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Auckland region

by  Margaret McClure

Open to the ocean to the east and west, Auckland has a casual, confident air. Splendid harbours and beaches, a mild climate and a buoyant culture attract tourists and immigrants from around the world.


Auckland is remarkable for the diversity of its peoples and landscapes. The region lies between two coastlines, east and west. Along the eastern side, sandy bays edge the shore from the Firth of Thames northwards to Pākiri. The western coast stretches from the sandy Āwhitu peninsula up to the shallow mudflats of the Kaipara Harbour.

Among the region’s Māori names is Tāmaki-makau-rau (Tāmaki of a hundred lovers), referring to the lure of the waterways and fertile soil of the Auckland isthmus.

New Zealand’s metropolis

In 2013 one in three New Zealanders (1.42 million) lived in the Auckland region. Auckland is both city and region. In 2010 a single council was established to manage the entire region. It replaced seven city and district councils, and a regional council.

Auckland is the engine room of the national economy, and the site of the country’s busiest port and airport. The region’s size, its job opportunities and casual lifestyle attract people from other parts of New Zealand.

A melting pot

Auckland is the gateway for immigrants, and over one-third of its population were born overseas. Waves of immigrants have settled in particular areas, and helped shape local cultures. Europeans dominate rural areas, but in the central city over half of the population is Asian. West and South Auckland have large Pacific and Māori communities. Auckland’s openness to outside influences creates a buoyant culture.

Free and easy

Novelist Janet Frame commented on the unconstrained nature of Auckland plants and people:

‘[T]he seasons in Auckland are not as tuned to many of the spring flowers, they’re haphazard seasons with summer the supreme commander. Spring is personal – your peach tree and mine do not blossom at the same time; our freesias and daffodils live in different seasons. This undisciplined autonomy of vegetation is reflected in the uncontrolled growth of the city and suburbs, and is shown in the people as a freedom of mood and impulse which would horrify the souls of many South Islanders restricted by their absolute boundaries of frost.’ 1

Looking at Auckland

From the summit of Maungawhau (Mt Eden), 18th-century Māori would have looked down from palisaded terraces to kūmara (sweet potato) gardens, bracken and mānuka. In the 2010s the view north is framed by the Sky Tower and high-rise buildings of the central city. The harbour bridge and the wide expanse of the upper Waitematā Harbour lie to the north-west, with the elegant cone of Rangitoto Island and the islands of the inner Hauraki Gulf to the north-east. On a clear day the fainter shapes of Little Barrier (Hauturu) and Great Barrier (Aotea) islands and the Coromandel Peninsula shimmer in the distance.

To the west, the mouth of Manukau Harbour is hidden behind the high sand dunes of the Āwhitu peninsula to the south and the Waitākere Ranges to the north.

South of Maungawhau is the iconic summit of Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) and its obelisk. Factories edge the eastern arm of the Manukau Harbour, with the smoke of Glenbrook steel mills on the southern shore. In the distant south are the Hūnua Ranges and the Bombay Hills – the cultural borderline between Auckland and the rest of New Zealand.

Suburban sprawl dominates the Auckland landscape, punctuated with parks, trees and grassy volcanic cones. Farmland survives in the outlying areas of Rodney, Clevedon and Franklin, where commuter lifestyle blocks link the countryside with the metropolis.

    • Janet Frame, Living in the Maniototo. New York: George Braziller, 1979, p. 24. › Back

Harbours and wetlands

The sea has been the region’s shaping force. On the western side the Tasman Sea pounds the coastline from Kaipara Harbour south to Port Waikato. Two inlets form huge shallow harbours, the Kaipara and the Manukau. To the east, the subtropical currents of the Pacific Ocean give the Hauraki Gulf the warmest coastal waters in New Zealand. To the north are sandy beaches and the headlands of Whangaparāoa and Mahurangi.

A city on two harbours

Auckland sprawls over an isthmus between two harbours: the Manukau and the Waitematā (also known as Auckland Harbour). Urban Auckland has hundreds of kilometres of coastline – the region has 1,613 kilometres. The intricate network of bays, inlets and creeks mean that most Aucklanders live within 5 kilometres of the sea.

Salt water in the blood

According to historian Keith Sinclair, ‘the authentic Auckland experience is a summer’s day on a beach watching the yachts heading past Rangitoto. It is paddling a canoe up Meola Creek and landing on the reef and cooking fish on the rocks. … [It is] landing on an uninhabited island, and empty beach. It is Regatta Day – with more yachts than Sydney’s. That is what nostalgic Aucklanders think of in London’s damp and cold. The sun on their skin.’ 1

Waitematā Harbour

Waitematā Harbour (the name is sometimes translated as ‘sea of sparkling waters’) was once a river valley, formed of marine sediment deposited 15–20 million years ago. Rising sea levels over the last 10,000 years drowned the valley and created the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, which shelter the inner harbour and offer endless possibilities for exploration. The inner harbour is ringed by sandy beaches in the east, and mudflats and salt marshes to the west and north-west. Its sheltered bays and navigable channels made it an important waterway for Māori before it became Auckland’s chief port. A finger of the Waitematā reaches down the Tāmaki estuary to within 1.2 kilometres of Manukau Harbour, at Ōtāhuhu.

The worst shipwreck

On 7 February 1863, HMS Orpheus – carrying naval stores – approached Manukau Harbour in good weather. Seeing it was off course to cross the bar, the onshore signalman motioned to change direction. But the warning was too late, and the ship ran aground. As the sea got heavier, it began to break up. Lifeboats were swamped. With the crew clinging helplessly to the rigging, the ship’s masts fell one by one into the sea. Of the 259 people on board, 189 drowned. It remains New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster.

Manukau Harbour

The Manukau is wide and shallow, with extensive mudflats and salt marshes. Its entrance is prone to swells and shifting sandbars – the cause of many shipwrecks. Despite its dangers, the harbour has long been a valuable link with northern and southern ports.

Kaipara Harbour

Fifty kilometres north of the Manukau is Kaipara Harbour, the third and largest harbour of the wider Auckland region. Like the Manukau, it has a dangerous bar at the entrance, and shallow tidal estuaries and mudflats.

Wetlands and rivers

Most swamps in the city have been drained for settlement. The most interesting surviving wetland is at Te Henga at the mouth of the Waitākere River on the west coast, which remains in its near-natural state.

In the 19th century the Ōruawharo and Mahurangi rivers in the north were important routes for shipping timber. The Wairoa River in the south-east was important for transporting dairy products.

    • Keith Sinclair, ‘Experiences of Auckland and her people.’ In Auckland at full stretch: issues of the seventies, edited by Graham Bush and Claudia Scott. Auckland: Auckland City Council, 1977, p. 33. › Back


The steep slopes of the Waitākere Ranges rise in the west, and the Hūnua Ranges in the south-east. Between them lie the low undulating slopes of the isthmus on which the central city lies, dotted with small volcanic cones. The lowlands are mostly old marine deposits of silt and sand.

