Big City Tales

New Zealand’s Treasure Trove of Cities | April 4, 2013

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The Shire may be the home of fictional hobbits, but in reality most New Zealanders live in big cities.

If you thought New Zealand was just a land of shires, sheep and seashores, it may come as a surprise that the country is actually heavily urban-based.

In fact, over 50 percent of the population resides in the country’s four largest cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton) that have historically ranked amongst the world’s most livable places, and there is nary a shire (or hairy-toed hobbit) to be found!

What you will discover, instead, is a treasure trove of cities boasting modern amenities and beautiful panoramas that rival the picturesque pastures outside of their municipal borders.

Of course, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without venturing out into said rural pastures, but to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority of people be sure to head to the cities for a Kiwi-style urban experience.


According to the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, Auckland is a city desired by many and full of riches to be had. Little wonder, then, that it is the country’s largest urban centre and a major tourist destination.

Auckland also has the distinction of being the yacht and launch capital of the world, earning it the nickname ‘City of Sails’. Indeed, with one in three Aucklanders owning a boat, it is sometimes hard to see the water in Waitemata Harbour through the sea of boats bobbing on its surface.

The city’s mild climate and sheltered harbour contributes to boating being a popular leisurely activity, but Aucklanders also enjoy other outdoor pursuits such as rugby, cricket, soccer and netball.

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Waitemata Harbour in Auckland hosts many nautical events throughout the year.

Shopping is also a favourite pastime with a number of upscale markets and mega malls providing a myriad of options to purchase goods at. Queen Street, High Street, and Karangahape Road are the main retail areas in the central business district drawing the socialite crowd; while those looking for more affordable wares head to the suburbs. Auckland’s three largest malls are: Sylvia Park, Botany Town Centre, and Westfield Albany.

Aucklander’s love of shopping is matched by their love of cultural activities. The Auckland Art Gallery boasts a collection of over 15,000 works and is considered to be the home of visual arts in New Zealand. In the realm of music, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performs its own repertoire of concerts as well as accompanies visiting artists.

Yes, when it comes to things to see and do in Auckland, the Maori had it right…there’s truly an abundance of riches in a city of abundant natural beauty!

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The “City of Sails” earned its nickname for having more yachts per capita than any city in the world.


Famous for its historic Cathedral Square area and its one-time status of ‘Garden City of the World’, in recent years Christchurch has been in rebuild mode following a series of damaging earthquakes.

Despite the destruction and loss of some significant heritage buildings in Cathedral Square, the city remains a garden oasis with Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens being two of the largest and most popular green spaces.

Christchurch’s inner city is also noted for the Avon River that winds through its midst, offering long stretches of tree-lined banks where people can commune with nature in all its glory.

Given the city’s mild weather and close proximity to the ocean and nearby mountain ranges, Christchurch has the added perk of offering a diverse array of outdoor activities.  From skiing to hot-air ballooning to whale watching, there’s much to enjoy be it on land, in the air, or at sea…all of which can be accomplished within a two-hour drive of the airport!

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Although damaged by major earthquakes in recent years, Cathedral Square is still the geographic centre and heart of Christchurch society.


As New Zealand’s ‘Capital of Cool’, Wellington’s appeal lies in its hip cafe culture, arts scene, ‘Wellywood’ film district, and eclectic architectural styles.

The Wellington Cable Car is another of the city’s iconic features, taking passengers from the Lambton Quay shopping area out to the suburbs. With a total length of 612 km and rise of 120 m, the cable car offers a great city view and a peaceful, gentle ride.

Along the waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) is world-renowned for its interactive exhibits celebrating the country’s natural history. Meanwhile, just outside the city core is Zealandia, a protected wildlife sanctuary home to birds, lizards and other rare creatures unique to New Zealand’s landscape.

Whatever your pleasure, it’s hip doing anything in the ‘Capital of Cool’.

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The Wellington Cable Car is a recognized city symbol.


With its large student population, Hamilton boasts a vibrant entertainment scene along its main street with bars and eateries that rival similar offerings in other New Zealand cities.

Outside of the city, the Matamata region attracts legions of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans to the Hobbiton Movie Set. From Bilbo Baggins’ house to the Party Tree, a tour around the Shire is a treat for everyone.

Back in town, Hamilton Central is where most of the action takes place, but other attractions include:

  • The Base – New Zealand’s second largest shopping centre with 190 stores.
  • Hamilton Gardens – A series of public gardens designed around the theme of ‘the story of gardens’.
  • The Waikato Museum – Exhibits tell the story of Hamilton’s history from its visual art to Maori traditions.
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Hamilton is New Zealand’s fastest growing urban area.

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