Living in Auckland: A Guide

New Zealand's largest city, Auckland offers jobs, easy access to the outdoors, and a strong LGBTQ+ scene

Feature by Conor Lochrie | 15 Oct 2019

For a country so obviously defined by its natural landscape – partly due to the immense popularity of The Lord of the Rings films – it’s curious to arrive in New Zealand and discover that modern cities thrive here too. A momentous statue of a Tolkien dwarf may greet international visitors upon arrival at Auckland Airport, but this is where the LoTR connections end.

Auckland is comfortably New Zealand’s largest city (34% of the country’s population lives in the city region) and offers the opportunities and activities that one would expect from such a bustling metropolis. The city’s core skyline is rising weekly and its iconic Sky Tower is still the tallest freestanding structure in the entire Southern Hemisphere. There's a burgeoning food scene, particularly with Asian delicacies due to the influx of students and workers from the region. It’s proud of its sport, with Eden Park being home to the country’s legendary All Blacks rugby team. Auckland is, in other words, a global city with world class potential.

Its vast multiculturalism has only made it better, but it's also true that, as a result, the city holds no local flavour. There's nothing that really defines Auckland as being quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ (something that the city and its people are mocked for by other New Zealanders). London and Los Angeles, then, are its closest Northern Hemisphere counterparts. Much of the tourism industry in Auckland Central focuses on day trips elsewhere and perhaps the city would do well to consider promoting their own highlights more consistently.

Finding Work in Auckland

Most travelling to New Zealand come to Auckland first. This is partly functional, given it’s where the main airport is, but also for economic reasons: if you want work as soon as possible, Auckland's the place to go. The bars located in the city centre are filled with Working Holiday Makers, and there are several Irish bars that are always open to workers from home.

Industrial businesses and warehouses are centred in the south of the city and hold plenty of opportunities for those not afraid of some hard work. A common path that people take is committing to six or seven months work in Auckland in order to save money, before travelling to tourist destinations like Queenstown and Lake Taupo.

Getting Around Auckland

Returning to the comparison with Los Angeles, it’s helpful to have a car while in Auckland. Public transport is ineffective and woefully expensive – Auckland continues to be the world’s third most expensive city for public transport, coming behind only London and Dublin. The city has acknowledged the need for greater options, especially given its rapid population growth outwards into the suburbs, and while projects are underway, for now motorways dominate.

The comical Lime scooters were introduced last year but, given this is a city of volcanoes, they’re not recommended as a substantial means of travel (and that’s before you get to the, ahem, technical issues). If you do need to rely on public transport, purchase an AT HOP card – it’s a fare payment card that can be topped up when required and helps save a little on each trip by train, bus or ferry.

Where To Stay

Rising above the CBD on its Western edge, Ponsonby is a highly sought-after address, the type of hipster neighbourhood newspapers like to write about. Its main thoroughfare, Ponsonby Road, is overflowing with hip bars and cafes.

Venture a little further west and Grey Lynn is a cheaper and less crowded alternative, gentrification having not swallowed it whole just yet. Although it’s picturesque and affluent, avoid the North Shore: the public transport across the harbour is the ferry, which is often extremely overcrowded during peak times.

Things To Do

Avoid the obvious but expensive trip up the Sky Tower and take a short trip to Mount Eden and climb the city’s highest volcanic peak, Maungawhau. The view from the top is clear and remarkable, and includes the Sky Tower stretching above Auckland Harbour in its vista.

Cultural offerings are paltry when considering the size of the city, but Auckland War Memorial Museum is a highlight, both historically and architecturally. Built in the neo-classicist tradition, it sits atop Auckland Domain, a large public park adjacent to the CBD; its steps offer an excellent photographic opportunity, facing back to the city and the harbour. The museum’s collection is strong too, focusing on New Zealand history.

In the CBD, there's a little gem of a cinema, tucked down a basement beside the Central Library. The Academy Cinema is a true home for independent and arthouse films and it also strives to show as many New Zealand and Pacific Island productions as possible. Go on a Wednesday and any film costs a mere $5 [£2.48].

Auckland's Nightlife and LGBTQ+ scene

Auckland doesn’t differ greatly from the UK in terms of its nightlife. There are clubs for students, like Impala, which mainly plays standard electronic and techno, and there are high-end clubs like 1885 Britomart, where the music isn’t the important part.

Karangahape Road is the rawer alternative to the CBD’s uninspiring selection. Once notorious for drugs and prostitution, the strip now has plenty of interesting watering holes for after dark. Its centrepiece is St Kevins Arcade, which offers a range of venues. Try Whammy Bar for the best gigs nightly, or The Wine Cellar, a wonderful little dive bar. Verona Cafe is a great spot night or day, serving good food and music direct from local community radio station KFM 106.9, who blast their tunes from the bar right into the street.

Further up K’ Road (as it’s colloquially known to save time) is Ink Bar. An underground club that attracts top house and techno DJs, it’s worth braving the overwhelming sweat and claustrophobia for.

Somewhat surprisingly, Auckland is fiercely proud of its LGBTQ+ scene. Centred around Karangahape Road again, Family Bar has been an LGBTQ+ institution for years. Housed over three floors, it’s often the end point for an Aucklander’s night out. Across the road, Caluzzi Cabaret is home to drag queen dinner theatre, and its performers usually find their way over to Family Bar to drink and entertain.

Heading Outdoors: Day trips from Auckland

Auckland is perhaps a city more attractive to families and its proximity to nature is a large reason for this. Within 15 minutes of the CBD, in any direction, are wonderful beaches. Mission Bay is the most famous, with its crowded cafes and ice cream parlours, but try Takapuna Beach on the North Shore for a quieter alternative.

Rangitoto Island is iconic and can be noticed in the distance from most areas of the city. A popular day trip, its volcanic peak is reachable on foot. Further afield, a 45-minute trip by car through the Waitakere Ranges brings visitors to Piha Beach, one of New Zealand’s most popular black sand beaches. It’s a favourite of Aucklanders, particularly in summer for its surfing opportunities.