If you seek an urban context for your travels to New Zealand, then there is no more proper a setting than Auckland. Home to about 1.4 million people (around one-third of the whole country's population), Auckland could very well be summed up at a glance by its proliferation of yacht masts, a lack of green space, and a skyline centered by the aptly named Sky Tower. Then again, to simply settle for first impressions would be to overlook the hidden treasures of adventure and culture that may be found both within the city limits and on its doorstep. Not only this, but as the largest city in all of Polynesia, Auckland is a multicultural metropolis that boasts an excellent nightlife and a great variety of international cuisines. Put it all together and you've found a main hub for your travels in New Zealand.
Although Auckland is not known for its public parks, a quick ferry ride to Devonport or car ride to Mission Bay provide a nice getaway from more urban Auckland with access to a waterfront that is great for swimming and excellent vistas that include volcanic Mount Rangitoto. Speaking of Rangitoto, catch the ferry out daily for a chance to climb this dormant icon or set your sights further to islands like Great Barrier Island, where you may partake in swimming, surfing, diving, and more; Waiheke Island with its gorgeous beaches and preponderance of wineries; and tiny, off-the-beaten-path beach location Motuihe Island. If nature is your style, the Waitakere Ranges are a collection of hills less than an hour southwest of the city that are great for hiking and open onto gorgeous black sand beaches of the west coast that are known particularly for surfing (Piha, Muriwai, Karekare). There are also some extinct volcanoes in the city, like Mount Eden, Mount Victoria, and One Tree Hill known for their views. For the full list of active pursuits, there's our adventure page.
Auckland is the premiere cultural center in New Zealand. The country's best art may be found at the Auckland Art Gallery, while the best museum is undoubtedly the Auckland Museum. There are plenty of modern theaters, reclaimed areas of waterfront that have become popular entertainment districts (the Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter, to name two), the Skytower with its observation deck, and plenty of other options on the eating and drinking fronts that rival what is available in other international cities.
Often ranked well on quality-of-life scales and consisting of a spectacular combination of adventure locales and cultural staples, Auckland will be your best combination of everything a big city can offer a discriminating traveler with proximity to everything that drives you to get away for a while, whether its a bit of beach-side leisure, a chance to see a few Lord of the Rings locations, clambering to a volcanic summit, and everything in between. For much more on what there is to offer on specific adventure, culture, nightlife, and cuisine activities, check out these pages.