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Auckland, the “City of Sails” is New Zealand’s largest and most-visited city. Surrounded by sea and studded with volcanic mountains, it is a great gateway to the country. Many travellers run through Auckland to the South Island highlights, but it is a very rewarding place to live or visit – it ranked third in the 2015 Worldwide Quality of Living Survey.
Auckland is a very spread-out city: geographically it is almost as big as Los Angeles — although Auckland only has a little more than 1 million people. It is divided into four main regions, which (along with three others) used to be autonomous cities: Auckland City, North Shore City (to the north), Waitakere City (to the west), and Manukau City (to the south). These names have stuck, although their legal status is now reduced.
The central business district is centred around Queen Street, which runs uphill from the harbour to Karangahape (“K”) Road. Quay Street runs along the waterfront, with Viaduct Harbour at its western end and Britomart Transport Centre a little to the east of Queen Street. At the top of Queen Street, following K Road to the east will take you to to the Auckland Domain, and westwards to trendy Ponsonby.
Until recently, not many people have lived in the CBD (central business district), and that has meant things get really quiet after 7pm. This is changing, and the downtown area is being revamped as well. That means there’s more that travellers can do in the evenings — and some excellent bars and restaurants have sprung up in the wake of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Aucklanders come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll often find them on the water: whether that’s fishing, kitesurfing, sailing, or having a beer at a waterfront café or bar. Tramping (that’s hiking) is also really popular with several large areas of protected forest on the city’s edges.
New Zealand’s Maori heritage is accessible in the big city — from dual-language signage to the art on display. Auckland Museum has daily Maori dance performances, followed by tours of the Maori-Pacific galleries which are well worth attending.
Visual and performance arts are well represented by the city’s theatres and museums, with most shows that pass through New Zealand stopping in Auckland. See things to do in Auckland for detailed descriptions of museums and galleries.
Auckland’s weather is a slave to its position: a narrow isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Temperate, Auckland tends to a four-seasons-in-one-day approach which sees showers and blue skies in constant competition. Occasional storms pass through, whipping the city with rain and wind for a few days before things return to normal.
During summer (Dec to Feb) temperatures are just below 30 degrees celcius; while July — the coldest month — has lows of 5 degrees and highs around 20 degrees. The humidity can make make both hot and cold temperatures feel more extreme. During winter, a dehumidifier in your room can make more of a difference than a heater.
The best time to visit is January/February when weather patterns are generally stable and warm, and children have returned to school, leaving summer weather without summer crowds.