As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland once 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."
Over a quarter of the nation's 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 have followed; Europeans, Asians and Polynesians have all made the journey to create the largest Polynesian enclave in the world. More than 50 volcanoes have erupted in Auckland, permanently scarring its landscape. The last, 600 years ago, gave birth to Rangitoto Island. Today, the buzz, aggression and vitality of the city echoes this turbulent past.
Central Business District
The main artery, Queen Street, studded with retail and commercial buildings, flows from Newton to Downtown, with the shadow of the Sky Tower reflected in every gleaming, glass tower. Take a cultural stopover at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, the Auckland Town Hall, the Aotea Centre or the Civic.
The main fashion hub is located nearby on High Street, and is home to some of the world's hottest new labels: World Deluxe Store, Karen Walker and Zambesi. Queen Street eventually converges with the waterfront and the revamped Viaduct Harbour Marina.
A passion for uprooting the past (Auckland was once dubbed the "City of Cranes") began with Pakeha (European settlers) removing entire volcanic cones in order to revamp the waterfront. Now it is an essential playground for all. Millions have been spent beautifying Viaduct Harbour Marina, a perfect backdrop for the New Zealand National Maritime Museum, the Ferry Building and a bevy of restaurants and nightspots.
On the inner city fringe lies the infamous Karangahape Road, although its garish sex parlors now compete with many exotic shops and restaurants. On the fringe is Grafton, location of Auckland Hospital, the ice-cream colored Starship Children's Hospital and Auckland's major recreational park—the Auckland Domain, with its sports fields, Wintergardens, duck ponds and the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
South of the Domain, you can fully appreciate the city from the summit of Mount Eden (Maungawhau). Try one of the trendy village cafés nestled at its base. Another volcanic vantage point, offering views to both the Waitemata and Manukau harbors, is One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). Stargazers will enjoy the Auckland Observatory and Star Dome situated in surrounding Cornwall Park.
West of downtown, you'll find Ponsonby--The Strip, a cluster of popular restaurants. Although competition has become fierce with the new waterfront restaurants and bars, many remain loyal to Ponsonby icons such as Prego, S.P.Q.R. and other institutions like the Hero Parade, Auckland's own gay pride Mardi Gras, voted best annual event by Metro Magazine.
Newmarket and Parnell
Heading east, but still hovering on the fringes of the city, are the suburbs of Newmarket and Parnell. Newmarket is a fashion addict's delight, and perhaps a smarter, slicker version of Parnell, once the domain of yuppie excess. A more sober past is reflected in historic buildings such as Kinder House and Whitby Lodge, which sit alongside a lively mix of shops and restaurants. Further east along Tamaki Drive is Auckland's own Riviera of crescent beaches, stretching from Okahu Bay and Bastion Point to Mission Bay, Kohimarama and Saint Heliers Beach. Along the drive you will find Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World, more street cafés and seaside playgrounds.
Manukau City, with 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 region's most diverse shopping, including Otara Market. For an adrenaline rush, there is Rainbow's End theme park.
West Auckland offers rugged scenic beauty and, as home to the Dalmatian population, has a unique cultural heritage. To fully appreciate its natural attractions, drive 45 minutes west from the city to the black sand and surf beaches at Piha Beach, Karekare Beach and Muriwai Beach. Also check out the nearby Gannet Colony. For outdoor enthusiasts there are over 140 bushwalks in the Waitakere Ranges, trails for bikes and four wheel drive vehicles, and horse riding opportunities.
There are a number of established family wineries here also, notably 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 are both worth the drive to enjoy their beautiful settings.
The North Shore
Across the Harbour Bridge lies North Shore City and miles of superb beaches. Seaside suburbs with relaxed shopping centers and restaurants wind their way north, with a major highlight being the historic village of Devonport accessible by boat from the Ferry Building. To view some expensive real estate, walk along Takapuna Beach and continue on to Milford Beach along the sea wall at low tide.
Beyond the confines of the city lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including Rangitoto Island and Waiheke Island, which attract many visitors to their idyllic bays and beaches, galleries, vineyards and restaurants, and the annual Montana Waiheke Island of Jazz Festival.