At 36º 51’ latitude, Auckland lies in a transition zone between subtropical and temperate. Its climate is warm and moderately wet, with few frosts and no snow. In summer the average maximum temperature is 24º C. Stable subtropical anticyclones mean that the summers are warm and humid. Winters are mild, although rain is more frequent and intense. Auckland city has an average annual rainfall of 1,210 millimetres, and 2,003 annual hours of sunshine. In the hills, rainfall is higher and temperatures are lower. The prevailing winds are south-westerly.
Aucklanders who looked out the window on 27 July 1939 could hardly believe their eyes. The ground was blanketed in snow. Five centimetres were reported on the summit of Mt Eden and the Bombay Hills were all white. People who had never seen the substance before played with snowballs. But by afternoon it had largely melted. It was Auckland’s only recorded snowfall.
Kauri forests and mixed conifer–broadleaf forests were the natural vegetation over much of the region before it was cleared by Māori, and later by Europeans on a much larger scale. Forests survived in the Waitākere and Hūnua ranges, parts of the North Shore, and in small areas elsewhere. Where reserves have been established there are up to 150 native plant species. The main threat to their survival is the proliferation of introduced weeds.
The most distinctive features of natural urban and rural Auckland are the crimson-flowering pōhutukawa that cling to the coastal clifftops, the broadleaf forest in the gullies, and mangroves in the intertidal swamps.
The pōhutukawa trees on Rangitoto Island provide 12 tonnes of honey a year from apiarist Mike Stuckey’s 200 beehives. It’s claimed to be the whitest honey in the world, with a hint of salt.
Diversity of plant life
The first Europeans to arrive in Auckland saw pockets of forest and tracts of bracken, mānuka and kānuka. Settlers introduced an extraordinary range of plants for food, shelter, and ornament. Among the trees were North American radiata pine and macrocarpa, Asian camellias and citrus, Australian eucalypts, and English oaks and elms. Auckland’s climate produces lush growth, and its vines, nīkau palms, hibiscus and ferns create a tropical atmosphere. While the plant life is highly diverse, conservationists are striving to protect many native species threatened with local extinction, such as the red-flowering kākā beak.
Weediest in the world
Botanist Alan Esler, a specialist on weeds, claims that Auckland has more wild exotic plants than anywhere in the world: there are more than 600 species. Some species escaped quarantine measures at Auckland’s port. The favourable climate and lack of native competitors mean they can soon get established.
Aside from bats and marine mammals, the dominant native animals in the region were birds. These included forest dwellers such as kōkako, kiwi, moa, and shore birds like godwits, wrybills and oystercatchers.
Humans introduced new plants and animals, some of which have devastated native species. Māori introduced the Polynesian rat (kiore) and dog (kurī). During European settlement in the 19th century, the Auckland Acclimatisation Society (established in 1861) introduced many new species. Browsing animals, especially possums, endanger native plant and animal life today.
However, protected island areas act as sanctuaries for some rare species – for instance Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) is home to tuatara and North Island brown kiwi. The Muriwai gannet colony is the most accessible in New Zealand, and attracts a million visitors a year. The Department of Conservation is protecting kōkako in the Hūnua Ranges, and there are five marine reserves in the Auckland region: Cape Rodney–Ōkakari Point, Long Bay–Ōkura, Motu Manawa (Pollen Island), Te Matuku and Tawharanui.