The biggest city of North Island and easily the biggest in New Zealand, Auckland is a metropolis of vast size, but sparsely populated with 1.5 million inhabitants, and the high quality of life is immediately apparent. Visitors generally use Auckland as a stepping-stone to the Bay of Islands and other natural wonders, but this peppy city has a verve all of its own.
It's easy to get around Auckland thanks to the city's easy-to-spot white buses. Patrolling the inner city throughout the day, the bus routes cover many of the main sights; tickets can be purchased aboard. A red bus running between the Sky Tower, the university and Britomart Centre goes every day until 6pm, and is free.
There is plenty to keep you entertained in New Zealand's biggest city, not least its preservation of Maori archaeology. Much of this can be found in the impressive Auckland Museum, whose collection of Maori artefacts is truly astonishing. The museum is set amongst The Domain, a beautiful stretch of inner city parkland.
Auckland lies on a curious isthmus – to its west are black beaches, broken by the Manukau Harbour, which opens out into the Tasman Sea. The west coast also boasts surfing spots and several wineries. Meanwhile, Auckland's waterfront has been given a new lease of life of late thanks to redevelopment, with trendy restaurants, bars and shiny new towers cropping up. The former cool kid on the block, downtown Auckland has somewhat lost its edge by comparison, but the newly refitted Auckland Art Gallery there is seeking to have the last word.
Auckland's array of neighbourhoods give you a more rounded sense of life in the metropolis, especially the old waterside suburb of Devonport and the ecclesiastical hub of Parnell, with its old churches and historical houses. Further along the coast are the city beaches of Mission Bay and Mission Bay.
After years of decline, the suburb of Ponsonby has been staging a comeback in recent years. Its many designer boutiques make it a great place to shop. There are also a number of fashionable eateries for the see-and-be-seen crowd, while nearby Herne Bay is another pleasant spot.
Be sure to head to the wondrous Hauraki Gulf islands. Home to the region's best sights, it's known for crags, rare birds and volcanoes, and only a stone's throw from well-poised Auckland. Great Barrier Island offers good fishing and hiking opportunities, while the iconic Rangitoto is a volcanic island visible for kilometres around.
Ascend one of Auckland's skyscrapers to dine in one of the acclaimed hotel restaurants with unmatched views of the city and glimpses of the natural scenery beyond. Fine food is the order of the day in these establishments, and throughout the city there's an emphasis on local produce and organic fare. New Zealand is known for its laid-back attitude, and while Auckland bucks many of the country's trends, visitors will find the mix of European flavours and local ingredients to be effortlessly blended. Look out for cuisine inspired by traditional Maori cooking, and take advantage of many a bulging wine list featuring home grown blends.