Auckland Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > New Zealand > Auckland > History

As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland wickedly 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.

Two towering, powerful icons emerge from the sprawling mass: the volcanic cone of Rangitoto, and the futuristic Sky Tower. They may also define its soul; a city of tranquility and sophistication, that combines a stunning coastline, with cultural edge. The hecklers claim Auckland is bold, brash and full of excess. The critics may be right about the excess, but there's no stopping Auckland's growth, as it steadily consumes new ground. It already contains four cities (North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland and Manukau) straddling an isthmus of land at the narrowest part of New Zealand. A mere nine kilometres separates the Pacific Ocean on the east side from the Tasman Sea on the West. Aucklander's love of the water explains the moniker: 'City of Sails' - a reputation cemented during the flurry of activity on the Waitemata Harbour during the America's Cup 2000 regatta.

Over a quarter of the nation's 3.7 million 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 has followed; Europeans, Asians, and Polynesians have all journeyed to Auckland. Now it is the largest Polynesian enclave in the world.

More than 50 volcanoes have erupted, permanently scarring Auckland's landscape. The last of them, the island of Rangitoto, burst forth from the sea a mere 600 years ago. Nowadays their fire is quelled, but something of their spirit lives in the buzz, aggression and vitality of the city.

Central Business District
The main artery of Queen Street, studded with retail and commercial buildings, flows like lava from Newton to Downtown, with the shadow of the 328 metre Sky Tower reflected in every gleaming, glass tower. As you descend, take a cultural stopover at the Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Town Hall, The Edge/Aotea Centre, the Force Entertainment Centre and the Civic theatre. The fashion heart is located just off Queen Street in High Street, home to some of the world's hottest new labels:
World, Karen Walker, and Zambesi. Queen Street continues downward to converge with the waterfront, and the revamped Viaduct Basin.

Auckland's passion for uprooting its past (it was once dubbed the 'city of cranes') began with Pakeha (European) settlers removing entire volcanic cones to reclaim the waterfront. Now the waterfront is an essential playground for its citizens. The city council has recently spent NZ$42 million beautifying Viaduct Harbour, a perfect backdrop to the America's Cup 2000 regatta and home to other attractions, including the Maritime Museum, Waitemata Plaza, the Ferry Building, and a bevy of restaurants and nightspots.

On the inner city fringe lies the infamous Karangahape Road, although its garish sex parlours all but pale beside its exotic shops and restaurants. Also on the fringe is Grafton, location of Auckland Hospital and the ice-cream coloured Starship Children's Hospital and Auckland's major recreational park, the 74-hectare Auckland Domain, with its sports fields, The Wintergardens, duck ponds and Auckland Museum.

South of the Auckland Domain, you can fully appreciate Auckland's size from the summit of Mt Eden (Maungawhau). Descend to one of the trendy village cafes nestled at its base if you're in need of fortification. Another volcanic vantage point, offering views to both the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, is One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). Stargazers will enjoy the Auckland Observatory and Star Dome Planetarium situated in surrounding Cornwall Park.

West of downtown, Ponsonby Road has been Auckland's enduring restaurant strip for the past 20 years. Competition is now fierce with new restaurants and bars offering waterfront views at the Viaduct Basin. However, the cosmopolitan set remain loyal to Ponsonby Road icons such as Prego, SPQR, Atomic Café and other institutions such as the Hero Parade, Auckland's own gay pride Mardi Gras - voted best annual event by Metro magazine.

The Eastern Bays
Heading East, but still hovering on the fringes of the Central Business District, are the suburbs of Newmarket and Parnell. Newmarket is the fashion addict's latest indulgence, and perhaps a smarter, slicker version of Parnell, once the domain of the yuppie and eighties excess. A more sober past is represented by historic buildings such as Kinder House and Whitby Lodge, which are alongside a lively mix of shops and restaurants on Parnell Rise. Further east along Tamaki Drive is Auckland's very own Riviera of crescent beaches, stretching from Okahu Bay and Bastion Point to Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. Along the drive you'll find Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter, more street-side cafes, and seaside playgrounds.

South Auckland
Manukau City, self-proclaimed "face of the future" with its 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 regions most diverse shopping, ranging from the mainstream Manukau Shopping Centre to the Polynesian-style Otara Market. If you're looking for an adrenalin-rush, there's Rainbow's End theme park. South Auckland is the market garden of Auckland, the rich red volcanic soil spreading from Mangere further south to the Bombay Hills. This is also the industrial heartland of Auckland - Penrose, Mt Wellington, East Tamaki and Otahuhu drawing their workforce from all over Auckland.

West Auckland
West Auckland is home to rugged scenic beauty and also has its own unique cultural heritage, being home to Auckland's Dalmatian population. To fully appreciate this area's natural attractions, drive 45 minutes west from the city, to the black-sand surf beaches - Piha Beach, Karekare Beach and Muriwai Beach (also to view the Gannet Colony). For the outdoor enthusiast there are some 143 bushwalks in the Waitakere Ranges not to mention mountain-bike and 4-wheel drive trails, horse-riding opportunities and more.

There are a number of established family wineries in West Auckland, notably Delegat's and Corbans, near Henderson; Matua Valley, House of Nobilo and Coopers Creek, near Kumeu. Several of the wineries have excellent restaurants; the Hunting Lodge at Matua Valley and Allely House at Selaks, both worth the drive just to enjoy their beautiful settings.

The North Shore
Across the harbour bridge from downtown lies North Shore City and 20km of superb beaches along the north-east facing coastline. Seaside suburbs with their own relaxed shopping centres and restaurants wind their way north, with a major highlight being the historic maritime village of Devonport (home of the New Zealand Navy). To view some multi-million dollar real estate take a walk along Takapuna Beach and continue on to Milford beach along the sea-wall at low tide.

Beyond the confines of the city isthmus lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including Rangitoto, Motutapu and Waiheke Island which attracts many visitors to its idyllic bays and beaches, galleries, vineyards and restaurants, and the annual Montana Waiheke Island of Jazz Festival.