The four major cities in New Zealand complement the amazing rural scenery with an urban vibe and cosmopolitan flavor. Aotearoa, as the country is known in Maori, is the size of Colorado with less people and lots more sheep - 44 people and 290 sheep per square mile. (Lot's of room to enjoy the stunning views!) But that doesn't mean it doesn't have anything to offer the city-lover. Our four main centers have much to offer and are perfectly spaced (as if by natural geographical design) throughout both the North and the South island.
Straddling two natural harbours, New Zealand's 'City of Sails' is the country's largest. Encircled by wine regions, native bush, rain forests and beaches - this urban paradise is also known for its world-class shopping, designer boutiques and gourmet cuisine. Dotted with volcanoes and ringed by islands, Auckland is a playground for both the city savvy and those with an eye for adventure.
What makes Auckland - the world's largest Polynesian city - so special is its cultural diversity. A diversity reflected in the cuisine, festivals, art and music on offer. A shopaholic's dream with many high-end designers, small boutiques and quirky craft stores, Auckland is renowned for its world class shopping. Visit Remuera to see some of New Zealand's most well-known designers or wander up High St and Vulcan Lane to snag a boutique bargain.
Explore the suburbs of Parnell and Ponsonby with their upmarket galleries, back-alley wine bars, and trendy eateries, or venture further afield to the small island of Waiheke, a haven of vineyards, olive groves and a beautiful beaches. Explore the rural community of Clevedon to experience the delights of the country and make time to visit one of over 800 regional parks with deserted beaches, waterfalls and forest walks.
Wellington, home to New Zealand’s center of government has a largely cosmopolitan feel. Often referred to as ‘mini-Melbourne’, this (self described) windy city is a melting pot of art, culture, food and fashion. Quirky laneway bars, underground art shows and hipster eateries make up its inner city vibe, while a host of sandy beaches outside the urban bustle bring a cheerful holiday feel.
Head to Te Papa Museum for a history lesson and a ticket to one of its many international exhibitions or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay - the only running funicular railway in the country. For those with an eye for boutique fashion wander through Cuba St to sample some of the city's best vintage stores. Break for coffee at a hipster cafe and be sure to snap a pic outside the ‘Beehive,’ New Zealand’s parliamentary debate chamber.
Go behind the scenes at Weta Workshop, the Oscar Award Winning design studio behind Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, and Avatar. We recommend a 45 minute guided tour through both the Workshop and Weta Cave. If you're a foodie at heart, a two hour round trip to Martinborough is a must do. Take your time as you wind through spectacular wine country, and be sure to stop in at Martinborough Wines or Ata Rangi Martinborough. For a educational day out, learn about New Zealand's native species at Zealandia - the world's first fully fenced eco-sanctuary and home to over 40 types of endangered and native birds.
The largest metro area in the South Island, Christchurch is referred to as New Zealand's Garden City. Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its centre and much of the outlying suburbs, Christchurch is well into a billion-dollar makeover - and is set to become the newest, greenest city in New Zealand. Home to one of the biggest public parks in the country, Christchurch is also known as the gateway to the South Island. Boasting a plethora of activities both inside and outside the town centre, there is something here to suit every visitor.
One such attraction is the International Antarctic Centre, located at the International Airport. From here the bases in Antarctica are replenished and there are unique displays of what life is like in this chilly environment - including native little blue penguins. For those keen to see everything this Garden City has to offer we recommend the Christchurch Pass - a one stop shop to four main attractions. Pay once and go punting on the Avon, catch the Gondola to the ring of an extinct volcano Mt Cavendish, tour the Botanic Gardens and hop aboard a historic tramcar. A visit to the world's only Cardboard Cathedral - a temporary replacement for the earthquake-damaged Christchurch Cathedral - is a must.
Visit Quake City for insight into the devastating Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, then take in the sights on a city tour. Drive an hour in any direction to ski, mountain bike, wine taste, whale-watch, bungy jump or play golf. Explore the french settlement of Akaroa, tucked inside Banks Peninsula. An eclectic mix of British and French architecture, this seaside town has a whimsical charm and is the perfect place to escape. While you’re there jump aboard a harbor cruise for the chance to catch a glimpse of the rare hector's dolphin.
Known as the Edinburgh of the South, Dunedin is the smallest of New Zealand’s main cities and has a heavy Scottish influence. Surrounded by rugged coastal plains and windswept beaches it’s home to an eclectic mix of historical and modern architecture as well as industrial technology. Renowned for its Flemish Baroque-inspired ‘gingerbread house’ Railway Station, this university town is bustling with life. Head to the Saturday farmers market held in the aforementioned railway grounds for a taste of organic produce, handmade crepes and local honey.
Explore the many cafes and wine bars in The Octagon, then continue on a self-guided walking tour of the internationally acclaimed Street Art dotted around the city. Drive to the coast and watch the freighters passing in the distance while you sunbathe, or hire a mountain bike and test your legs on one of the many trails available in the area.
Take a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and visit the Otago Museum for a glimpse of local history. For a more immersive historical experience, follow the coast to New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle. On your way back be sure to head to the Otago Peninsula to see the largest mainland Albatross colony in the world.