As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland once observed, Auckland has a weight problem: "It is one of the biggest cities in the world. Its swollen bulk hangs out over the constricting belt of its isthmus and bulges further than the eye can see. Its head cannot locate its toes."
Over a quarter of the nation's inhabitants live in the Auckland region. Since the Maori alighted from their waka (canoes) to occupy the densely forested land, a steady stream of migrants have followed; Europeans, Asians and Polynesians have all made the journey to create the largest Polynesian enclave in the world. More than 50 volcanoes have erupted in Auckland, permanently scarring its landscape. The last, 600 years ago, gave birth to
Central Business District
The main artery, Queen Street, studded with retail and commercial buildings, flows from Newton to Downtown, with the shadow of the
The main fashion hub is located nearby on High Street, and is home to some of the world's hottest new labels:
A passion for uprooting the past (Auckland was once dubbed the "City of Cranes") began with Pakeha (European settlers) removing entire volcanic cones in order to revamp the waterfront. Now it is an essential playground for all. Millions have been spent beautifying
On the inner city fringe lies the infamous
South of the Domain, you can fully appreciate the city from the summit of
West of downtown, you'll find
Newmarket and Parnell
Heading east, but still hovering on the fringes of the city, are the suburbs of Newmarket and Parnell. Newmarket is a fashion addict's delight, and perhaps a smarter, slicker version of Parnell, once the domain of yuppie excess. A more sober past is reflected in historic buildings such as
Manukau City, with 50 different ethnic communities, is proudly multi-cultural. It shows off its Polynesian flair in a cornucopia of markets, festivals, community churches and some of the region's most diverse shopping, including
West Auckland offers rugged scenic beauty and, as home to the Dalmatian population, has a unique cultural heritage. To fully appreciate its natural attractions, drive 45 minutes west from the city to the black sand and surf beaches at
There are a number of established family wineries here also, notably
The North Shore
Beyond the confines of the city lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including
Long long ago, Maui, a mischievous demigod, went fishing one day with his brothers, deep in the southern ocean. Using his grandmother's jawbone for a hook, he caught a huge fish and hauled it out of the sea. His brothers were jealous and fought over the fish. The fish became the North Island of New Zealand, and the landforms were created by their actions, the sea flowing into the gaps left by the hungry brothers. The resulting narrow Auckland isthmus was surrounded by water, between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.
The iwi, or tribes, of the Auckland area descend from those who arrived in the original waka (canoes) from Hawaii about 800 years ago. They brought with them the dog and native rat as well as food plants such as taro, gourd, yam and kumara. Their descendants include Tainui, Hauraki and Kawerau iwi, and Ngati Whatua from the north, considered to be the official tangata whenua, (people of the land), of Auckland today.
Auckland is built on an active field of 48 volcanoes, dating back 150,000 years. The youngest, Rangitoto Island, blew up just 600 years ago, and stands like a guardian over the city. The isthmus, Tamaki Makaurau, was fertile with plants, trees, fish and bird life and blessed with a mild climate. Early coastal settlements show evidence of fishing and seasonal food gathering. Later, large-scale agriculture was practiced and archaeological sites frequently show seashell middens and terraces used for housing and gardens.
There are still many tapu (sacred) places, associated with important events, ancestors and graves of these early inhabitants. The volcanic cones offer the greatest evidence of old Maori settlements and were probably developed as fortified pa during the 17th century, when inter-tribal conflict escalated. The volcanoes remain the most distinctive feature of Auckland's landscape and, like most landforms, had great symbolic and spiritual importance to the Maori.
Early European visitors included Captain Cook, missionary Samuel Marsden, British naval boats seeking timber for masts and spars, and whalers and sealers provisioning their ships. They brought iron tools, alcohol and tobacco, serious diseases and, most significantly, muskets! As well as Christianity, the missionaries introduced farm animals, the plow, fruit trees, cereal and vegetable crops. Traditional Maori ways of life were changed forever.
In 1840 many local chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Britain. There have been problems in defining its true meaning ever since, resulting in frequent land disputes. However, it is an important document, embodying the ideal "We are One People".
Auckland became the capital of the new colony in 1840 on land purchased from Ngati Whatua. Farming developed along with copper mining and timber, and Maori communities participated widely in agriculture and trade. Relations with European settlers were friendly during the 1840s-50s, despite the military settlements at Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure, Howick and Albert barracks. The Land Wars of the 1860s decimated the South Auckland tribes, and much of their land and that of Tainui was confiscated.
In 1865 the country's capital was transferred to Wellington. Auckland grew to become New Zealand's main industrial center and port over the next 30 years. From 1870 immigration from Britain increased, and gum digging, brick making, flour milling, brewing and boat building were added to the local trades. The introduction of refrigeration in the late 1880s had a major impact on the entire country. Now it was possible to transport fresh food to Britain and produce soon passed through the port of Auckland.
