Māori were the first Polynesian settlers to arrive in New Zealand, journeying in canoes from Hawaiki about 1,000 years ago. A Dutchman, Abel Tasman, was the first European to sight the country but it was the British who made New Zealand part of their empire.
Auckland, known as Tamaki Makau Rau, meaning 'isthmus of one thousand lovers', was originally a Māori settlement 650 years ago. After Europeans purchased the land from the Māori, European settlers began to arrive and colonise the land.
In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and Auckland was named the capital city of New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement between the British Crown and Maori which established British law in New Zealand. It is considered New Zealand’s founding document and an important part of the country's history. The building where the treaty was signed has been preserved and, today, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a popular attraction. You will find amazing Māori historic sites and taonga (treasures), as well as beautiful colonial era buildings dotted throughout the country. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country they have become. By 1865 the capital in Auckland was moved to Wellington and by 1900 Auckland was New Zealand's largest city.
Auckland was first settled by the Māori people in approximately 1350. The Māori constructed terraced pa (fortified villages) on the volcanic peaks of the area then known as Tamaki Makau Rau. Because the isthmus is narrow, around eight kilometres wide, with Mount Eden and One Tree Hill at its narrowest point, the area had great strategic qualities. The isthmus also had highly productive soils providing agricultural opportunities. The two harbours provided diverse seafood.
Ngati Whatua and Tainui, the two main tribes traditionally living in the area, fought over the land. Eventually, with the aid of the Europeans and guns traded with them, Te Kawau a chief of Ngati Whatua defeated the Tainui. In 1840 Te Kawau, the then most prominent chief of the Ngati Whatua, offered Governor Hobson land around the present central city of Auckland. He and six other chiefs travelled the Bay of Islands to make the offer and signed the Treaty of Waitangi on 20 March 1840.
In 1840, after purchasing the 3,000 acre segment from the Ngati Whatua, Auckland came into existence as a British colonial settlement. The first governor, Lieutenant William Hobson, chose the site as the capital of New Zealand. What principally appealed were the splendid Waitemata and Manukau harbours and proximity to both fertile land and river access both north and south.
Within a year nearly 2,000 people were living in primitive wood and raupo dwellings. By mid century there were about 3,500. A census conducted in 1841 counted only 125 'upper class' people in the region, vastly outnumbered by the 250 mechanics, 150 agricultural labourers, 100 shopkeepers and 100 domestic servants recorded.
In 1865 Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, replacing Auckland. In 1868 Government House moved there too. By 1900 Auckland was the largest New Zealand city.
Auckland The harbourside city of Auckland is New Zealand's only true metropolis and the vibrant economic heart of the country. Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland sprawls out in a disorderly fashion between Manukau Harbour to the west and Waitemata Harbour to the east, with the compact central city district right beside the waterway.
The monuments, museums, and the many art galleries here are among the finest in the country. Exploring the suburban coastline of the city, is popular for its fine beaches, while the islands of the Hauraki Gulf provide a taste of New Zealand's spectacular national park scenery right on the city's doorstep.
1. Sky Tower Auckland
One of the city's most prominent landmarks, is 328 meters high, and is New Zealand's highest building. If you are looking for a place to snap the perfect city panorama then the observation deck on top has views stretching into the distance for 80 kilometers on a clear day.
Visitors can also enjoy dizzying views by walking the exterior of the 192 meter high Sky Walk platform around the tower's pergola, and those looking for a total adrenaline rush can base jump off the platform on the Sky Jump. A restaurant and gift shop are also available on site, and be sure to catch a glimpse of the tower at night when it is lit up to great effect.
Sky Tower Auckland
2. Auckland Harbour Bridge Adventures
The central harbor is dominated by Auckland Harbour Bridge, completed in 1959 and more than one kilometer long and some 43 meters high, which connects downtown Auckland to the northern districts and the sandy beaches of the bays farther north.
The bridge also offers plenty of fun things to do to add a thrill to your sightseeing experience. One of the top rated thrills to experience is the Auckland Harbour Bridge bungee jump, an experience that includes traversing an exclusive bridge walk before plunging 40 meters to the harbor water below.
If bungee jumping is not your thing, you can still enjoy the incredible views from the top of the bridge by joining a guided Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb.
Auckland Harbour Bridge
3. Auckland War Memorial Museum
Auckland's imposing War Memorial Museum sits on the highest point of Auckland Domain in a vast Neoclassical building dating from 1929, which was erected as a memorial dedicated to the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I.