Mountains and dunes

The Waitākere Ranges, which extend 30 kilometres north of Manukau Harbour, were formed by lava hurled from volcanic eruptions beneath the Tasman Sea 22 million years ago. The battering of the waves along the coast has carved out dramatic high cliffs, caves and blowholes.

North and south of the cliffs are dunes. They consist of pumice and ash washed down the Waikato River from the Volcanic Plateau, mixed with black Taranaki sand that has been driven north by coastal currents. The huge sandspits that nearly enclose the Manukau and Kaipara harbours reach their highest point (285 metres) on the Āwhitu peninsula.

The rugged Hūnua Ranges, lifted above the sea 145 million years ago and now 688 metres high, are composed of blocks of greywacke and argillite. Their steep valleys have been dammed to supply much of Auckland’s water.


Auckland stands on an ancient basement of greywacke that is visible at a few sites along the east coast and on several islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Exposed along the eastern sea cliffs are the ‘Waitematā strata’ that cover most of the Auckland region: layers of sandstone and mudstone, and ash from the central volcanic zone, compacted into sedimentary rock over the last 5 million years.

The next big thing

The first sign of a volcanic eruption in Auckland is likely to be several small earthquakes and land uplifting above the magma rising in the earth. A column of rocks and ash would erupt in a volcanic explosion as the magma mixed with underground water. Lava would then be thrown upward as a fountain of glowing fragments. Ash and gas would probably make the area uninhabitable.

Although this terrain is moderately fertile, it is hard to work, puggy in winter and almost rock-hard in summer. In wide areas north and west of Auckland, the soil has been podzolised – impoverished by the acid litter of generations of kauri and other trees.


The most distinctive landmarks on the Auckland skyline are its volcanic cones. There are 49 discrete volcanoes in the Auckland volcanic field. Radiometric dating has placed the earliest eruption at about 150,000 years ago and the most recent, at Rangitoto, at just 600 years ago. The force of the volcanic field also created explosion craters such as the Ōrākei and Panmure basins, which have filled with sea water, and Lake Pupuke (fresh water). Although many of the volcanoes have been decapitated or scarred by quarrying, about 30 have been well preserved.

In the south the older Franklin volcanic field (500,000 to 1.5 million years old) runs from Bombay to Pukekohe and across to Waiuku.

Using rock

Scoria rocks thrown from Auckland volcanoes have been put to many uses. Early settlers skilfully stacked them into walls to surround their farms and homes – many still stand. Denser blocks of basalt were used for buildings. The grimmest of these was the Mt Eden Prison, built to look like a fortress and completed in 1917. Still used as a prison, it is a daunting sight.

Rich soils

From the time of Māori occupation, market gardening has flourished in the region. Rich, loamy soil formed from the volcanic ash and lava that was strewn over two-fifths of the Auckland isthmus, and the whole Bombay–Pukekohe area.

Climate, plants and animals


At latitude 36º 51' S, Auckland lies in a transition zone between subtropical and temperate. Its climate is warm and moderately wet, with few frosts and virtually no snow. In summer the average daily maximum temperature is 24º C. Stable anticyclones mean that the summers are mostly warm and humid. Winters are mild, with more frequent and intense rain. Auckland city has an average annual rainfall of 1,212 millimetres and on avaerage 2,003 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 was reported on the summit of Mt Eden and the Bombay Hills were white. People who had never seen the substance before threw snowballs at each other. By afternoon it had largely melted. Snow next fell in Auckland in August 2011.


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.

White gold

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.

Animal life

Aside from bats and marine mammals, the dominant native animals in the region were birds. These included forest dwellers such as kōkako, kiwi and moa, and shore birds like godwits, wrybills and oystercatchers.

Humans introduced new plants and animals, some of which 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, still endanger native plant and animal life today.

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.


Auckland is by far the country’s most populous region, with a 2013 population of 1,415,550. One in three New Zealanders live in the region.

Historic trends

As a military base and the colony’s capital, Auckland grew steadily from its foundation in 1840. While many settlers came from Australia and the British Isles, the town also attracted a high proportion of Irish migrants – nearly a third of the population of Auckland in 1851. When the troops left and Wellington became the capital in the mid-1860s, Auckland stagnated. It boomed in the late 1870s and early 1880s as forests were felled, gold was mined at Thames, and business and land speculation thrived.

By 1878, Auckland province’s four main population groups were:

  • New Zealand-born – 45%
  • English – 27%
  • Irish – 13%
  • Scots – 6%.

The depression of the late 1880s saw the region’s population fall again, but by 1901 it was drawing ahead of all other regions, and has stayed there ever since.

Growth after the Second World War

From 1926 until the Second World War (1939–1945) Auckland grew slowly. But during the post-war boom the population increased at twice the rate of the rest of the country, reaching 500,000 in 1961. The period saw a large influx of British immigrants to the North Shore and a new community of Dutch arrivals in West Auckland.

As young, rural Māori migrated to the city in search of work, the proportion of Māori grew from 0.9% in 1936 to 8.1% in 1976. In the same period over two-thirds of immigrants from the Cook Islands, Tokelau Islands, Western Samoa and Niue made Auckland their home.

In 1979 and 1980 South Auckland welcomed hundreds of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their war-torn country. In the mid-1980s a change in New Zealand’s immigration policy encouraged thousands of Asian migrants – mainly Korean and Chinese – to settle in the region. Auckland’s population passed 1 million in 1996.


Between 2006 and 2013 the population increased by 110,589, growing at an annual rate of 8.4%. This was the highest in New Zealand, well above the national figure of 5.3%. The fastest increase was in the Waitematā ward (22.6%). This has led to high demand for housing and house prices well above the national average.

Cultural diversity

Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in New Zealand. In 2013, 48.4% of residents identified as Asian, Pacific Island or Māori.

Maths no problem

In 2004, aged 14, Kathy Moon arrived in Glenfield with her family from Korea. ‘My first day at school I totally got lost … Because I didn’t know anyone I sat beside a Māori girl who was three times bigger … She laughed at my surname … I wanted to explain the meaning of my name but I couldn’t speak English. I found some recovery in my maths class. The stuff that year 10 [was] learning was simply too easy for me. I learnt it four years ago in Korea!’ 1

The Rodney and Franklin local board areas are predominantly European (90.9% and 85.0% respectively). Māori and Pacific Islanders make up two-thirds of the Manukau ward’s residents, and Asians over half of those in Auckland city.

Samoan is the second language in the Auckland region – in 2013 it was spoken by 4.4% of Aucklanders (compared to 2.2% nationally). Over two-thirds of New Zealand’s Samoan speakers were in Auckland, and 18% of Manukau residents spoke the language. Auckland had high proportions of other foreign-language speakers, including 81.7% of New Zealand’s Tongan speakers, 74.4% of Hindi speakers and 74.2% of Northern Chinese speakers.

