Auckland, or Tāmaki Makaurau, to give it its Māori name, is the world's largest Polynesian city and as such has a hugely rich and diverse cultural history. There is so much to see and do here, and you can really immerse yourself in the Māori culture and all it has to offer. This truly is a place where you can feel the wairua (spirit) of the whenua (land) the moana (sea) and maunga (mountains).
Where to start and what to eat
If you want an immediate connection with the locals and a chance to brush up on your history, guide Graeme Rivett from kiwi tuktuk who provides private tours of the city and surrounds, suggests starting at Auckland Museum. "You'll hear stories of New Zealand people, the Pacific, flora, fauna and landforms of our unique islands, all told within a memorial dedicated to those who have sacrificed their lives for our country," he says. Here there are Māori cultural performances three times a day and you truly get taken on a journey through the story of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Tāmaki Makaurau.
Auckland Museum, standing tall in the #Auckland Domain. The Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its place in the Pacific and its people. The Museum is also a war memorial for the province of Auckland. A stunning new exhibition, 'The Secret World of Butterflies' has just opened, and will run until May 2019. 📷 by @misswanderingbelle #VisitAuckland #NZMustDo @aucklandmuseum
The Museum's famous performance culminates with a spine-tingling version of the world-famous haka. (By the way, did you know that according to Ngāti Toa tribe, the great Māori chief Te Rauparaha composed the "Ka Mate" haka as a celebration of life over death after his lucky escape from pursuing enemies? This is the haka that has become the most visible worldwide, performed by the All Blacks and many other New Zealand sports teams.)
While you're here in Auckland you need to try some true Māori kai (food).
For something grab-and-go, Graeme says you can't go past a quick fix from Puha & Pakeha - a food van that sells an array of dishes based on traditional Māori cuisine, cooked in modern ways (think kumara or sweet potato, cooked in a hāngi, combined with coconut and panko crumbs, for starters!)
Once you have a full belly, the question is where to next - and according to Graeme and his guide Jeff Lee, some of the most significant places you must visit have, well, vanished.
"It's important that people appreciate and understand that there were a number of Māori paa (villages) and sites of significance to Māori through Auckland Central and beyond which hold immense cultural value irrespective of the fact that they no longer exist," says Lee. They suggest a tour along Auckland Central's original waterfront to see the sites of former villages like Te Ngahuwera close to where the Customs house now stands or Te Rerenga-oraiti on what was Point Britomart, a former headland which is now completely destroyed. At the original point was the site of an ancient Paa (village Site) known as Te Rerenga-oraiti ('the leap of the survivors') where people were driven off the end of the headland during battles. The Union Jack was hoisted on this spot in September 1840 and it's where the city of Auckland was founded.
Some former Māori villages are now inner city parks – head to Albert Park, known to Māori as Horotiu Paa or Rangipuke /Mangahekea Paa, the site of one of Auckland's earliest volcanoes, which is now filled with flowerbeds and a Victorian fountain; and Myers Park, part of the original Māori settlement site.
Then, why not explore Parnell, Auckland's first suburb, filled with colonial cottages, cosy cafes and upmarket bars. It's also home to the Auckland Domain and Lower Domain Drive – here, the carved wooden posts and palisades indicate that you are entering a place of significance to Māori and it gives you an idea of how traditional fortified Māori villages would have looked.
Natural site seeing
You can't visit Auckland without a visit to the city's Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) which hold a paramount place in the spiritual, ancestral and cultural identity of the 13 mana whenua tribes of Auckland. Say the kiwi tuktuk team, "The maunga are at the heart of Auckland's identity and represent a celebration of our Māori identity as the city's point of difference in the world". Head to Mount Eden - one of 48 cones in the Auckland volcanic field and the highest natural point in Auckland.
Be aware you need to walk up, vehicles aren't allowed to drive up anymore as a mark of respect for its cultural and spiritual significance. There are sweeping views once you make it - 360 degrees in fact - and you can explore the volcano's history as a traditional fortified Māori village. You can also join a tour with Tāmaki Hikoi led by members of the Ngāti Whātua tribe to learn about the history and to hear the mountain's stories. Also worth visiting, Mangere Mountain is one of the best preserved cones in the field and home to a fascinating educational centre.
Immerse yourself in Auckland like this, and you'll certainly get a feel for how important history and culture are to this amazing city. Kia Ora!
See also: Discover Auckland's Island Life
This article has been produced in association with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.
Auckland, New Zealand, is an exhilarating mix of natural wonders and urban adventures. From world-class food and wine to beautiful beaches and islands, amazing shopping to outdoor adventures, you'll find the best of both worlds here.
Only a short 3-hour flight from Australia's eastern seaboard, it's the perfect short break. Start planning now.