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Auckland is New Zealand's largest city and its waterside location has earned the city the nickname "City of Sails". There's plenty of to see and do here for a few hours to a few weeks. Walk or ride to the summit of Rangitoto, the sleeping volcano in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf; enjoy wine and olive tasting, lazing on the beach on Waiheke Island, or escape to the wilderness of Great Barrier Island, with bush tracks leading to natural hot springs and historic kauri tree dams. See the biggest collection of Maori taonga (treasures) in the world at Auckland War Memorial Museum, or go to a performance of traditional Maori songs and dances.
Jump off the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere - SkyJump is 192m of cable-controlled base jumping from the Sky Tower - or walk around the outside of the tower with SkyWalk, or admire the view from the safety of the observation deck and restaurants. Auckland Harbour Bridge offers spectacular views of Auckland city and the islands of the gulf. To admire these views and get the heart racing, climb over the bridge or bungy jump off it!
Auckland is situated on a narrow strip of land, flanked by two magnificent harbours to the east and west. The shallow Manukau Harbour opens out to the Tasman Sea to the west, while the Waitemata Harbour lies at the heart of the city centre and is Auckland's deepwater port. It has a vibrant waterfront that has flourished with the successful hosting of the 2002/2003 America's Cup, the international yachting event of the year, and the trendy restaurants and waterside cafes are a constant hive of activity.
Auckland is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand, and acts as a major gateway to the rest of the country. Yet it is also one of the least densely populated in the world, covering an area twice the size of London but with barely a million inhabitants. It has a friendly small-town atmosphere and a relaxed pace of life.
The climate of Auckland is generally warm and wet, bordering on sub-tropical. Summers are warm to hot with high humidity, winters mild and damp. The city experiences plenty of rain throughout the year, but predominantly in winter. The weather can be suddenly changeable with tropical cyclones and cold fronts causing occasional extreme conditions like hailstorms.
Buses serve most places in the city centre and there are some free bus services in the inner city, linking to major tourist attractions. The city train service is aimed primarily at commuters. Ferries connect to the north shore suburbs and take passengers to the Hauraki Gulf Islands. Taxis can be hailed on the street, but are more commonly booked by phone.
There isn't much advantage to having a car in the city even considering that driving is easier than in other major cities, but to explore suburbs further away it is best to rent a car. Drivers must have a valid driver's license and be at least 21 years of age, although most agencies will add surcharges to under-25s. Cycling or hiring a scooter are also good ways to explore the city. For schedules, routes and fares on ferries, buses and trains, visit www.maxx.co.nz.
The official languages in New Zealand are English and Maori.
Local currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD), divided into 100 cents. Most businesses accept MasterCard and Visa, and while Diners Club and American Express are also widely accepted in the main tourist centres, they might have limited acceptance elsewhere. Travellers cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels. ATMs can be found in all towns and cities.
Auckland's 'city of sails' reputation and natural beauty make it an ideal destination for tourists wishing to take part in sightseeing and various other activities. Surpassing its daytime reputation Auckland comes alive at night. With clubs, bars, cinemas, dance clubs and pubs, Auckland is arguably the kiwi nightlife capital. The Tourist Times is a great source of hip and happening entertainment listings and is distributed free of charge throughout the city.
The city has a great selection of clubs and bars catering for up and coming businessmen, highflyers and young students. The main nightlife areas include High Street, Ponsonby, Viaduct Harbour, Parnell and Karangahape Street. Urge on Karangahope Street attracts a trendy crowd, while Flirt on the corner of Pitt Street is a great place to relax and watch the crowd.
The Paddington on St George's Bay Road is filled with big screen TVs and gets packed later on in the evening. The hedonistic business crowd tend to migrate to Iguacu in the Parnell area. For those wishing to dance the night away head to Lime on Ponsonby, Club 4:20 on Karangahape, Coco Club on Fort Lane and Suede on Symonds Street.
If you're into the live music scene then the best bars to try is Galatos on Galatos Street. Some quirky nightspots in Auckland are Minus 5, an ice bar with the temperature set at a constant five degrees below zero; Honey, which has more than 30 choices of champagne on offer; and Chic at Viaduct Harbour which is kitted out with a selection of beds and pillows instead of tables. The Northern Steamship Company is a must with a selection of their own beers and a bizarre selection of table lamps glued to the ceiling.