A majority of migrants arriving in New Zealand opt to settle in the Auckland region. In 2013, 39.1% of Aucklanders were born overseas (compared with 25.2% for New Zealand overall) – 15.4% in Asia, 8.9% in Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and 8.3% in the Pacific Islands.

    • Author interview with Kathy Moon, 14 April 2006. › Back

Māori history

Tēnā koe, e Tāmaki!
Tēnā koe, Tēnā koe:
Tāmaki – makau – rau – e!
Greetings, oh Tāmaki!
Greetings, greetings to thee,
Oh! Tāmaki of numerous lovers. 1

The Māori name for Auckland is Tāmaki. Among the many versions is Tāmaki-makau-rau (Tāmaki of a hundred lovers), referring to the desirable, fertile site at the hub of a network of waterways taking travellers north, south, east or west. For centuries different groups flourished, cohabited and displaced each other in turn.


None of the voyaging canoes that migrated from Polynesia found their resting place in Tāmaki, although several visited the bays and isthmus, and left settlers who remained in the area. Canoes associated with the region are the Matawhaorua, Aotea, Mataatua, Tainui, Te Arawa, Tākitimu and Tokomaru.

Early settlement

The Ngāi Tai tribe, descended from the people of the Tainui canoe, settled in Maraetai. Other Tainui descendants were Te Kawerau-a-Maki, who lived under forest cover in the Waitākeres and controlled land as far north as the Kaipara, across to Mahurangi and down to Takapuna. The Ngāti Te Ata tribe was based south of the Manukau at Waiuku. Along the coast from Whangaparāoa to the Thames estuary was Ngāti Pāoa, a Hauraki tribe. The dominant power on the Tāmaki isthmus was Wai-o-Hua, a federation of tribes formed under Hua-O-Kaiwaka and linked to the Te Arawa tribe Ngā Oho.

Peace and prosperity

From 1600 to 1750 the Tāmaki tribes terraced the volcanic cones, building (settlements behind protective palisades). Across the isthmus they developed 2,000 hectares of kūmara (sweet potato) gardens. At the peak of prosperity around 1750, the population numbered tens of thousands. It was pre-European New Zealand’s most wealthy and populous area.

Edgy years

From the early 18th century the Ngāti Pāoa people edged their way into the Hauraki Gulf and as far north as Mahurangi. Between 1740 and 1750 Ngāti Whātua-o-Kaipara moved south, invading the isthmus and killing Kiwi Tāmaki, paramount chief of Wai-o-Hua, before capturing his last pā at Māngere.

Silent and deadly

The Wai-o-Hua tribe’s last stand against the Ngāti Whātua people was at their stronghold on Māngere mountain. To warn of an attack, the inhabitants covered the paths with pīpī shells. But when Tuperiri led the Ngāti Whātua assault on Māngere, his men laid cloaks over the shells, muffling the sound underfoot. Arriving unheard before dawn, the attackers stormed the palisade. Few escaped the onslaught.

The conquerors secured their dominance of the isthmus by intermarrying with Ngā Oho, descendants of the Wai-o-Hua. There followed a period of cautious peace during which Ngāti Pāoa’s conflict with Ngāpuhi tribes in the north made the Tāmaki tribes vulnerable to attack.

The Ngāpuhi invasion

In 1820 the Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika acquired muskets, enabling him to attack the Tāmaki region. Ngāpuhi destroyed the Ngāti Pāoa settlements in 1821, and later those of Te Kawerau-a-Maki. Apihai Te Kawau, chief of the Ngāti Whātua, abandoned the isthmus and took his people into exile.

When the French explorer Dumont D’Urville visited in 1827 he was surprised to find the fertile isthmus depopulated. Groups sheltering in coastal settlements – Āwhitu, Waiuku, Maraetai and Port Waikato – attracted traders and missionaries to their areas.

When Ngāti Whātua cautiously returned to the Manukau about 1836 they kept away from Ngāpuhi traffic further north on the Tāmaki isthmus. Te Kawau’s fear of Ngāpuhi aggression was one reason he took the strategic step of inviting William Hobson – New Zealand’s first British governor – to site the colony’s capital on the isthmus in 1840.

    • Quoted in R. C. J. Stone, From Tamaki-Makau-Rau to Auckland. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001, p. 7. › Back

The founding of Auckland: 1840–1869

Hobson’s choice

In 1840 New Zealand’s first governor, William Hobson, chose the Auckland isthmus (Tāmaki) as the site for his capital. He was attracted by the fertile soil, the waterways and the large Māori populations close by. Hobson renamed the place after his patron, Lord Auckland, first Lord of the Admiralty.

His decision was encouraged by the local tribe, Ngāti Whātua, who expected that Pākehā settlement would bring trade, and protection from hostile tribes. In 1840 they sold the Crown a wedge of the central isthmus and a block stretching north to Kaipara Harbour. By the early 1850s the tribe retained only the slopes above the Ōrākei foreshore and land at Māngere.

Competing claims

In 2003 the Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei people sought compensation for the unfair alienation of its Tāmaki lands. In 2006 a draft settlement gave the tribe stewardship over three Auckland volcanoes, the right to buy $80 million worth of Crown land, and $10 million in cash. Other Auckland tribes protested that their claims had not been given due consideration, and the independent Waitangi Tribunal agreed. A settlement with Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei was finally agreed in 2011,

Rush for riches

In 1841 Hobson resold land purchased from Māori to settlers, reaping an average of £555 an acre – a very high price. The sales brought an influx of newcomers, including officials, soldiers and merchants, all keen to make their fortune. Other arrivals included 128 reformatory boys (known as ‘the Parkhurst boys’) from the Isle of Wight. About half of the new immigrants came from Australia. Many were Irish. Church missions, aiming to convert Māori to Christianity, established their headquarters in Auckland because of the strong Māori presence.

Going it alone

In its early years Auckland was a government town, cut off from the rest of New Zealand because of poor transport. There was little love lost between Auckland and rival settlements such as Wellington, whose residents claimed that the colonial government supported Auckland at their expense, and lobbied for the nation’s capital to be moved further south.

Grounds for growth

With the establishment of provinces in 1853, Auckland became the centre of a huge hinterland from Northland to Gisborne. Auckland was the only province to offer free grants of land to encourage immigration – 40 acres (16 hectares) per adult. But many found their land inferior and too difficult to work.

North Shore nightmare

Major Collings de Jersey Grut and his wife Ann were among those who received a land block on the North Shore. They arrived with five servants, three children, livestock, farm equipment and a piano. But clearing the bush was tough, and the servants left. The cows wandered away or were poisoned by tutu berries. When their two-year-old daughter was suffocated by smoke from mānuka tree burn-off, the couple abandoned the block.

