature set to minus five degrees Celsius and another which is furnished with a variety of beds and pillows which patrons can snuggle up in while enjoying a beverage.
Auckland has a fairly comprehensive public transport network, including buses, trains, and ferries. Buses serve most of the city every day of the year, with special NiteRider services after dark. The Link bus offers three bus loop routes in downtown Auckland which pass many of the major tourist attractions and are useful for travellers; the routes are colour-coded and buses pass frequently.
The city train service is aimed primarily at commuters and is of limited use to tourists. Ferries connect to the north shore suburbs and take passengers to the Hauraki Gulf Islands. Taxis can be hailed on the street, but are more commonly booked by phone. Despite all this, many visitors find getting around Auckland frustratingly slow without a car, and for many hiring their own vehicle is still the most convenient option, especially if planning to explore beyond the city.
As the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand, Auckland has plenty to do and see for visitors, ranging from scenic cityscapes to beautiful wildlife reserves which surround the city. If visitors are heading out with the kids or just want to learn more about Auckland, Maori culture, or New Zealand in general, a great place to start would be the Auckland Museum. The museum overlooks the city and the attractive Waitemata Harbour and is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Apart from the museum there is also the recently refurbished Auckland Art Gallery, housing some amazingly creative installations and free tours starting daily around midday.
After soaking up some local knowledge and culture, why not take a daring venture up the Auckland Sky Tower, one of the tallest freestanding buildings in the Southern Hemisphere, from which there is a breathtaking 360 degree view of the city, the harbour, and the gulf islands. Other attractions include taking a turn at the Auckland Zoo, catching a show at the Civic Theatre, or enjoying a lazy walk through Albert Park. A popular way to enjoy many of these sites is to purchase a tourist card, called a multipass, which allows access to numerous venues within a one month period.
For those keen to explore the wilder side of Auckland, there is a ferry from Auckland Harbour to Tiritiri Matangi Island, one of New Zealand's most important wildlife sanctuaries. Visitors can admire the beautiful flora and fauna of Auckland while on a tour led by expert guides of the island.
The Hauraki Gulf is studded with numerous islands, some recreation retreats and others conservation islands with restricted access for the protection of rare bird, animal, and plant life. Waiheke is the most popular, with picturesque bays and white sandy beaches, rolling farmlands, and hills cloaked with vineyards and fine wineries. Uninhabited Rangitoto is a large volcanic cone with an unusual landscape of black distorted lava shapes. It is possible to hike up to the crater rim and explore the lava caves on the slopes. Each island has its own distinct character, so tourists can decide if they want to explore natural geographic features, relax on the beach, or simply wander around galleries and cafes.
The Bay of Islands is famous for its beautiful coastal scenery. Interspersed with numerous little coves, inlets and sandy beaches, the historical townships of Paihia, Waitangi and Russell are the central hubs of the area. Sailing and boat cruises around the islands are the main attraction, but the natural surroundings and warm waters of the bay make it an ideal place for kayaking, swimming, diving, and fishing. The bay is also of historical significance as the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between the European settlers and Maori chiefs in 1840.
Hamilton is a pretty town 80 miles (128km) south of Auckland. Its proximity to the bigger city means it is often overlooked by tourists in New Zealand. However, as an excursion from Auckland, Hamilton has some worthwhile sights to offer. There are several hot springs around Hamilton, and the city is full of gardens, parks and river walks. Not far out of Hamilton is Matamata, home to the Hobbiton Movie Set, the 'Hobbit village' created for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Guided 'film and farm' tours are offered for fans of the movies.