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Articles Blog

Auckland, NZ

Karyn Planett

City of Sails

"A country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines"  
—Vladimir Ilyich Lenin 1909

"The United States invented the space shuttle, the atomic bomb and Disneyland. We have 35 times more land than New Zealand, 80 times the population, 144 times the gross national product and 220 times as many people in jail… So how come a superpower of 270 million got routed in the America's Cup, the world's most technically oriented yacht race, by a country of 3.5 million that outproduces us only in sheep manure?"
—Eric Sharp 1995

Funny how opinions of a place can change over time. In fact, for many Americans, that dark day in 1995 when Team New Zealand ran off with the America’s Cup was the first time they gave much of a thought to the home of the “kiwis”. Since then, the combination of pleasant climate, pleasant people, natural beauty, and the natural adrenalin high of their “extreme” sports has made it one of the more popular destinations for U.S. travelers.

A Pocket History

According to archaeologists and anthropologists, primitive Maori tribesmen paddled their dugout canoes into the Auckland area somewhere around the year 800 A.D. As their numbers increased and conditions grew crowded, the Maoris took up their war clubs. Battles raged between rival clans. The fighting became so fierce and never-ending that the warriors christened Auckland Tamaki , or “battle,” and the isthmus lusted over by all the warriors, Tamaki makau rau , or “battle of 100 lovers.”

Abel Tasman didn’t receive a very friendly welcome either when he and his crew came ashore in 1642. The fierce Maoris, being less than totally hospitable, dined on a few of Tasman’s unlucky sailors. This unsavory event discouraged other adventurers until Captain Cook, in his inimitable way, developed a far friendlier relationship with the Maoris when he came ashore in 1769. They graciously granted this legendary navigator free reign to explore and map their land during his first voyage of discovery aboard HMS Endeavor.

In 1820, a missionary by the name of Samuel Marsden dropped anchor off what is now Auckland. His crew, from the sailing ship Coromandel, needed new masts and spars for their vessels so they took to the forest and began chopping down the towering trees. Marsden, all the while, was also saving souls. Within 20 years the trusting Maori people sold their beloved 3000 acres of land, now the heart of Auckland, for 50 blankets, some garments, tobacco, provisions, and a paltry £50.

Even at 1840 real estate prices, it was a real steal.

The pakehas  (Maori for “those who are colorless”) began to arrive in earnest once the deal was struck. Lawlessness reigned day and night as whalers and sealers ravaged the tiny community. Then Captain William Hobson arrived, laid down the law, and convinced the Maoris to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, which ceded their land to Britain.

A Pocket-Sized City

One out of every three New Zealanders lives in Auckland. Many are of European descent but there are substantial Maori, Asian and Pacific Islander communities as well. In fact, Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. One of the few cities in the world to have harbors on two separate major bodies of water (the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Tasman Sea to the west), Auckland is popularly known as the "City of Sails". And no wonder because the city boasts more yachts per capita than any other, anywhere. From the Harbour Bridge you can look down upon Viaduct Basin, which has twice housed America’s Cup challengers and is one of the city’s high-energy restaurant and entertainment centers.

You can also look up at Sky Tower rising above Auckland’s central shopping district. At 328 meters, it’s the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. Newmarket and Parnell are upscale shopping areas with a wide variety of boutiques and designer shops. Otara and Avondale have famous flea markets and, along with Victoria Park Market they offer a bright change-of-pace shopping experience.

A drive to the top Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano, will give you a view of the city from another perspective. On the way down, pass through Auckland’s largest park, The Domain, where the Auckland Museum displays a magnificent collection of Maori and Polynesian art.

But however you decide to experience Auckland and its people, they are sure to show you why it is ranked fifth among the world’s most livable cities.