World Facts Index > New Zealand > Auckland

As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland wickedly 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.

Two towering, powerful icons emerge from the sprawling mass: the volcanic cone of Rangitoto, and the futuristic Sky Tower. They may also define its soul; a city of tranquility and sophistication, that combines a stunning coastline, with cultural edge. The hecklers claim Auckland is bold, brash and full of excess. The critics may be right about the excess, but there's no stopping Auckland's growth, as it steadily consumes new ground. It already contains four cities (North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland and Manukau) straddling an isthmus of land at the narrowest part of New Zealand. A mere nine kilometres separates the Pacific Ocean on the east side from the Tasman Sea on the West. Aucklander's love of the water explains the moniker: 'City of Sails' - a reputation cemented during the flurry of activity on the Waitemata Harbour during the America's Cup 2000 regatta.

Over a quarter of the nation's 3.7 million 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 has followed; Europeans, Asians, and Polynesians have all journeyed to Auckland. Now it is the largest Polynesian enclave in the world.

More than 50 volcanoes have erupted, permanently scarring Auckland's landscape. The last of them, the island of Rangitoto, burst forth from the sea a mere 600 years ago. Nowadays their fire is quelled, but something of their spirit lives in the buzz, aggression and vitality of the city.

Central Business District
The main artery of Queen Street, studded with retail and commercial buildings, flows like lava from Newton to Downtown, with the shadow of the 328 metre Sky Tower reflected in every gleaming, glass tower. As you descend, take a cultural stopover at the Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Town Hall, The Edge/Aotea Centre, the Force Entertainment Centre and the Civic theatre. The fashion heart is located just off Queen Street in High Street, home to some of the world's hottest new labels:
World, Karen Walker, and Zambesi. Queen Street continues downward to converge with the waterfront, and the revamped Viaduct Basin.

Auckland's passion for uprooting its past (it was once dubbed the 'city of cranes') began with Pakeha (European) settlers removing entire volcanic cones to reclaim the waterfront. Now the waterfront is an essential playground for its citizens. The city council has recently spent NZ$42 million beautifying Viaduct Harbour, a perfect backdrop to the America's Cup 2000 regatta and home to other attractions, including the Maritime Museum, Waitemata Plaza, the Ferry Building, and a bevy of restaurants and nightspots.

On the inner city fringe lies the infamous Karangahape Road, although its garish sex parlours all but pale beside its exotic shops and restaurants. Also on the fringe is Grafton, location of Auckland Hospital and the ice-cream coloured Starship Children's Hospital and Auckland's major recreational park, the 74-hectare Auckland Domain, with its sports fields, The Wintergardens, duck ponds and Auckland Museum.

South of the Auckland Domain, you can fully appreciate Auckland's size from the summit of Mt Eden (Maungawhau). Descend to one of the trendy village cafes nestled at its base if you're in need of fortification. Another volcanic vantage point, offering views to both the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, is One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). Stargazers will enjoy the Auckland Observatory and Star Dome Planetarium situated in surrounding Cornwall Park.

West of downtown, Ponsonby Road has been Auckland's enduring restaurant strip for the past 20 years. Competition is now fierce with new restaurants and bars offering waterfront views at the Viaduct Basin. However, the cosmopolitan set remain loyal to Ponsonby Road icons such as Prego, SPQR, Atomic Café and other institutions such as the Hero Parade, Auckland's own gay pride Mardi Gras - voted best annual event by Metro magazine.

The Eastern Bays
Heading East, but still hovering on the fringes of the Central Business District, are the suburbs of Newmarket and Parnell. Newmarket is the fashion addict's latest indulgence, and perhaps a smarter, slicker version of Parnell, once the domain of the yuppie and eighties excess. A more sober past is represented by historic buildings such as Kinder House and Whitby Lodge, which are alongside a lively mix of shops and restaurants on Parnell Rise. Further east along Tamaki Drive is Auckland's very own Riviera of crescent beaches, stretching from Okahu Bay and Bastion Point to Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. Along the drive you'll find Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter, more street-side cafes, and seaside playgrounds.

South Auckland
Manukau City, self-proclaimed "face of the future" with its 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 regions most diverse shopping, ranging from the mainstream Manukau Shopping Centre to the Polynesian-style Otara Market. If you're looking for an adrenalin-rush, there's Rainbow's End theme park. South Auckland is the market garden of Auckland, the rich red volcanic soil spreading from Mangere further south to the Bombay Hills. This is also the industrial heartland of Auckland - Penrose, Mt Wellington, East Tamaki and Otahuhu drawing their workforce from all over Auckland.

West Auckland
West Auckland is home to rugged scenic beauty and also has its own unique cultural heritage, being home to Auckland's Dalmatian population. To fully appreciate this area's natural attractions, drive 45 minutes west from the city, to the black-sand surf beaches - Piha Beach, Karekare Beach and Muriwai Beach (also to view the Gannet Colony). For the outdoor enthusiast there are some 143 bushwalks in the Waitakere Ranges not to mention mountain-bike and 4-wheel drive trails, horse-riding opportunities and more.

There are a number of established family wineries in West Auckland, notably Delegat's and Corbans, near Henderson; 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, both worth the drive just to enjoy their beautiful settings.

The North Shore
Across the harbour bridge from downtown lies North Shore City and 20km of superb beaches along the north-east facing coastline. Seaside suburbs with their own relaxed shopping centres and restaurants wind their way north, with a major highlight being the historic maritime village of Devonport (home of the New Zealand Navy). To view some multi-million dollar real estate take a walk along Takapuna Beach and continue on to Milford beach along the sea-wall at low tide.