Falling Māori trade

During the 1840s and 1850s Māori owned a third of Auckland’s shipping fleet. They were the life-blood of the town, providing timber, labour, food, and a high proportion of exports.

Relationships soured as Europeans grew envious of Māori success, and the settlers’ access to cheap land dried up. Māori traders began to face increased competition. Their grip on trade was further loosened with the advent of steamships, which were too expensive for most Māori to buy. By 1860 growing anxiety about colonisation led some Māori to abandon trading. Those who continued saw their share of trade decline.

Waikato War

In the early 1860s, Pākehā feared that Auckland was vulnerable to attack by Waikato Māori, who were refusing to sell any more land and were alarmed by the growth of the settlement. Thousands of British troops were sent to Auckland and its environs. Preparations for war began with the construction of the Great South Road and a chain of military redoubts in Franklin that later became the basis for farming communities. General Duncan Cameron led the invasion of Waikato in 1863–64. After the fighting ended, much Māori land in south Auckland and Waikato was confiscated and farmed by military settlers, with varying degrees of success.

Fragile prosperity

Auckland’s fortunes had risen with the influx of soldiers, but declined when the troops left from 1864 and the capital was moved to Wellington a year later. The discovery of gold at Thames in 1868 brought a new influx of wealth.

Timber town: 1870–1900

Gold, kauri timber and kauri gum dominated Auckland’s exports until the 1900s.

Gold was discovered in Thames in 1868, and in the 1890s Waihī’s Martha Mine became the most productive gold mine in New Zealand’s history.

Milling companies cut a swathe through the forests of Kaipara and Northland, the Waitākere Range, Coromandel and south to Taupaki. In 1885 sawmilling was the largest source of employment in the region, with Auckland supplying 45% of the country’s timber production and 91.5% of timber exports.

The Melbourne-based Kauri Timber Company was the largest of several timber companies in the region. In 1900, the peak year for kauri logging, 16 million superfeet (37,760 cubic metres) of kauri was taken from Kaipara Harbour alone. Auckland’s air smelt of gum and new-sawn timber.

Felling giants

Visitors to Auckland admired kauri, described as the world’s best timber for all purposes. But some were shocked at the destruction of forests that had taken 800 years to grow. Geologist Ferdinand Hochstetter commented in 1867: ‘The woods are ransacked and ravaged with “fire and sword”… I was able to observe, during an entire fortnight, dense clouds of smoke whirling up, which arose from an enormous destructive conflagration of the woods nearest to town.’ 1


In 1873, the English novelist Anthony Trollope claimed that Auckland’s ports had been the making of the city. Reclaiming 250 hectares of the Waitematā foreshore and extending its wharves made Auckland a hub of coastal and overseas shipping. Boat building and marine engineering became important industries. Ferries linked the city with the North Shore, encouraging new suburbs and resorts.

Commerce and industry

While rural land around Auckland remained undeveloped, the city grew as a commercial centre. The Bank of New Zealand and the New Zealand Insurance Company were founded by Aucklanders in the early 1860s. By 1881 the bank was handling half of New Zealand’s banking business. Large-scale manufacturing broadened the region’s economy from the 1880s; the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s factory at Birkenhead supplied New Zealand’s sugar. Working-class settlements grew on the city outskirts to serve new industries: railway workshops in Newmarket and brickworks and potteries in West Auckland.

High spending and hard times

Local bodies borrowed freely to fund the infrastructure needed for a city that was growing at twice the New Zealand rate. Business optimism rose after thousands of acres of former Māori land was offered for sale in the upper Thames valley and Waikato. Easy credit from the Bank of New Zealand and other institutions fuelled rash speculations in city subdivisions and Waikato land schemes.

The crash came in the late 1880s when land values collapsed in New Zealand and Australia, and investors found they were unable to repay bank loans. The construction industry went to the wall. Leading businessmen lost their fortunes, wages were cut by 30–40%, and buildings lay empty as settlers left for the gumfields or Australia. As a safeguard against Auckland’s cavalier approach to finance, the government became a guarantor of the Bank of New Zealand, and moved its head office to Wellington.

Two views

Mother Bauduy-Garesché, arriving from Louisiana, USA, in 1880, wrote: ‘The evening was beautiful and the approach to Auckland much finer than had been described to us ... and the people are amongst the nicest I have ever met – so kind and courteous’. 2 Visiting in 1898, the English socialist Beatrice Webb loved the harbour and the lush growth, but criticised the women for being ‘especially British-looking, with their swinging gait and general dowdiness of appearance’. 3

A civilised city

During the 1880s Auckland shed its raw colonial character to reveal a new ‘skin’. The ramshackle wooden buildings of Queen Street (the main street) were replaced by more dignified stone structures. People like James Mackelvie, who had made his fortune investing in the goldfields, became benefactors of the arts. In the mid-1880s a crowd of 6,000 watched the laying of the foundation stone for a new public library and art gallery.

Auckland’s commercial ethos was also tempered by the city’s lively religious life and the activities of leading suffragists like Annie Schnackenberg and Amey Daldy.

    • Quoted in Dick Scott, The fire on the clay: the Pakeha comes to west Auckland. Auckland: Southern Cross, 1979, p. 65. › Back
    • Quoted in Phyllis Goulter, Sowers and reapers: a short history of the Society of the Sacred Heart in New Zealand, 1880–1980. Auckland: Society of the Sacred Heart, 1982, p. 12. › Back
    • Quoted in D. A. Hamer, ed., The Webbs in New Zealand 1898 Beatrice Webb’s diary, with entries by Sidney Webb. Wellington: Price Milburn for Victoria University Press, 1974, p. 17. › Back

Farming and city building: 1900–1939

The Auckland region changed dramatically in the early 1900s. By 1905 most of the gold and gum had been taken, and the forests felled. Auckland’s comparative isolation ended with the completion of the main trunk railway line to Wellington in 1908. The Waikato and Bay of Plenty took off, helped by the confiscation of Māori land and the break-up of speculators' estates. Dairy farming became the new source of wealth, and the family farm was the norm. The population of Hamilton (126 kilometres south) rose from 1,250 in 1900 to 16,500 in 1926. North Auckland took longer to prosper because of poorer communications.

A regional capital

Auckland city thrived as dairying and grazing for meat expanded over a huge hinterland. Meat and dairy produce were processed in factories at Penrose and Ōtāhuhu, and exported from Auckland’s ports. The availability of work and low living costs attracted a burgeoning labour force that enabled manufacturing to expand. Brewing and clothing companies employed hundreds of workers.

By 1911 Auckland had become New Zealand’s largest industrial centre, and by 1921 the city was its busiest port. Between 1891 and 1926 the urban population nearly quadrupled. The city was termed a ‘second Sydney’ by its boosters.

