Auckland is called the City of Sails, and visitors flying in will see why. On the East Coast is the Waitemata Harbour—a Māori word meaning sparkling waters—which is bordered by the Hauraki Gulf, an aquatic playground peppered with small islands where many Aucklanders can be found "mucking around in boats."Not surprisingly, Auckland has some 70,000 boats. About one in four households in Auckland has a seacraft of some kind, and there are 102 beaches within an hour's drive; during the week many are quite empty. Even the airport is by the water; it borders the Manukau Harbour, which also takes its name from the Māori language and means solitary bird. According to Māori tradition, the Auckland isthmus was originally peopled by a race of giants and fairy folk. When Europeans arrived in the early 19th century, however, the Ngāti-Whātua tribe was firmly in control of the region. The British began negotiations with the Ngāti-Whātua in 1840 to purchase the isthmus and establish the colony's first capital. In September of that year the British flag was hoisted to mark the township's foundation, and Auckland remained the capital until 1865, when the seat of government was moved to Wellington. Aucklanders expected to suffer from the shift; it hurt their pride but not their pockets. As the terminal for the South Sea shipping routes, Auckland was already an established commercial center. Since then the urban sprawl has made this city of approximately 1.3 million people one of the world's largest geographically. A couple of days in the city will reveal just how developed and sophisticated Auckland is—the Mercer City Survey 2012 saw it ranked as the third-highest city for quality of life—though those seeking a New York in the South Pacific will be disappointed. Auckland is more get-up and go-outside than get-dressed-up and go-out. That said, most shops are open daily, central bars and a few nightclubs buzz well into the wee hours, especially Thursday through Saturday, and a mix of Māori, Pacific people, Asians, and Europeans contributes to the cultural milieu. Auckland has the world's largest single population of Pacific Islanders living outside their home countries, though many of them live outside the central parts of the city and in Manukau to the south. The Samoan language is the second most spoken in New Zealand. Most Pacific people came to New Zealand seeking a better life. When the plentiful, low-skilled work that attracted them dried up, the dream soured, and the population has suffered with poor health and education. Luckily, policies are now addressing that, and change is slowly coming. The Pacifica Festival in March is the region's biggest cultural event, attracting thousands to Western Springs. The annual Pacific Island Secondary Schools’ Competition, also in March, sees young Pacific Islander and Asian students compete in traditional dance, drumming, and singing. This event is open to the public. At the geographical center of Auckland city is the 1,082-foot Sky Tower, a convenient landmark for those exploring on foot and some say a visible sign of the city's naked aspiration. It has earned nicknames like the Needle and the Big Penis—a counterpoint to a poem by acclaimed New Zealand poet James K. Baxter, which refers to Rangitoto Island as a clitoris in the harbor. The Waitemata Harbour has become better known since New Zealand staged its first defense of the America's Cup in 2000 and the successful Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in early 2009. The first regatta saw major redevelopment of the waterfront. The area, where many of the city's most popular bars, cafés, and restaurants are located, is now known as Viaduct Basin or, more commonly, the Viaduct. A recent expansion has created another area, Wynyard Quarter, which is slowly adding restaurants.
You can get around city center and the suburbs close to the harbor like Ponsonby, Devonport, and Parnell, on foot, by bus, and by ferry. Elsewhere, Auckland is not as easy to explore. The neighborhoods and suburbs sprawl from the Waitemata and Manukau harbors to rural areas, and complicated roads, frequent construction, and heavy traffic can make road travel a challenge. Still it's best to have a car for getting between neighborhoods and some city center sights. What might look like an easy walking distance on a map can turn out to be a 20- to 30-minute hilly trek, and stringing a few of those together can get frustrating.
If you're nervous about driving on the left, especially when you first arrive, purchase a one-day Link Bus Pass that covers the inner-city neighborhoods and central business district (CBD) or, for a circuit of the main sights, a Discovery Pass. Take a bus to get acquainted with the city layout. Getting around Auckland by bus is easy and inexpensive. The region's bus services are coordinated through the Maxx Service, which is slowly moving the city’s trains and ferries to an integrated ticketing system; its website can provide door-to-door information, including bus route numbers, to most places in the greater Auckland area. Timetables are available at most information centers.
Princes Wharf and adjoining Viaduct Quay, an easy stroll from the city's major thoroughfare, Queen Street, offer dozens of eateries in every style from cheap-and-cheerful to super posh. High Street, running parallel to Queen Street on the Albert Park side of town, is a busy café and restaurant strip. Vulcan Lane, between Queen and High streets, has some pleasant bars. Asian immigrants have createda market for a slew of cheap noodle and sushi bars throughout the inner city; the more crowded, the better.
Outside the city center, the top restaurant areas are a 10-minute bus or cab ride away on Ponsonby and Parnell roads. Dominion and Mt. Eden roads in the city, as well as Hurstmere Road in the seaside suburb of Takapuna (just over the Harbour Bridge) are also worth exploring. The mix is eclectic—Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Thai eateries sit alongside casual taverns, pizzerias, and high-end restaurants.
As New Zealand's gateway city, Auckland has most of the large international chain hotels, as well as plenty of comfortable bed-and-breakfasts, mom-and-pop motels, and other individually owned places. Many of the large flashy hotels cluster around the central business district (CBD), whereas B&Bs tend to congregate in the nearby or trendier neighborhoods. Many of the best are in suburbs close
to the city center like Devonport and Ponsonby. You'll find your hosts quite chatty and keen to recommend local sights but equally happy to offer you privacy.
November to March are the busiest months for Auckland hotels, so it pays to book by August to ensure you get your first choice. Hotel rooms are usually equipped with TVs, hair dryers, ironing boards, and basic toiletries. All the major hotels have parking at a price. A number of the B&Bs offer parking, an especially useful perk since they're usually in narrow city center streets. Better yet, B&Bs generally don't charge for parking. Wi-Fi access is standard in hotels and B&Bs, and a computer is almost always available if you didn't bring a laptop. B&B owners can generally be relied on for insider knowledge on what's best close by, and many will make reservations or other arrangements for you. Only the hotels tend to have air-conditioning, but this isn't a problem when you can fling open the windows and let in the fresh air.
For the latest information on nightclubs get your hands on What's On Auckland, a pocket-size booklet available at all visitor information bureaus. The monthly Metro magazine, available at newsstands, has a guide to theater, arts, and music, and can also give you a helpful nightlife scoop. City Mix magazine, also published monthly and stocked at newsstands, has a complete guide to what's happening in the city, and the Friday and Saturday editions of the New Zealand Herald run a gig guide and full cinema and theater listings.
Ponsonby is known for its design stores and fashion boutiques. Auckland's main shopping precincts for clothes and shoes are Queen Street and Newmarket; Queen Street is particularly good for outdoor gear, duty-free goods, greenstone jewelry, and souvenirs. O'Connell and High streets also have a good smattering of designer boutiques, bookstores, and other specialty shops. There is a growing number of big malls in the suburbs, among the busiest Sylvia Park in Mount Wellington, Westfield Albany in Albany, and Botany Downs Centre in Botany Downs. These malls host a range of shopping but are more fun for people-watching than purchasing.
Smith and Caughey's Ltd.
This is a good place to see plenty of local and international brands under one roof, coupled with extremely good service. The clothing runs the gamut from homegrown favorites such as Trelise Cooper to international megabrands such as Armani. The lingerie department is known for its large, plush dressing rooms. Also here are the largest cosmetics hall in the city, a good selection of conservative but well-made menswear, and good-quality china.