Auckland History and Culture

Auckland has been captivating to passing travellers for 800 years.

New Zealand's indigenous people, the Maori, called this land "Tamaki Makau Rau", a maiden with 100 lovers. It was a place desired by many and fought over for its riches, including its forested hills, productive volcanic soils and harbours full of seafood.

The first sailors to settle here were the Maori and in later years migrants from the Pacific Islands have contributed to the Polynesian population. You can take a walk through the city with a guide from the local iwi (tribe), visit the Auckland Museum or wander through the weekend markets at Otara and Avondale for the flavours, sounds and sights of the South Pacific. In the city centre, Auckland’s recent popularity has an international education destination has seen an explosion of ethnic shops, especially Asian-style eateries.

Auckland has perfected the style of cuisine called “Pacific Rim”, blending Asian and Pacific flavours. Seafood features prominently on Auckland restaurant menus. Try New Zealand greenlipped mussels, succulent Clevedon Coast oysters or the local lamb or venison. The historic inner city suburbs of Ponsonby, Herne Bay and Parnell offer dozens of dining options or try a waterfront restaurant in the Viaduct Harbour or Mission Bay. A steaming parcel of fish and chips is best eaten at a peaceful beach or bay. Another quick picnic idea is some fresh bread and a selection of cheese from the Puhoi Valley, north of the city.

To go with the food, Auckland produces a number of award-winning wines from its 80-plus vineyards. Wine making has thrived in Auckland since the early 1900s. Waiheke Island is famous for its reds, the west and north-west of Auckland is home to some of New Zealand’s oldest wineries, while Clevedon to the south and Matakana to the north are newer grape-growing districts attracting attention. Look for admired Auckland labels such as Kumeu River, Stonyridge and Matua Valley. Some of the larger vineyards have very good restaurants offering dining among the grapes.

After dinner, there are plenty of options for enjoying Auckland’s nightlife. Lively bars and pubs − many of which also serve food - can be found all over the central city, while the big dance clubs are centred on Karangahape Road, known locally as K Rd. The city’s casino is located in the Sky City complex, which also has bars, restaurants and a hotel. Live music and theatre can be found in large venues such as the Aotea Centre, the Bruce Mason Theatre and Sky City Theatre. The Civic Theatre in Queen St has recently been restored to its art nouveau glory. Another historic venue is The Pumphouse, an old brick water pumphouse constructed in 1894 on the edge of Lake Pupuke on the North Shore. Other smaller theatres are scattered through the central city and outer suburbs.

Visual arts are on show at the city’s numerous galleries, the largest of which are the Auckland Art Gallery and its neighbour the New Gallery, which focuses on modern art. There are numerous private galleries in the city centre. Artists enclaves, where you can visit the artists in their home studios, can be found in places such as Waiheke Island, Titirangi and Devonport. Follow the Harbourside Art Trail around Birkenhead and Northcote, which combines visits to artists in their own studios with a chance to relax in local cafés.

All of New Zealand’s top fashion designers, many of which are gaining international reputations, have stores in Auckland. Real bargain-hunters can head to the Dress-Smart mall for factory and outlet stores. Unique Pacific-flavoured crafts, including tapa cloths and carvings, are also readily available in specialty stores and souvenir shops near the waterfront.