Located on the far north end of the North Island, the shining metropolis of Auckland is the largest urban area of New Zealand. Also known as Tāmaki Makaurau meaning “maiden with a hundred lovers” in the native Te Reo Māori language, this city has long been sought after throughout history due to its agricultural prospects of the rich soil and marine trade from the two harbors that divide the city. From its Polynesian roots to its colonial history to its commercialism boom, Auckland is sure to offer visitors from around the world a wide variety of experiences that don’t disappoint!
While difficult to accurately trace the indigenous Māori people, most historical accounts date the first settlements of the city of Auckland to the somewhere around the 14th century. Many scholars have hypothesized that the Māori people hailed from various Polynesian islands in the South Pacific and settling in what is now modern-day New Zealand. Many tribes fought over control of the area due to its nutrient-rich soil, which would prove to be essential in maintaining the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The legend of North Island in Māori lore follows the clever shapeshifting demigod, Māui, and his magical fishhook – sound familiar? This demigod does in fact serve as the primary inspiration for the character, Māui, in the recent Disney film, Moana. In the legend, Māui is said to have snuck on a fishing trip and when he attempts to catch a fish, he instead hooks a large land mass. His brothers then carve the land mass to resemble a fish, explaining the fish-like appearance of North Island that we know of today.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the arrival of British traders started to dramatically change the sociocultural landscape of New Zealand. While their trade partnerships were initially welcomed, widespread disease and inter-tribal violence due to the arrival of modern weapons caused the indigenous Māori population to decline. In 1840, the British government and Māori tribal leadership signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which intended to annex the territory to the British while still protecting Māori rights. The first Governor, William Hobson, renamed the city to Auckland – named after George Eden, the Earl of Auckland – and promptly made it the capital. While Auckland maintained strong trade powers due to its two major harbors, the capital city of New Zealand was moved to the more centrally located Wellington shortly after in 1865, as most European settlers were settling on South Island.
Despite the capital city being moved, Auckland was named an official city in 1871 and has since become the largest metropolitan area in the country, with over 1/3 of the entire New Zealand population residing there. The nation of New Zealand is still a part of the British Commonwealth governing as a constitutional monarchy; however, the country has strengthened its ties with international allies in recent history and has become a member of SEATO and the ANZUS Pact, reinforcing a more autonomous structure. The country has also been a nuclear-free zone since 1980, with new political ideologies embracing peacekeeping missions in the Pacific region.
The culture of New Zealand or Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”) and the North Island in particular reflect both its European and Māori roots, particularly after a recent cultural renaissance of Māori traditions. New Zealanders often refer to themselves as Kiwi, which refers to the native kiwi bird of the islands whose feathers are often used in traditional Māori clothing. The official languages of the country are English, Te Reo Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language; while English is the most widely spoken, Te Reo Māori has been revitalized in recent decades and is more commonly used in daily life for Kiwis.
The Te Matahini Festival is an annual celebration of Māori culture. The Māori customs of manaakitanga (kindness and hospitality) and kaitiakitanga (respect for the environment) have also greatly influenced Kiwi culture. In fact, New Zealand’s incredible kindness is recognized around the world – on the World Giving Index of 2020, New Zealand was ranked the third most generous country in the world and the most consistent country overall when it came to volunteer work, charitable donations, and helping others.
The city of Auckland is an ethnically diverse city, with over 180 ethnic groups represented and the largest concentration of indigenous Māori in the world – 1 in 7 people residing in Auckland have Māori ancestry. Nicknamed “The City of Sails”, Auckland is home to Viaduct Harbour where the America’s Cup yachting regatta is held every year and boasts more yachts per capita than any other country. Auckland is also a wonderful reflection of New Zealand’s love for extreme sports! Thrill-seeking visitors can visit the iconic Sky Tower in the city center for a death-defying base jump and climb around the pergola. For those who prefer views of the harbor and surrounding islands, Auckland Harbour Bridge bungee jumping excursions and guided climbing tours up the bridge.
For those who may be looking for a more relaxed vacation, Auckland is also home nationally significant parks and historical sites. A visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum hosts exhibitions on New Zealand history from the Polynesian art traditions to modern day. If you’re looking for some hiking adventures, be sure to take a trip through Waitemata Harbour, which serves as a gateway to surrounding islands that boast beautiful beaches and hiking trails such as the Harbour Gulf islands. The Auckland Volcanic Field also has many outdoor sites to visit, such as the One Tree Hill volcanic peak and Rangitoto Island – don’t worry, all of the volcanoes are extinct! For Lord of the Rings fans, the city of Hobbiton has many guided tours of the filming locations from the film franchise and is a mere two hour’s drive from the city.
As an island nation and part of the British Commonwealth, much of New Zealand cuisine reflects British tastes. Pub culture has dominated much of daily cosmopolitan cuisine, with dishes such as beetroot and egg burgers (sometimes referred to as a “Kiwi burger”) and savory meat pies becoming the norm in many restaurants in larger cities across the country. For anyone who enjoys seafood, locally sourced crayfish (also known as lobster) or a simple order of fish and chips are very popular lunch foods. For dessert, New Zealanders join their Australian neighbors in sharing a love for pavlova, a meringue dessert topped with fruit. In Auckland, Viaduct Harbour has one of the most bustling food scenes in the country, with many local farmers markets and fine dining restaurants for travelers and locals alike.
With influence from its Māori culinary traditions, New Zealand is also well-known for the style of cooking called hāngi. Using earthen ovens called umus, this method of cooking slow roasts meat and vegetables and is most often implemented for large feasts; common ingredients include roasted lamb or pork and kumara, a locally grown sweet potato variety. Seafood-friendly Māori delicacies are kina (sea urchin) and paua (sea snail/abalone) and are considered sustainable alternatives to meat dishes in Māori cuisine. As a drink, be sure to try the local kawakawa tea – this slightly spicy herbal tea is a crowd favorite!
If you would like to learn more about this incredible city, its history and cuisine, check out these sites: