Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is a popular starting and ending point for Australia-New Zealand cruise itineraries. Perched near the upper end of the North Island, it has an ideal location for cruise lines looking to schedule calls in other North Island ports (Wellington, Napier and Picton) and South Island towns (Dunedin and Christchurch) in between New Zealand and Australia.
Auckland is the most bustling and cosmopolitan city in New Zealand. Referred to by its original inhabitants as Tamaki Makaurau, which means "Tamaki, desired by many", the harbour town has become more of a desirable place to visit in the past decade or so.
The city's most iconic landmark is the Sky Tower, a massive needle-type attraction built in 1996, which is the tallest manmade structure in the country. But as the latest construction boom shows, there are significant changes to come as the city skyline continues to evolve. Work is now underway to extend the waterfront boundary and build a NZ$35 million (AUD$33 million) tree-lined public space in the ferry basin between Princes Wharf and Queens Wharf.
The Cloud is one of the new contemporary structures that hovers in its cumulus-like form on Queens Wharf. Although initially built as a temporary structure to house fans during Rugby World Cup 2011, The Cloud is still being used as an events venue. The Cloud nods to the Maori name for New Zealand, Aoetearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. It's also rather fitting that the building is referred to as a caterpillar as it appears Auckland itself has emerged from its own shiny chrysalis in recent years.
What makes Auckland such a desirable destination is its fabulous proximity to the water. Lining the Waitemata Harbour -- which leads to the Gulf of Hauraki and the Bay of Islands -- the city's waterfront bustles with ferry traffic. From the Auckland Ferry Terminal it's an easy hop to Waiheke Island, a one-time hippie hangout that's now earning recognition for its beautiful vistas and thriving winemaking culture.
There's also Devonport, on the north shore, a coastal town full of charm and character that has a great view of Auckland across the harbour. The seaside suburb is replete with cafes, parks and shops and lined with wooden colonial villas built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. You can travel to other scenic spots beyond the more urban waterway, from the gentle Seabird Coast to the south to the rugged Pacific-fringed Northland in the opposite direction. Both are easy day-tripping options.
The revival of Auckland began with the revitalised Ferry Building on the waterfront, which has helped transform the character of the city for the better and made the water's edge more welcoming. The ferry building now houses a couple of swanky restaurants and a gelato bar and nods to the city's past as a major gateway to New Zealand.
Geographic highlights of Auckland, which sits on an isthmus, include the 46 volcanic hills scattered around the city. They're easily identifiable, rising suddenly and steeply and featuring flat tops. On some, such as Mt Eden, the craters are carpeted in moss and feathered with grass. You can drive or walk to the top. The views, stretching past the harbours of Waitemata and Manukau and bordered by mountain ranges, are almost as good as those from Auckland's famous Sky Tower.
What will also impress is the friendliness of Aucklanders. They really do revel in the city's popularity among tourists, whether from the South Island, Australia (a three-hour flight away and the closest major land mass) or from Asia, Europe or the United States. The locals are quick to display a strong sense of pride in their city and take it upon themselves to make sure you've enjoyed your visit.
Nearly everyone working in the hospitality arena -- hotels, shops, restaurants, taxis -- is superbly gracious and efficient (and it's not the anticipation of a gratuity that spurs them on as tipping, outside of restaurants, is not really encouraged). The friendliness is intrinsic, starting with NZ Bus; those not carrying passengers offer signs saying Sorry before they move into Out of Service.
The Viaduct Basin is another structure that has been faithfully restored and it's chock-a-block with cafes, pubs and bistros that continue to open in the wake of the wharf's revitalisation. While the city is very much still under construction -- it is readying itself to host the America's Cup in 2021 -- the vision for downtown Auckland to develop as a vibrant destination is clear. In addition to the planned public space on Quay Street, the Emerging Auckland program includes ongoing investment in the streetscape. And for those cruise passengers who visit Auckland as a day-stop on a South Pacific itinerary or embark or disembark there, that means there's a lot more to explore.