Originally settled by the Maori people around 1350, Auckland is now the largest metropolitan area in New Zealand, with 1.4 million residents, roughly a third of the country' population. The area's rich, fertile soil made it a site of conflict once it was settled, as local Maori tribes, called iwi, fought over control of the land. The arrival of Europeans, and the introduction of firearms, spurred fierce internecine warfare that severely depleted the native population by the time concerted colonization efforts were made in the 19th century.
The most diverse city in the country, Auckland has significant Maori, Pacific Islander and Asian enclaves; the majority of its population is of European descent. The city is characterized by a sharp contrast between urban and rural. Nestled on a narrow isthmus on the northern part of the country's North Island, with natural harbors on either side, a modern, cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers quickly gives way to mountain ranges, rainforest, volcanic peaks and ocean. The area's stunning natural beauty, apparent from the air as your private jet approaches, makes Auckland a particularly enticing destination for ecotourists, with activities like sailing, swimming, hiking and bungee jumping readily accessible.
Must see: Be sure to visit the Auckland Art Gallery, which has over 15,000 works in its collection and is widely considered the best in the country. Matamata, where the Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings films is located, is about 2 hours south of the city.
Lodging: Hotel DeBrett - Located in the heart of Auckland's downtown, this boutique hotel features 25 rooms that combine chic, modern design with echoes of the building's art deco history. Amenities for the private jet set include fine dining at the Kitchen, as well as the Auckland Skycity Casino.
Ground Transportation: The Explorer Bus offers guided sightseeing tours of the city, while ferries and water taxis provide quick access to many nearby islands. Or you could rent a camper to explore the countryside at your leisure.
Packing Tips: While New Zealand's climate is relatively mild, without temperature extremes, it is prone to quick changes, so bringing layers and preparing for sudden rain is appropriate. Also, keep in mind that the seasons occur in the reverse of the northern hemisphere.
Recommended Books: New Zealander Eleanor Catton became the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize for her 2013 novel The Luminaries, which takes place in the New Zealand goldfields.
Currency: The New Zealand dollar is the local currency.
Calling Code New Zealand: 64
Best Travel Dates: Because the winter tends to be rainy, it's best to visit in summertime, from November to February.