Through the 1880s Auckland had 8,000 inhabitants with 20,000 people living on the isthmus. Many large buildings were built, such as the City Library and Art Gallery. Fortifications at Takapuna, Bastion Point, North Head and Mt Victoria were built to defend the city in case of attack.
By the 1890s Auckland was described as a "sophisticated cosmopolitan center." Venues such as the Domain were developed for sport, and new leisure activities included steamer excursions to beaches like Devonport and the Gulf Islands, horse racing, walking, cycling and brass band concerts. After the hard early pioneering days, people could now discover and enjoy the attractions of the Auckland region.
During the early 1900s, the Ferry Building, the De Post, the Town Hall and the Parnell Baths were all examples of new building thought suitable for a sophisticated and civilized city. Grafton Bridge was built and internationally acclaimed as the first reinforced concrete arch in the Southern Hemisphere. The Maori population, however, was decreasing.
The War Memorial Museum honors the thousands of young New Zealanders killed and wounded in the First World War and others. During the Second World War, large coastal gun batteries, such as those along Tamaki Drive, were installed around the city.
Auckland's population reached 630,000 by 1970, due to both urban migration and immigration—mostly from Britain and Holland in the 1950s and the Pacific Islands in the 1960s. Motorways were built in the 50s and the Harbour Bridge opened in 1959, drawing the North Shore into the growing metropolis.
Auckland has seen its share of debate and political action, from Flower Power and anti-Vietnam War rallies to Peace Squadron anti-nuclear flotillas on the Waitemata Harbour and enormous protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. Bastion Point was the focus of a long Ngati Whatua occupation in the 1980s and national attempts to resolve Maori land issues continue today. In 1985 French secret agents sank the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in the harbor.
Auckland's population reached one million in 1996. Waves of new immigrants have recently made Auckland their home and more and more people try to cram onto the narrow isthmus each year. From the different languages spoken in the street, and the variety of ethnic food now available, you would never guess Auckland was a small place. Tourism is vital, and an exciting variety of activities and experiences await visitors to this vibrant, multi-cultural city.
You can experience Auckland's extraordinary setting from a vast selection of world-class hotels, serviced apartments, bed and breakfasts, and boutique or backpacker lodges. It pays to choose your location wisely. Despite its size, Auckland has not quite resolved the sensitive issue of public transport. A sensible solution would be to stay near the Central Business District, where it's just a short walk, bus or taxi ride to explore the city's many attractions.
Central Business District
The clusters of boats on the harbor explain Auckland's reputation as the “City of Sails,” and like its sailors, the waterfront is of a high international standard. Thanks largely to the America's Cup 2000, Auckland has finally realized the value of its waterfront, and the recently upgraded Viaduct Harbour is the city's real estate jewel. If you are on business, or just want to be center stage, Auckland's city center is the obvious choice.
If you seek high-class accommodation try the trendy, art-deco luxury of The Heritage Auckland, once the stomping ground for bargain hunters in its former incarnation as the Farmers Trading Company store. For spectacular harbor views on the waterfront, consider the boutique Hilton Auckland, or the Sebel Suites.
Further uptown, in the heart of the city's cultural and entertainment area, the Carlton Hotel promises world-class style, and the aptly named Somerset Grand Metropolis, once the Magistrate's courthouse, is now open to a new clientèle. More reasonable accomodation can be found at the Centra Auckland, the CityLife Auckland and the Sky City Hotel, which has the Sky City Casino downstairs. For those on a budget, there are plenty of options; from the New President Hotel, to Auckland Central Backpackers and the ubiquitous YHA youth hostel.
Parnell, close to the city fringe, is a gentrified haven full of trendy eateries and specialist boutiques, which coexist alongside Auckland's historic houses. Parnell is also within walking distance of the trendy shops of Newmarket, and the Domain, a massive park that houses Wintergardens and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Take your pick from the Ascot Parnell, Chalet Chevron or Barrycourt Motor Inn near the Parnell Rose Gardens.
Heading south is the suburb of Mt Eden, dominated by the volcano Maungawhau, an ancient fortress. The summit crater is sacred to the Maori. At the base of the mountain is a cool collection of cafés, and sports fans will enjoy easy access to Eden Park, the famous battleground of so many international rugby and cricket matches. Not so genteel, but worth considering is the area around One Tree Hill. Both are sedate suburbs oozing middle-class charm, but they offer a good range of inexpensive hotels. Check out Oaklands Lodge, Pentlands Bed and Breakfast Hotel and Bavaria Bed and Breakfast.