Beyond the confines of the city isthmus lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including Rangitoto, Motutapu and Waiheke Island which attracts many visitors to its idyllic bays and beaches, galleries, vineyards and restaurants, and the annual Montana Waiheke Island of Jazz Festival.

History of Auckland

"Long long ago, Maui, a mischievous demigod, went fishing one day with his brothers deep in the southern ocean. Using his grandmother's jawbone for a hook, he caught a huge fish and hauled it out of the sea. His brothers were jealous and fought over the fish for tasty pieces. The fish became the North Island of New Zealand, and the landforms were created by their actions, the sea flowing into the gaps left by the hungry brothers. The resulting narrow Auckland isthmus was surrounded by water, between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea."

The iwi or tribes of the Auckland area descend from the waka, original canoes that came to the region about 800 years ago from Hawaiki, bringing the dog, the native rat, and food plants such as taro, gourd, yam and kumara. Their descendents include the Tainui, Hauraki and Kawerau iwi; and the Ngati Whatua from the north, considered to be the official tangata whenua, or people of the land, of Auckland City today.

Auckland is built on an active field of 48 volcanoes, dating back 150,000 years. The youngest, Rangitoto Island, blew up just 600 years ago, and stands like a guardian over the city. The isthmus, Tamaki Makaurau, was fertile with plant, tree, fish and birdlife and blessed with a mild climate. Early coastal settlements show evidence of fishing and seasonal food gathering. Later, large scale agriculture was practised and archaeological sites frequently show seashell middens, or terraces for housing or gardens. Rectangular dugout storage pits for kumara (sweet potato) and taro are frequent. There are still many tapu (sacred) places, associated with important events, ancestors and graves of these early inhabitants. The volcanic cones offer the greatest visible evidence of old Maori settlements and were probably developed as fortified pa during the 17th century, when intertribal conflict increased. The volcanoes remain the most distinctive feature of Auckland's landscape, and like most landforms had great symbolic and spiritual importance to the Maori.

Early European visitors included Captain James Cook, missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden, British naval boats seeking kauri timber for masts and spars, and whalers and sealers provisioning their ships. They brought with them iron tools, alcohol and tobacco, serious diseases like influenza, and most significantly muskets! As well as Christianity, the missionaries also introduced farm animals, the plough, fruit trees, cereal and vegetable crops. Traditional Maori ways of life were changed forever.

In 1840 many local chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Britain. There have been problems in defining its true meaning ever since, and therefore land disputes. However, it is an important document to New Zealanders, embodying the ideal that "We are One People."

Auckland became the capital of the new colony in 1840 on land purchased from the Ngati Whatua. Farming developed along with copper mining and timber, and Maori communities participated widely in agriculture and trade. Relations between them and European settlers were friendly during the 1840s-50s; although military fencible settlements at Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure, Howick and Albert Barracks in the city were built then. The Land Wars of the 1860s decimated the South Auckland tribes, and much of their land and that of Tainui was confiscated.

In 1865 the country's capital was transferred to Wellington. Auckland grew to become the country's main industrial centre and port over the next 30 years. From 1870 immigration increased from Britain, and gum digging, brick making, flour milling, brewing, publishing and boatbuilding were added to the local trades. The introduction of refrigeration in the late 1880s had a major impact on the whole of New Zealand. Now it was possible to transport fresh food to Britain and much produce passed through the port of Auckland.

Through the 1880s Auckland had 8000 inhabitants and 20,000 people lived on the isthmus. Many large buildings were built, such as the Customhouse, City Library and Auckland Art Gallery. Fortifications at Takapuna, Bastion Point, North Head, and Mount Victoria were built to defend the city in case of attack.

By the 1890s Auckland was described as a "sophisticated cosmopolitan centre". Venues such as the Auckland Domain were developed for sport, and new leisure activities included steamer excursions to beaches like Devonport and the Gulf Islands, horse racing, walking, cycling and brass band concerts. After the hard early pioneering days, people could now discover and enjoy the attractions of the Auckland region.

During the early 1900s, the Ferry Building, the Chief Post Office, the Auckland Town Hall and the Parnell Baths were all examples of new building thought suitable for a sophisticated and civilised city. Grafton Bridge was built and internationally acclaimed as the first reinforced concrete arch in the Southern Hemisphere. The Maori population however was decreasing. It was thought they would die out!

The Auckland Museum honours the thousands of young New Zealanders killed and wounded in the First World War and other wars. During the Second World War, large coastal gun batteries, like those along Tamaki Drive, were installed around the city in case of attack.

Auckland's population reached 630,000 by 1970, due to both urban migration and immigration: mostly from Britain (and Holland) in the 1950s and the Pacific Islands in the 1960s. Motorways were begun in the 50s and the Harbour Bridge opened in 1959, drawing the North Shore into the growing metropolis.

Auckland has seen its share of debate and political action, from Flower Power and anti Vietnam War rallies, and Peace Squadron anti-nuclear flotillas on the Waitemata Harbour to enormous protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. Bastion Point was the focus of a long Ngati Whatua occupation in the 1980s and national attempts to resolve Maori land issues continue today. In 1985 French secret agents sank the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in the harbour.

Auckland's population reached one million in 1996. More and more people try to cram onto the narrow isthmus. A wave of new immigrants from all over the world have recently made Auckland their home. From the different languages spoken in the street, and the variety of ethnic food now available, you would never guess Auckland to be a small place, right down-under in the South Pacific. Tourism is vital, and an exciting variety of activities and experiences await visitors to this vibrant, multi-cultural city.


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