Highlights of Auckland

Auckland harbour and skyline with the Waitakere mountain range in the background

Auckland is by far New Zealand's largest and most cosmopolitan city, and is also quite attractive.   The airport here is the main point of entry for most travellers who come to New Zealand, and if you're in the country for some time then it's worth spending 2 or 3 days looking around before heading away for the more spectacular scenery and attractions elsewhere.

Of all the attractions in the city, perhaps the one which is the "must do" is a trip up the SkyTower, which at 328 meters is the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere, and a heck of a lot more attractive than the CentrePoint tower in Sydney!   You can go up to the observation floors, and look over the city all the way from the eastern coastline to the Waitakere mountain range in the west.   If you've got the nerve then you can also stand on the glass panels built into the floor of the lowest observation deck, with nothing but air between you and the ground far below.   Since New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world, you can also jump off the tower not one way but two different ways - either by bungee or by a 20 second 75 kilometer an hour wire-guided base jump all the way from the top to the bottom.   And if you don't want to jump off, you can climb even higher, up the mast above the observation floors!

One of the nicest features of Auckland is its harbour.   Actually, there are two harbours - the Manukau on the west coast, and the Waitemata on the east coast - but the Manukau is muddy and mostly unattractive.   In contrast, the maori name "Waitemata" means "sparkling water", and it is this harbour which is the main playground for Aucklanders.   Auckland's semi-official slogan is The City of Sails, and its inhabitants have one of the highest rates of pleasure boat ownership in the world.   New Zealand captured and for some years held the America's Cup, the pinnacle of international yacht racing competitions, and the oldest sporting trophy in the world.   When it was finally lost in 2003, we were able to take some consolation that the captain and crew of the winning Swiss-financed challenge were mostly New Zealanders!

As well as the nice sandy beaches on the shores around the harbour, there are also many pleasant islands that can be visited, either with your own boat or by ferry.   The most spectacular of these is Rangitoto, a huge volcanic cone directly outside the harbour entrance.   Auckland is built on top of a number of volcanoes, including Mt Eden, Mt Albert and Mt Wellington, and Rangitoto is just the largest and most recent.   When it formed about 600 years ago, ash from its eruption covered maori gardens on the neighbouring island of Motutapu.   If you visit Rangitoto today you can climb to the crater at its top, and walk through lava tubes left behind after it exploded.   Other islands to visit are Motuihe and Waiheke, and for something quite different you can go to the island of Tiritiri Matangi, about half an hour by ferry north of Auckland.   As well as being a very pleasant place in its own right, it's also a sanctuary for many New Zealand birds which are not only unique in the world, but are also extremely rare.