Plague scare

In 1900 Auckland feared that a bubonic plague outbreak in Sydney might reach its shores. A campaign was launched to cleanse its streets, and one penny was offered for each rat. At one site an official found three dead cats, one dead rat, the carcasses of five fowls, 25 fish heads, filthy rags and bedding, and countless fish tins. Fortunately, Auckland was spared the disease.

Social groups

By the early 1900s tramways and suburban railways linked villages across the isthmus, aiding the growth of suburbs. Middle-class families left the run-down and crowded inner-city districts for new, more spacious neighbourhoods on the edge of town. The affluent headed for the inner eastern suburbs of Epsom and Remuera, and the North Shore; middle-class earners built new suburbs to the south and west, such as Mt Albert. The poor remained in the central city.

From the 1920s, some Aucklanders could go by car to bach (holiday-home) settlements along the Manukau Harbour, in the East Coast Bays and at Whangaparāoa. The car also drew farming families to visit the city and its bustling department stores.

City building

In this confident period, visionary mayors like Arthur Myers led major projects: Grafton bridge was built in 1910, and the town hall in 1911. Other new public buildings included the ferry building and the chief post office, both completed in 1912.

In the 1920s Auckland’s openness to overseas trends was visible in the California bungalows and Spanish mission-style housing lining new suburban streets. To meet the growing appetite for Hollywood movies, glitzy, ‘jazz-age’ cinemas sprang up – the downtown Civic Theatre (1929) was the most flamboyant. A public subscription funded the magnificent Auckland (War Memorial) Museum in the Domain in 1929. A year later the impressive new railway station opened on an isolated site in Mechanics Bay.

During the 1930s economic depression, relief workers (state workers on a subsistence wage) built the scenic drive in the Waitākere Range.

State housing

The inner city remained dilapidated and crowded, and became a Labour party stronghold. In 1935 its residents helped to elect New Zealand’s first Labour government. This responded to housing needs in 1937 by building Auckland’s first state (public) housing estate at Ōrākei, near the affluent eastern suburbs – the poor had as much right as the rich to good views.

Expansion: 1941–1979

From 1942 the American entry into the Second World War (1939–45) turned Auckland into a training and supply base for the Pacific theatre of the war, boosting market gardening in Pukekohe and Franklin. Airfields were built at Whenuapai/Hobsonville, and the city’s first hamburger bar appeared.

Manufacturing hub

Local manufacturing was aided by restrictions on imports. As Auckland grew, many New Zealand companies moved their factories there, to be closer to workers and markets. New export industries furthered the region’s dominance. The huge paper and pulp mills north of Taupō sent products through Auckland’s port. New Zealand Steel chose Glenbrook in South Auckland – close to ironsands and transport routes – as the site for the country’s only steelworks, opened in 1969.

City lights

Novelist Maurice Gee described the allure of Auckland for those on its outskirts: ‘Westward the ranges. Naked beaches on the other side; mile-long combers crashing in. Auckland city lay in the east; opulence and commerce, bright lights, sin.’ 1


Auckland’s population growth was fuelled by the post-war baby boom and immigration. Jet flights and the opening of Māngere International Airport in 1965 confirmed Auckland’s status as New Zealand’s main gateway.

There was an increasing trend for overseas migrants to arrive in Auckland and go no further. New British immigrants made up almost 20% of North Shore residents, while many Dutch and Yugoslav arrivals settled in West Auckland.


At the same time thousands of young Māori migrated from Northland and the Bay of Plenty, drawn to the bright lights and high wages. Their growing presence led to the establishment of several urban marae (New Zealand’s first was at Māngere in 1965), and activist groups such as Ngā Tamatoa (the young warriors) at the University of Auckland.

In central-city suburbs like Ponsonby and Parnell, Māori were joined by newcomers from the Cook Islands, Samoa, Niue and Tonga. Most found employment in the region’s burgeoning industries, including New Lynn’s extensive Crown Lynn potteries. Auckland soon became the largest Polynesian city in the world.

K for cool

Melani Anae describes Karangahape Road in the 1960s: ‘K. Rd, despite its questionable reputation, used to be regarded as a mecca by Pacific people … K. Rd used to be “the place to be”, especially on a Thursday late shopping night when hordes of Pacific young people and elders used to arrive, to shop, talk, meet, hang out with mates, in true Pacific fashion’. 2

Urban sprawl

Auckland’s landscape was transformed in the post-war years. Factories moved out to rural land in Penrose, Rosebank Peninsula and South Auckland. New low-cost housing followed the growth of industries. The most dramatic changes were in South Auckland, where state housing dominated the landscape.

In the 1970s slum clearance and gentrification of the inner city ousted large numbers of Māori and Pacific Island factory workers, who moved to blue-collar suburbs like Te Atatū and Ōtara.

With Aucklanders unwilling to give up suburban space for apartment life, housing spread from Ōrewa to Bombay and Kumeū to Beachlands, and the central city became a desert at night. Attempts to limit the sprawl were fruitless.

Love of cars

Auckland’s sprawl fostered the belief that those without cars were socially deprived. By 1953 the north-west and southern motorways provided major routes in and out of the city. The motorway system was extended after 1955, when the government and Auckland City Council rejected a light-rail alternative. The linchpin was the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Completed in 1959, it opened the North Shore to new suburban development. The number of cars rose and fewer Aucklanders took public transport, creating chronic traffic congestion.

    • Maurice Gee, Going west. London: Viking, 1992, p. 2. › Back
    • Melani Anae, ‘From kava to coffee: the browning of Auckland.’ In Almighty Auckland?, edited by Ian Carter and others. Palmerston North: Dunmore, 2004, p. 90. › Back

Driving the economy: 1980 onwards

Auckland transformed

Economic deregulation in the mid-1980s caused dramatic changes. As banks and finance companies invested in construction, the city became a developer’s paradise, with landmark Victorian buildings levelled for mirror-glass tower blocks. With less need to lobby Wellington’s politicians for protective tariffs and other advantages, many companies relocated their head offices to Auckland. The region was now the nerve centre of the national economy.

Unemployment rose when the share market crashed in 1987, and the removal of tariffs made some local industries unable to compete. Manufacturers folded or moved overseas. Crown Lynn Potteries (the largest in the southern hemisphere) closed in 1989 along with South Auckland freezing works (abattoirs), car assembly firms, and footwear and clothing manufacturers.

Primate city

Geographers call a city with a large chunk of a country’s population and economy a primate city – Paris and Auckland are examples. These centres dominate the country and are the focus of national life. In most cases, they are also the capital. Such is the influence of a primate city that it attracts more people, becoming even larger.

New industries

Some manufacturers survived by focusing on high-tech production. Among these was the firm of Fisher and Paykel. Its innovative whiteware and health-care equipment found receptive markets in New Zealand and overseas.