Leave the city hype behind by taking a 10 minute ferry ride to Devonport, and delight in its seaside charm and quaint surroundings. This historic village is well supplied with bed and breakfast hotels, many in beautifully renovated Victorian or Edwardian villas. With such comforting names as the Secret Garden Bed and Breakfast, it is little wonder you are transported to another time and place! At night you will enjoy stunning panoramic views of Auckland's city lights.
Ponsonby's main road is studded with restaurants and is a wise choice for the enthusiastic gourmand. There are a number of accommodation options near the main strip. Try the Great Ponsonby Bed and Breakfast or the Brown Kiwi; both are moderately or inexpensively priced.
If you want to escape the city lights and explore nature, then head west to the near-tropical rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges. You will not find five-star hotels, but if you are satisfied with good old Kiwi hospitality there are plenty of cozy home stays and bed and breakfast hotels, some with spectacular views of the west coast beaches. An interesting option out west is Camperdown Farmstay. For a truly escapist holiday or weekend break from Auckland, consider Waiheke Island or the outer islands of Kawau and Great Barrier.
Auckland has it all: a thriving coffee culture that manifests itself in stylish cafés that seem to be everywhere, vineyard restaurants set amongst the grapes, a heady mix of Asian food led by the city's large Oriental and Fijian-Indian communities, Mediterranean-style eateries in the form of Turkish mezze bars, Italian wood-fired pizzerias and the best that France has to offer. Unlike most cities, Auckland does not group its cuisines into ethnic districts. They are wonderfully blended, so you can find what you want no matter where you are.
Parnell is a long-established foodie enclave, with restaurants, bars and cafés dotted all the way along the rise. There are eateries lining the pavement, in brick-lined backstreet courtyards and tucked away in charming warren-like old buildings. Try Non Solo Pizza for an alfresco meal that runs the whole gamut of Italian food. Thai Friends is a local favorite that has both a fast food café on the street and a more serious dining room set in traditional Thai decor at the back. Or stick your head in at Iguacu, an always-busy Cajun-fusion restaurant and bar offering live jazz on the weekends.
Before the Viaduct Harbour rose to prominence, Ponsonby was Auckland's most popular eating district, with a string of eclectic places stretching along Ponsonby Road. Though the buzz has died down a little, this is still the heart of café culture in the city. The Atomic Café is one of the city's busiest and most well-established cafés, known for its legendary coffee and its choice menu. Across the road is trendy S.P.Q.R, a favorite for its well-prepared light meals that can be washed down with lots of wine. Also try the nearby South American owned and operated café Santos. For Indian meals in a modern brasserie setting, Masala is a good bet.
Find yourself in downtown Auckland at lunch time, and you will see the place filled with workers enjoying café society. In the evening, the city is awash with the noise of Aucklanders out to have a good time. Columbus Coffee roasts their own, so sit down in this beautifully designed café and breathe in the heady aroma. Step into the Occidental on Vulcan Lane and you are in Belgium. There is a good selection of imported beers on tap here that you can enjoy accompanied with a massive bowl of green-lipped mussels. The local watering hole, the Shakespeare Tavern on Albert Street, brews its own award-winning ale.
The city also boasts numerous food courts, where you will find the meeting of many cuisines under one roof. If you are on a budget then this is the way to do it. Food Alley on Albert Street is the best place for Asian food, with Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian all on the menu. Downstairs at the Force Entertainment Center there is another food court with a blend of European and Asian cuisine, albeit in more upmarket surroundings.
Hosting the America's Cup in 1999 and 2000 totally rejuvenated Auckland's downtown and waterfront area with a myriad of new places to eat and drink springing up as a result. Evenings and weekends find the streets and wharves around the Viaduct Harbour swarming with Aucklanders as they enjoy a relatively new side to their city.
Do not miss the establishments along Prince's Wharf, in particular Euro, which consistently rates highly in the "Best of Auckland" awards. Just around the corner is Leftfield, an immense sports bar and restaurant with televisions and stadium-style seating. For the carnivore, Wildfire is a Brazilian-style eatery, boasting succulent spitfire roasted beef, lamb and seafood. For a real seafood extravaganza, wander over to to Kermadec in the Viaduct Quay complex. This well established, high end restaurant puts the Pacific on a plate in dining rooms overlooking the water.
Just remember, however, these enclaves and eateries are just the tip of the culinary iceberg. There is much more to be discovered if you dig a little deeper, for example Waiheke Island, jewel of the Hauraki Gulf, with its vineyards and sea-view cafés. A trip to the suburbs of Newmarket, Devonport, Takapuna, Herne Bay and Mission Bay will reap many culinary rewards.