Today, it houses an impressive collection of artifacts that traces the history of New Zealand from its first Polynesian settlers to the present day and highlights New Zealand's natural heritage. Of special interest are the Main Maori Galleries, which host a wealth of artistry, including a magnificent Maori gateway dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries; a richly decorated Meeting House; and the 25 meter long canoe, dating from 1836, in which Maori warriors once sailed into Manukau Harbour.
The first floor hosts the natural history collection, including a reconstruction of the country's famed and now extinct giant moa birds. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to the war memorials and displays the story of New Zealand's involvement in world conflict throughout the country's history.
Guided tours are available, along with regular lectures and workshops.
Auckland War Memorial Museum
4. One Tree Hill
For many Aucklanders, the volcanic cone of One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) is the symbol of their city. The 182 meter high hill sits amid the lush Cornwall Park with a series of flower beds and stands of mature trees set amid walking trails. One Tree Hill takes up the southwest corner of the park, and the slopes contain remnants of a Maori Pa, a fortified village located here during the pre-European era.
At the top of the hill is a lone obelisk built over the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell who gifted this swath of greenery to Auckland to be used as a city park. There are fantastic views across the cityscape from the hill summit.
Also fun to visit is the Stardome Observatory, which features a planetarium in addition to its two telescopes, one of which can be experienced during a visit.
One Tree Hill
5. Waiheke Island
Of all Auckland's Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke Island is the most popular to visit. Around 8,000 people live here year round, and the island's villages are home to art galleries and a thriving café culture, while the coast hosts plenty of white sand beaches.
For keen walkers and hikers, a variety of trails wind along the coastline and through the island interior. For spectacular views and a challenging hike, the Church Bay Circuit is an excellent three hour walk that showcases the best of the island.
History fans should not miss Stony Batter Historic Reserve with its underground tunnel system carved out in World War II in case Auckland was attacked.
Regular ferries to Waiheke Island run from Princes Wharf in central Auckland and take from 35-45 minutes.
For those wanting to linger longer, a variety of good accommodation options are available, from beachside cottage rentals to bed and breakfasts.
6. New Zealand Maritime Museum
New Zealanders have always been deeply connected with the sea, and the well curated New Zealand Maritime Museum explores this connection, offering a comprehensive survey of the country's seafaring history.
Exhibits trace the country's history from the arrival of the first Polynesians and include Maori canoes and outrigger boats, whaling equipment, and old instruments and implements. One gallery is devoted to New Zealand's modern yachting success and includes the yacht in which the New Zealand crew, skippered by Sir Peter Blake, won the America's Cup in 1995. Many of the vessels held in the collection sail regularly, which adds a real dose of excitement to a sightseeing trip.
New Zealand Maritime Museum
7. Viaduct Harbour
The regeneration of Viaduct Harbour is a legacy of New Zealand hosting the America's Cup yachting regatta and has turned this waterside area into one of the city's main entertainment and dining hubs.
As well as being one of the country's major marinas, Viaduct Harbour's lively calendar of events is a tourism draw. Every Sunday, the Flower Market here brings in crowds with live music and street food, while regular free events during summer months are a favorite with local families. The vibrant waterside cafés and restaurants are a great place to stop and linger over lunch while exploring Auckland's central attractions.
8. Auckland Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises
If you have only got room for a single tour when in Auckland, make it a dolphin and whale watching cruise. These superb value tours depart from the centrally located New Zealand Maritime Museum in Viaduct Harbour and all but guarantee a sighting, if not, you can travel again for free. This exciting half day catamaran tour features expert guides well versed in the region and its diverse wildlife, and will ensure you have a chance to get as close as possible to creatures, including whales (six species), dolphins, penguins, and birds to snap some great photos.
Much of your time afloat will be spent in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, an area dotted with splendid scenery. In addition to bringing along binoculars, be sure to pack warm, waterproof clothing and a sun hat, depending on the weather.
Auckland Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises
9. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands are a lush slice of nature right on Auckland's doorstep. Ruggedly beautiful Great Barrier Island is a must visit for wilderness fans, with a multitude of camping, hiking, mountain biking, and sea kayaking opportunities.
Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano and home to the world's largest forest of pohutukawa trees. Hiking to the island's summit rewards walkers with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf.
Tiny Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary for some of New Zealand's most endangered birdlife with a variety of easy walking trails winding through the island's interior. Among the species that keen bird watchers can spot here are takahe, blue penguins, kiwi, and brown teal. Ferries leave from Princes Wharf in the central city.