Bio-tech and creative industries became the new face of manufacturing in Auckland. Leading innovators included Professor Garth Cooper – whose research led to major advances in treating diabetes – and Bruce Farr, who developed light displacement keels for sailing boats.

A service economy

Financial and other services came to dominate Auckland’s economy. Private language schools made education the biggest export earner in the central city. Auckland also benefited from a surge in tourism, with 70% of New Zealand’s international visitors arriving at its airport. In 2015 Auckland’s port handled 31% of the country’s container trade. By 2013 the region was home to a third of New Zealand’s population.

A multi-cultural hub

The face of urban Auckland changed when the government’s immigration policy widened the door to people from Asia in 1986. By 2013 Asian people were 23.1% of Auckland’s population, and more than half of all residents of the central city.

New arrivals from Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea gave a distinctive character to the areas where they clustered. A range of other immigrants introduced mosques, temples, halal butchers and ethnic restaurants to the suburbs. The assertiveness of Pacific Island street culture and the increasing political clout of ethnic groups contributed to the city’s multicultural vitality.

Changing landscapes

From the 1990s some Aucklanders adopted apartment living. Apartment blocks sprang up in the central city and as far north as Ōrewa. Deregulation of the liquor laws and the explosion of cafés and nightclubs enlivened the inner city. New restaurants were built around the Viaduct Basin – the hub of the America’s Cup challenges in 1999, 2003 and 2021. The 328-metre Sky Tower opened in 1997 and became an instant city icon.

Car love

Outsiders often jeer at Aucklanders’ obsession with their cars. Yet in 2013 there were fewer cars per capita in Auckland (653 for every 1,000 people) than in New Zealand as a whole (696). A major reason was the availability of public transport.

Dairying pastureland from Kaipara in the north to Pukekawa in the south was subdivided for vineyards, deer farms and lifestyle blocks. Rural communities became commuter satellite towns. The extension of the motorway north encouraged urban sprawl along the eastern coastline, while to the south, a development for 40,000 residents on farmland at Flat Bush was being built in stages. Housing stretched continuously to the Bombay Hills.


Auckland’s rapid expansion has exacerbated traffic congestion and housing problems. Its motorways are often clogged, and high housing costs have led to overcrowding and third-world diseases in South Auckland. There is a jarring disparity between the poverty of blue-collar, low-lying areas and the conspicuous wealth of clifftop mansions.

Challenges for the city’s growth include supplying faster and more reliable public transport to relieve road congestion, and providing affordable and good-quality housing for poorer communities.

Arts and culture

Early cultural life

Music, art and science developed an early following. The founding of the Mechanics Institute and Library in 1842 became the springboard for other cultural societies such as the Choral Society (1855) and the Auckland Society of Arts (1871). The Auckland Institute (1867) encouraged scientific enquiry.

Nineteenth-century artists like John Hoyte and Alfred Sharpe depicted the Waitematā Harbour and surrounding landscape. In 1887 the Auckland Art Gallery, among New Zealand’s first, was opened.

During the first part of the 20th century a number of important writers emerged from Auckland. Among them were R. A. K. Mason – sometimes called the ‘father of Auckland poets’ – and A. R. D. (Rex) Fairburn.

A new vitality: 1950s and 1960s

The arrival of expressionist painter Colin McCahon in 1953, and the appointment in 1956 of Peter Tomory as the art gallery’s curator stimulated the arts. A stream of significant new artists taught or were students at Elam School of Fine Art, including Don Binney, Gretchen Albrecht, Gordon Walters and Pat Hanly. Their inventiveness, use of Māori imagery, and activist politics gave Auckland art an edgier style than elsewhere in New Zealand.

Writer Frank Sargeson depicted urban life in his stories, and made his cottage at Takapuna the focal point for a community of local writers. Maurice Gee’s writing evoked the creeks and orchards of West Auckland.

Outside influences

European immigrants arriving in the 1950s and 1960s strengthened local interest in photography, abstract painting and furniture design. New Vision Gallery (1960) fostered the work of painters and potters, and pioneered the establishment of other dealer galleries. Len Castle, New Zealand’s leading potter, visited Japan in 1967 and returned to influence a generation of potters. Pacific immigrants introduced their own distinctive styles, with John Pule leading the way in art and poetry and Black Grace, founded in 1995, enlivening modern dance.

Arts festivals

In recent years arts festivals have enriched Auckland’s cultural life. Created in 1999, the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival attracts local and international writers to the city. The Auckland Festival began in 2003 and supports new work in the performing and visual arts.


Founded in 1962, the Mercury Theatre Company was New Zealand’s largest professional theatre. Its demise in 1990 led to the establishment of the Auckland Theatre Company – the most popular professional theatre in the region. Another company, Silo Theatre, offers alternative works. Amateur theatres – such as the Howick Little Theatre – thrive in Auckland’s suburbs.

Classical music

Professional music in Auckland is led by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra. Auckland’s choral music is exceptional. Terence Maskell has built up superb choirs from South Auckland roots, with a strong Māori and Pacific influence. Sistema Aotearoa, a children's orchestra based in Ōtara, started in 2011. Students of Asian origin are also making a strong contribution to classical music.

University of Auckland

The University of Auckland (founded in 1883) has been a key player in fostering the arts. In the 1950s and 1960s its anthropology department reawakened scholarly interest in Māori studies. The English department – where J. C. Reid introduced New Zealand literature to the curriculum – granted tenure to writers such as the modernist poet, Allen Curnow. At the same time, historian Keith Sinclair encouraged new academic interest in New Zealand’s past. Auckland University Press became a strong supporter of local poets.

Cultural cringe?

In 1950 the poet and artist Rex Fairburn applied for a lectureship at the Elam School of Fine Arts. Being a local, he doubted he would be appointed: ‘If I were to go abroad, drink steadily for twelve months, buy a black homburg and big pile of coloured postcards of the Masters, and come back again, I should no doubt be considered a gift from Heaven to the art school.’ 1 He need not have worried. He got the job.

Museums and art galleries

The Auckland War Memorial Museum in the Domain has important Māori and Pacific collections and a strong research focus. The National Maritime Museum charts Polynesian and European seafarers. The Museum of Transport and Technology, MOTAT, tells stories of New Zealand technological invention and innovation. The Auckland Art Gallery houses historical collections, and the nearby New Gallery displays contemporary art.

Other galleries include the Gus Fisher Gallery at the University of Auckland, Artspace in Newton, and Northart Gallery on the North Shore. There are also many dealer galleries.

    • Quoted in Lauris Edmond, ed., The letters of A. R. D. Fairburn. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 193. › Back

Popular culture


New Zealand’s mass media are concentrated in Auckland. It is the headquarters for the main networks for commercial radio and television – Television New Zealand, TV3 and Sky. Many film and television production houses are located in the region. It is also the centre of magazine and book publishing in New Zealand

Rocking the boat

In 1966 Radio Hauraki declared it would challenge the state’s commercial radio monopoly by transmitting from a ‘pirate’ boat off Great Barrier Island. As the vessel left port, police boarded the boat, disabling its engine and arresting the crew. The pirates soon tried again, and succeeded. In 1970 the government bowed to public pressure and legalised private radio stations. Radio Hauraki returned to shore.

