With over 200 distinct ethnic groups, the city celebrates many major and colourful events in the calendar. Auckland hosts annual Pasifika, Hindu Diwali and Chinese New Year festivals in all corners of the city.
Home to more Polynesians than anywhere else, visitors are struck by the charming character this cultural diversity brings. A huge range of national cuisines are also represented at festivals, making the city an affordable gourmet paradise where chefs work with fresh, locally grown produce.
Tipping is not generally expected in Auckland or elsewhere in New Zealand. People are sometimes embarrassed, in extreme cases offended, when offered a gratuity. When you see jars and invitations to tip on meal invoices, be aware this is optional.
Embrace the culture
Auckland Museum in The Domain offers Māori displays, cultural performances and Pacific island artefacts. Auckland City Art Gallery, housed in a beautiful building overlooking Albert Park, hosts travelling international exhibitions and includes an extensive collection of New Zealand art. Discover paintings from early colonial days to more modern pieces, featuring artists such as Frances Hodgkins, Gottfried Lindauer and Colin McCahon.
Must visit attractions
Although Auckland is the tourist jumping-off spot, the city has its own highlights from beaches to volcanoes. Tamaki Drive and Mission Bay are a short bus or taxi ride from the CBD. Most New Zealand beaches are uncrowded, however the Auckland city ones can be busy on a sunny day.
In summer you can hire kayaks, enjoy ice cream and sit under iconic pohutukawa trees. The pohutukawa is a native New Zealand tree that displays bright red blossoms at Christmas. There are stunning views across the harbour to Rangitoto Island, a distinctive cone-shaped dormant volcano.
For great city views, climb Mount Eden, a dormant volcano. Stop in at at the independent cafes to understand why Aucklanders are fussy about coffee. A fast catamaran ferry to Waiheke Island takes you to vineyards and restaurants 30 minutes from downtown Auckland. Being an affordable gourmet paradise, there are many fashionable areas to dine including Britomart, Wynyard Quarter, Federal Street and Ponsonby Road.
You'll find black sand and formidable surf 40km to the west of Auckland's CBD at Piha. While remote and with few public transport options, it is well worth a day trip. To get there, drive over the Waitakere Ranges, more than 16,000 hectares of native forest, bush walks and rugged coastline.
Head to the shops in Newmarket, Auckland and New Zealand's main fashion shopping district. For something different visit the Otara Market, a vibrant Polynesian market where you'll find decorated tapa cloth, decorated tree bark, and other unique South Pacific art on sale.
Away from the ferry service, Auckland public transport is a work-in-progress. The train network is limited and the service infrequent. It tends to be packed in the rush hour. There's no train to the airport and, at the time of writing, the trip to town takes you down suburban streets. Grab a taxi or call an Uber and relax on the trip and you'll get a taste of everyday life in the city.
Auckland is New Zealand's business hub. While you are more likely to visit the city for work than for pleasure or use it as a base for travel through New Zealand, there is still plenty to to keep you busy.
Contributing Writer: Bill Bennett
Image at top of article: Paddlers in Mission Bay, Auckland