Hauraki Gulf Marine Park
Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
10. East Coast Beaches
The city's eastern coast is speckled with gorgeous forest rimmed beaches that are top swimming and sun bathing spots for locals during summer weekends. Takapuna Beach, overlooking Rangitoto Island across the water, is one of the finest sandy strips in the city and is deservedly popular. Nearby are both Milford Beach and Cheltenham Beach, which tend to be less crowded.
A short drive out of the city, though, brings you to even more spectacular beaches. To the southeast is lovely Maraetai Beach with its calm waters, an excellent swimming spot even for families traveling with little ones, while a short journey north from Auckland is the golden sand of Orewa Beach.
East Coast Beaches
11. West Coast Beaches
Auckland's west coast is home to some extremely beautiful beaches, but visitors should be aware that many can be dangerous for bathers unused to their sheer rocks, heavy surf from the Tasman Sea, and treacherous undertow.
Piha Beach is the city's most dramatic spot for a picnic and sunbathing with its volcanic black sand and jutting rock outcrops. It is also a major haunt for local surfers. If you are looking for a secluded slice of sand though, Karioitahi Beach, at Waiuku in South Auckland, is a long strip of black sand beach that rarely draws more than a handful of sun-seekers.
West Coast Beaches: Piha Beach
Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves
It is also a great city to use as a base whilst you explore other parts of the North Island, with most places in Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty being easily accessible from the city within a day trip.
Here are 6 great trips you can take from New Zealand’s largest city.
One of the most popular day trips for visitors to New Zealand, immerse yourself in the Lord of the Rings franchise in Hobbiton. Here, you can explore the hobbit holes that were built for use in the Hobbit trilogy, and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the region. You can also enjoy Lord of the Rings themed drinks at the Green Dragon Inn and sample some of New Zealand’s fine cuisine at The Shire’s Rest Café. There is a guided tour around the complex which takes around two hours, but you are free to explore the area afterwards and, of course, get your photo taken in front of the hobbit holes.
2. Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo Caves is a large network of underground caves that are filled with glowworms. You can enjoy the caves by taking a gentle boat ride throughout the complex, with a local guide explaining how the caves formed and a little bit about the glowworms. There is also the opportunity to go black water rafting; you can get your adrenaline fix by riding a flume through the caves in the pitch black, with only the gentle glow of the glowworms to guide your way. A great experience in a country famed for its adrenaline sports and attractions.
3. Waiheke Island
A short boat ride away from Auckland Central Business District, you can opt to either enjoy the high life of the city’s socialites or have a more down to earth experience with the local hippy communities.
Waiheke is well known in the region for its vineyards and there are plenty of wineries set in stunning spots across the island for you to sample the local wine. There are many beautiful beaches around the island, several of which can be very secluded if you go at the right time. Also try the Waiheke Oysters at one of the many cafés.
A bit of a longer journey from Auckland, Rotorua is well worth the trip. Centered around Lake Rotorua, the town (known locally as Rotovegas) is packed with adrenaline sports activities like parachute jumping, bungee jumping, and zorbing. If you are traveling with kids, there is a very popular go-kart track that winds around the nearby hills, giving great views over the countryside. There are great Maori cultural centers for you to experience the indigenous history and a native redwood forest for day hikes. The town is the center of geothermal activity, making it excellent for visiting natural spas and checking out the steam. It does also, however, give the town a very distinctive rotten-egg smell, so keep this in mind before you go.
A little further south than Rotorua, but also well worth a visit, is Taupo. The entire Lake Taupo region is a popular getaway destination for kiwis during the summer, thanks to the breathtaking natural beauty. You can enjoy boat journeys – or even kayak rides if you’re up to it – to Maori carvings and secluded beaches by lakeside. The town is also a short drive away from Tongariro National Park. This is where the Mordor scenes of the Lord of the Rings were filmed and it is easy to see why, thanks to the desert-like almost lunar landscapes the region showcases. There are free hot springs in the town park, but make sure only to enter pools which signs confirm are safe, as others are far too hot!
6. Villa Maria Estate
New Zealand wine is growing in popularity across the world, thanks to the great climate and dedication to quality given by local winemakers. The Villa Maria Estate is located just outside of Auckland Central, close to the airport; however, we do recommend setting a day aside to visit the area. The winery produces wine with grapes grown across the country in Gisborne, Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay, and Auckland. You will be given samples of wine from all the regions and taught about how it is produced, as well as given the chance to make your own tasting notes. This is a must for any wine lover visiting New Zealand.