Print media

Auckland newspapers had a chequered history until the Southern Cross amalgamated with the New Zealand Herald in 1876. Under the latter title it became a successful conservative paper and continues in that mould today. The Auckland Star, founded in 1870, provided a different voice as Auckland’s other major paper until it closed in 1991. Diverse interests of Aucklanders have found expression in Metro magazine – which often glamorises the city’s life – and myriad community and ethnic newspapers.


The Hayward brothers were pioneer film-makers in the early 20th century. Today several film festivals highlight the enormous diversity of films, notably the International Film Festival, held annually since 1969. Films such as The piano feature West Coast beaches as a backdrop, while the popular television soap opera Shortland Street is set on the North Shore. Sione’s wedding, the first New Zealand/Samoan feature film, was shot in Grey Lynn.


Auckland is the centre of New Zealand’s fashion industry. Its leading designers include Elizabeth and Neville Findlay, who started the influential label Zambesi in 1979. They were among the first to express a strong local identity in their designs. Other fashion houses include Workshop, Karen Walker, and Trelise Cooper. Since 2001 Auckland has hosted the Air New Zealand Fashion Week, the country’s premier fashion event.

The music scene

Auckland is a vital hub for popular music. In the 2010s it was home to most of New Zealand’s music and record companies, music magazines, and television and radio stations, luring artists seeking to advance their careers. Since 2000 the Music Industry Commission has assisted radio stations like BFM and Mai FM to promote new musicians. The Big Day Out was Auckland’s biggest music festival, drawing crowds of 30,000 each summer until declining attendance forced its cancellation in 2015. Pubs and clubs cater for different musical tastes. Until its closure in 2018 Newton’s Kings Arms was the best rock venue, while Karangahape Road (K’ Rd) clubs were the heart of Auckland’s dance culture.

Hip hop

The region’s music scene is distinctive for its strong hip-hop culture, first channelled through American Samoa in the 1980s and revitalised by second- and third-generation Pacific Islanders in central and South Auckland. The movement has embraced graffiti, rap, clothing, and community programmes. Hip-hop artists such as Che Fu and Nesian Mystik and the recording label Dawn Raid have influenced mainstream popular music.

Religious life

The region has diverse religious roots. In the 19th century Catholic Bishop Pompallier, Anglicans Robert Maunsell and Bishop Selwyn, and the Wesleyans pioneered mission work. The vitality of Baptist, Congregationalist, Jewish and Unitarian groups made Auckland more similar to US cities than to the rest of New Zealand.

A number of churches, including Anglican, Methodist and Baptist, have theological training colleges in Auckland. The University of Auckland has a chair of theology.

Since the Pacific Islanders’ Congregational Church in Newton became the city’s ‘Pacific village’ in the 1960s, churches have been a focal point of Pacific people’s community life. In 2013 the largest Christian denomination was Catholic, their numbers boosted by Asian Catholics seeking a Catholic education. Adherents of other religions make up a significant but small percentage of the population.

Sport and leisure


Auckland is known as the City of Sails. Every Anniversary Day what is said to be the world’s largest one-day regatta takes place on Waitematā Harbour. In 1999, 2003 and 2021 the city hosted the America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing contest.

The sailing spirit

For many years businessman Tom Clark epitomised Aucklanders’ enthusiasm for sailing. He raced Saracen, Buccaneer and Infidel, and was credited as ‘the man who launched a thousand sailing careers’ – including that of Peter Blake, who won two America’s Cup victories. One of Clark’s sayings was, ‘All you need is three meals and a yacht.’

Easy access to the sea and Aucklanders’ love of boating have long made boat building an important activity in the region. The America’s Cup increased demand for boat building – particularly luxury yachts and launches – and it is now a large industry, based in the West Harbour area.

The beach

There are more than 100 beaches within an hour’s drive of central Auckland. Enjoyment of ‘the boat, the bach, the beach, the barbecue’ typifies life in Auckland perhaps more than anywhere else in the country. Beaches are crowded in summer, while queues of cars make the Friday night exodus to baches in Whangaparāoa and beyond. Ferry excursions to the North Shore and the islands of the gulf have been popular since the 1880s.

Cricket and rugby union

Eden Park is home to Auckland rugby and cricket. Originally a swamp, it was drained in the early 1900s for two cricket ovals. From 1914 the Auckland Rugby Union leased the park, which became its base in 1925. It is New Zealand’s largest stadium. Among its most famous moments was New Zealand’s first cricket test win (against the West Indies in 1956) and the final of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 (New Zealand defeated France 29–9). The All Blacks won the final of the seventh Rugby World Cup at Eden Park in 2011.

Marx at the park

Eden Park has been the site of many sporting battles, but its most infamous conflict was a political one. During the final rugby test of the 1981 South African Springbok tour of New Zealand, a Cessna plane piloted by Marx Jones buzzed the park, as part of nationwide protests against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Passenger Grant Cole tried to stop the game by dropping flour bombs onto the field. The teams kept playing, although All Black Gary Knight was briefly felled by a flour bomb. When they landed, Jones and Cole were arrested.

The region is represented by three teams in the national rugby competition, the Mitre 10 Cup – Counties Manukau, Auckland and North Harbour. Auckland won the premiership In 2007 and 2018. Its famous blue and white hooped jerseys have been worn by players since 1883. The region is represented in the international Super Rugby competition by the Blues, who won the title in 1996 and 1997.

Commonwealth Games

Auckland has hosted two Commonwealth Games: the 4th Games in 1950 (then called the Empire Games), and the 14th Games in 1990.


One of Auckland’s earliest festivities was a great outdoor feast in 1844 staged in Remuera by Waikato chiefs, and attended by Governor FitzRoy. Today the Sky Tower is the backdrop for New Year’s Eve fireworks and the Auckland Domain hosts a range of huge summer concerts. There is a growing range of ethnic festivals, such as Pasifika at Western Springs and the Lantern Festival in the Domain.


Auckland netball was founded in 1911, when 11 teams formed a competition. In 2007, the region had over 9,000 players in several leagues. Nationally, Auckland is represented in the ANZ premiership by the Northern Mystics and the Northern Stars. 


Auckland’s first race meeting was held in Epsom in 1842. The Ellerslie racecourse was established in 1873 for galloping and steeplechase events. Alexandra Park is the home of the Auckland Trotting Club. Pukekohe hosts saloon-car racing, including a round of the Australian V8 Supercars series.

