Paris may be the city of love, but Auckland is the city of many lovers, according to its Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau. Those lovers so desired this place that they fought over it for centuries. It’s hard to imagine a more geographically blessed city. Its two harbours frame a narrow isthmus punctuated by volcanic cones and surrounded by fertile farmland.
Auckland is a city of volcanoes, with the ridges of lava flows forming its main thoroughfares and its many cones providing islands of green within the sea of suburbs. As well as being by far the largest, it’s also the most multicultural of New Zealand’s cities. A sizable Asian community rubs shoulders with the biggest Polynesian population of any city in the world.
Queenstown & Wanaka
With a cinematic background of mountains and lakes, and a ‘what can we think of next?’ array of adventure activities, it’s little wonder Queenstown tops the itineraries of many travellers. Slow down slightly in Wanaka – Queenstown’s less flashy cousin – which also has good restaurants, bars and outdoor adventures on tap.
Marlborough & Nelson
For many travellers, Marlborough and Nelson will be their introduction to what South Islanders refer to as the ‘Mainland’. Having left windy Wellington, and made a white-knuckled crossing of Cook Strait, folk are often surprised to find the sun shining and the temperature up to 10 degrees warmer.
Rotorua & the Bay of Plenty
Captain Cook christened the Bay of Plenty when he cruised past in 1769, and plentiful it remains. Blessed with sunshine and sand, the bay stretches from Waihi Beach in the west to Opotiki in the east, with the holiday hubs of Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Whakatane in between. Offshore from Whakatane is New Zealand’s most active volcano, Whakaari (White Island).
Bay of Islands & Northland
For many New Zealanders, the phrase ‘up north’ conjures up sepia-toned images of family fun in the sun, pohutukawa in bloom and dolphins frolicking in pretty bays. From school playgrounds to work cafeterias, owning a bach (holiday house) ‘up north’ is a passport to popularity. Beaches are the main drawcard and they’re here in profusion.
Surrounded by the soaring indigo heights of the Remarkables, crowned by Coronet Peak, and framed by the meandering coves of Lake Wakatipu, it’s little wonder that Queenstown is a show-off. The town wears its ‘Global Adventure Capital’ badge proudly, and most visitors take the time to do crazy things they’ve never done before.
The West Coast
Hemmed in by the wild Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps, the West Coast is like nowhere else in New Zealand. The far extremities of the coast have a remote, end-of-the-road feel, from sleepy Karamea surrounded by farms butting up against Kahurangi National Park, to the southern end of State Hwy 6, gateway to New Zealand's World Heritage areas.
The East Coast
New Zealand is known for its mix of wildly divergent landscapes, but on the East Coast it’s the sociological contours that are most pronounced. From the earthy settlements of the East Cape to Havelock North’s monied, wine-soaked streets, there's a full spectrum of NZ life. Maori culture is never more visible than on the East Coast.
A small city with a big reputation, Wellington is most famous for being NZ’s constitutional and cultural capital. It is infamous for its weather, particularly the gale-force winds wont to barrel through, wrecking umbrellas and obliterating hairdos. It also lies on a major fault line. And negotiating the inner-city one-way system is like the Krypton Factor on acid.
Taranaki & Whanganui
Halfway between Auckland and Wellington, Taranaki (aka 'the 'Naki') is the Texas of New Zealand (NZ): oil and gas stream in from offshore rigs, plumping the region with enviable affluence. New Plymouth is the regional hub, home to an excellent art gallery and provincial museum, and enough decent espresso joints to keep you humming.