Auckland International Airport is the country's hub, and easy transportation options exist for the 45-minute drive into the city. Visas are not required for U.S. nationals staying less than three months. Note that New Zealand has very strict quarantine rules, so avoid bringing food if you want to avoid an instant fine. Cruise ships are an ever-increasing option, and stopovers in Auckland are on the itineraries of P&O, Princess, and Regent Cruises, to name just a few.
While Auckland’s public transportation system is gaining favor with locals, it is a far cry from a metro network. Trains are limited (none cross the harbor), and buses are hub-and-spoke based (rather than point-to-point). In downtown Auckland, the Link bus service has three routes circling the greater and inner CBD (Central Business District). Taxis are plentiful, and all the major rental-car companies have a presence at the airport and in the city (remember that New Zealand drives on the left). Auckland is not built for cyclists, and there are very few cycling lanes. Walking is easy if you're not going far, and the most enjoyable way to sightsee is on a Fullers ferry.
Your starting point is the past—the Auckland Museum in the Domain. With the biggest collection of Maori and Pacific artifacts in the world, including a Maori meeting house, the site will inform you about Auckland’s unique culture—through to modern immigrants. The museum also features daily Maori cultural performances, culminating in the impressive Haka war dance (made famous by the All Blacks) and traditional waiata (songs) that are endorsed by the local iwi (tribe) Ngāti Whātua.
Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world, and the biggest Polynesian festival is Pacifika. This two-day event, held at Western Springs Park every March, gives you the opportunity to experience 11 different Pacific cultures all in one place—through taste, dance, and song. Ever more popular is Matariki, the Maori New Year (in June), marked by celebrations and performances throughout the city. Auckland’s large Chinese community is honored every year at the Lantern Festival in Albert Park; go early to beat the crowds, but late enough to catch the lamps at twilight.
Guy Needham is an international freelance photographer who calls Auckland home. Brought up in a town of pop. 257, he appreciates small-town values and loves big-city buzz. When not writing and taking photos that have appeared in AFAR, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Stock, CNN.com, Real Travel, and numerous publications and exhibitions, he’s a Director of Marketing. If you’d like to know more about Auckland or New Zealand feel free to contact him through AFAR or guyneedhamphotography.com.