Sir Ed

One of New Zealand's most famous sons, Sir Edmund Hillary, was educated at Auckland Grammar School. In May 1953 he and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to scale the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest. Hillary was the only living New Zealander to appear on a bank note ($5). Hillary College in Ōtara is named after him. He died in January 2008, aged 88.

Rugby league

Rugby league grew from its roots in early 20th century Auckland to capture a wider following than elsewhere in New Zealand. It holds special appeal for Pacific Island players, who are well represented in the New Zealand Warriors – a club team that has played in the Australian National Rugby League competition since 1995.

Other sports

Football (soccer) has gained in popularity since the 1970s, with North Harbour Stadium often the base for the national team, the All Whites. A professional basketball team, the New Zealand Breakers, is also Auckland-based. The Breakers won the Australian National Basketball League four times between 2011 and 2015.

Tennis is a popular summer sport. Auckland hosts the World Tennis Association’s Heineken (Men’s) Open and the ASB (Women’s) Classic events each January. The Pakuranga Hunt opened as New Zealand’s first hunt in 1872, and is now based in Karaka. The region is well served by 36 golf clubs and 21 swimming clubs.

Government, education and health

Local government

Auckland long endured the most fragmented local government in New Zealand. Both the Auckland City Council and Auckland Harbour Board were formed in 1871. But after the abolition of Auckland Provincial Council in 1876 the urban area developed a welter of small road districts, boroughs, town councils, and ad hoc boards. Parliament’s attempts to amalgamate Auckland’s local bodies were foiled by parochialism, delaying major projects like the harbour bridge.

Reform began with the establishment of New Zealand’s first regional council, the Auckland Regional Authority (ARA) in 1963. The ARA absorbed many of Auckland’s ad hoc boards, working alongside its 32 local councils and co-ordinating services such as public transport.

Much ado about nothing

In 1956 Auckland geographer Kenneth Cumberland described local government as ‘a babel of disputing tongues … a comic opera of overlapping and ineffectual agencies we miscall “authorities”’. 1


More radical change occurred in 1989. The ARA’s buses and its control of the power supply were privatised. Auckland’s local government was divided into eight authorities. These comprised:

  • the Auckland Regional Council (replacing the ARA)
  • four cities – North Shore, Waitākere, Auckland, Manukau
  • three districts – Rodney, Papakura, Franklin.

The Auckland Regional Council’s main focus was on parks, the environment, and growth.

In 2010 a single Auckland council replaced the eight previous councils. Aucklanders were divided on whether the gains from integration would outweigh the loss from the greater remoteness of the city council from its citizens.

Electorates and central government

There is an old wisecrack that ‘there are three parties in Parliament – National, Labour, and Auckland’. Most of Auckland’s influence on central government derives from its substantial voting power. In 2019 there were 22 general electorates (one-third of the New Zealand total) and three Māori electorates.

The northward shift in New Zealand’s population in the 20th century is reflected in the increasing number of prime ministers who have come from the Auckland region, from William Massey to Michael Joseph Savage, Robert Muldoon, David Lange, Helen Clark, John Key and Jacinda Ardern.


Primary and secondary

In 2015 the Auckland region had 558 primary and secondary schools. Auckland Grammar School (for boys) was founded in 1867 and set the style for secondary education before the Second World War. Many private church schools were established around 1900. They drew pupils from across, and beyond, the region. Post-1945 suburban growth led to a surge of new co-educational secondary schools in the city, and district high schools in rural areas.


The Auckland Training College (for teachers) was founded in 1881, followed two years later by Auckland University College. In 2004 the college amalgamated with the university. The Auckland University of Technology began in 1895 as the Auckland Technical School, which was renamed Seddon Memorial Technical College in 1913. Other tertiary institutions include Massey University at Albany, the Unitec Institute of Technology, and the Manukau Institute of Technology.


Auckland’s first hospital was a tent set up by the merchant John Logan Campbell in 1840 to treat two Māori injured in a gunpowder explosion. The first permanent hospital opened in Grafton Gully in 1847.

Until 2022 the hospitals of the Auckland region were organised under three district health boards: Auckland, Waitematā and Counties Manukau. In 2003, Auckland, Green Lane, National Women’s, and Starship Children’s hospital were integrated as Auckland City Hospital.

    • Quoted in J. Steel, ‘The role of local government in expanding Auckland.’ In Auckland in ferment, edited by J. S. Whitelaw. Auckland: New Zealand Geographical Society, 1967, p. 118. › Back

Facts and figures

Land area

  • Auckland: 5,600 sq km
  • New Zealand: 268,690 sq km

Climate (Auckland city)

(National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) data, 1981–2010)

  • Mean temperature, January: 19.1° C
  • Mean temperature, July: 10.9° C
  • Mean annual rainfall: 1,212 mm
  • Mean annual sunshine: 2,003 hours

Total population, 2006 and 2013

  • Auckland: 1,304,961 (2006); 1,415,550 (2013)
  • New Zealand: 4,027,947 (2006); 4,242,051 (2013)

Ethnic affiliation, 2013


  • Auckland: 59.3%
  • New Zealand: 74.0%


  • Auckland: 10.7%
  • New Zealand: 14.9%

Pacific Island

  • Auckland: 14.6%
  • New Zealand: 7.4%

Asian (including Indian)

  • Auckland: 23.1%
  • New Zealand: 11.8%

Middle Eastern, Latin American, African

  • Auckland: 1.9%
  • New Zealand: 1.2%

Principal tribes/sub-tribes

Ngāti Whātua, Te Kawerau-a-Maki, Ngāti Pāoa, Waikato 

Age distribution, 2013

Under 15

  • Auckland: 20.9%
  • New Zealand: 20.4%


  • Auckland: 67.6%
  • New Zealand: 65.3%

65 and over

  • Auckland: 11.5%
  • New Zealand: 14.3%

Employment by industry, 2013

(Figures are for workers aged 15 and over, in selected industries in which the region’s employment pattern is most distinctive)

Agriculture, forestry and fishing

  • Auckland: 0.8%
  • New Zealand: 5.7%

Wholesale trade

  • Auckland: 8.2%
  • New Zealand: 5.4%

Information media and telecommunications

  • Auckland: 3.0%
  • New Zealand: 1.9%

Professional, scientific and technical services

  • Auckland: 10.6%
  • New Zealand: 7.9%

Unemployment, 2013

  • Auckland: 8.1%
  • New Zealand: 7.1%

Livestock numbers, 2012

(Agricultural Production Survey, Statistics New Zealand)


  • Auckland: 205,270
  • New Zealand: 31,262,715

Dairy cattle

  • Auckland: 117,281
  • New Zealand: 6,445,681

Beef cattle

  • Auckland: 117,458
  • New Zealand: 3,734,412

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Margaret McClure, 'Auckland region', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Margaret McClure, i tāngia i te 6 o Tīhema 2007, updated 1 o Ākuhata 2016