If you’re ever stuck in a pub quiz wondering which are the biggest cities in New Zealand, wonder no longer! In this post, we take a close look at the five biggest cities in New Zealand and discover some of the amazing things to do in our biggest cities. In case the quiz question asks “which is New Zealand’s seventh biggest city?”, we also got you covered as we have listed the top 10 biggest cities in New Zealand at the end of the post.

Whilst it might be the beaches, lakes, mountains and volcanoes that hog all the limelight, New Zealand also has some really cool cities which are just waiting to be explored. From the hustle and bustle of Auckland, framed by the surrounding volcanoes to the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua with its bubbling mud pools and towering geysers. New Zealand’s cities are diverse both in terms of size as well as the things to see and do there.

When it comes to size, New Zealand might not have the biggest cities but what they lack in size they more than make up for in beauty and amazing things to do! Here is the run-down of the 5 biggest cities in New Zealand and the top three things to do in each of those cities – get exploring!

All population data is taken from the New Zealand Government Statistics website and relates to data from the 2018 Census.

New Zealand’s 5 biggest cities

  1. Auckland
  2. Wellington
  3. Christchurch
  4. Hamilton
  5. Napier-Hastings

1.      Auckland (population 1,571,718)

The beautiful Auckland skyline at dusk
The beautiful Auckland skyline at dusk

With a population of just under 1.6m, Auckland is comfortably the biggest city in New Zealand. It’s right up there with the best cities in the world when it comes to shopping, places to eat and things to do. From world-class, Michelin-starred restaurants to some of the best fish and chips in the world, Auckland’s bustling nightlife and restaurant scene is a big draw for many but for most, it’s the amazing waterfront location and access to golden sandy beaches or trips out to discover the amazing marine life that also calls Auckland home. Here are our top three things to do in Auckland:

  1. Sky Tower – a trip to the top of the iconic Sky Tower is a must on a visit to Auckland. Our top tip if you want to make the most of a trip up there is to find a lunchtime special at the Orbit 360 restaurant that will also get you access to the observation deck too as well as lunch in the revolving restaurant.
  2. Waiheke Island – a trip to Waiheke Island is a great way to get out and explore the water on the 40-minute ferry ride before exploring this beautiful island. From the vineyards to the beaches, Waiheke is a great place to visit and comes alive during the summer months.Bonus: In late June 2022, we opened our latest car rental branch on Waiheke. As well as bringing our award-winning customer service and modern fleet of rental cars to Waiheke, we are also offering bike and e-bike hire on the island – a great way to get around. Check out our all-new Waiheke car rental branch today.
  3. Mt Eden – with so many volcanoes to choose from it’s difficult to know which one to climb. Our top two are Rangitoto and Mt Eden but Mt Eden just pips it for the amazing views back across the city and out towards Rangitoto. Stunning.

For more ideas of things to do in Auckland, check out our awesome Complete Guide below and for a great deal on car rental in Auckland City, make sure you visit our rental car location page and find out why we’re one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies.

Auckland Complete Guide

2.      Wellington (506,814)

Oriental Bay, Wellington
Oriental Bay, Wellington

New Zealand’s capital city is number two on the list of biggest cities and is often referred to as one of the ‘coolest’ cities in the world (we’re not sure if they are talking about the weather or cool like the Fonz!). Whilst it can get a bit windy down in Wellington, it’s a beautiful city to visit and another of our wonderful waterfront cities. Wellington is also home to some of New Zealand’s best museums and is the home of the iconic World of WearableArt Show every year. Here are our top three things to do in Wellington:

  1. Te Papa Museum – New Zealand’s national museum is a must on a visit to Wellington. It’s a wonderful and fascinating museum, documenting New Zealand’s rich cultural history. With some fun exhibits, it’s also a great place for the whole family and many of the exhibits are free – another bonus!
  2. Botanic Gardens – a trip to Wellington’s Botanic Gardens should be on your list and getting there is part of the fun. Take a trip up the iconic Kelburn Cable Car which provides great views down over the city and then have fun exploring the beautiful gardens.
  3. Lambton Quay – it is said that Wellington has more restaurants per head than New York and with rich farmland to the north and the ocean right on the doorstep, the supply of fresh ingredients makes Wellington a foody’s heaven!

For more ideas of things to do in Wellington, check out our awesome Complete Guide below and for a great deal on car rental in Wellington, make sure you visit our rental car location page and find out why we’re one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies.

Wellington Complete Guide

3.      Christchurch (369,006)

Image of Christchurch post-earthquake with the redevelopment that has taken place
Re:Start, Christchurch

Christchurch is known as the Garden City and is New Zealand’s third-largest city. As the name would suggest, Christchurch is a city full of parks and gardens and that makes it a special place to visit at any time of year, but particularly in the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring when the colours in the city can be pretty spectacular. Christchurch is the biggest city in the South Island by some distance and is a great place to base yourself for exploring all the delights of the South Island. Here are our top three things to do in Christchurch:

  1. Antigua Boatsheds – Christchurch has a distinctly English feel and you could easily be wandering the streets of Oxford or Cambridge as you stroll through the parks and gardens. To complete the English experience, take a punting trip down the River Avon on a sunny summer’s day. Lovely.
  2. Re:Start – the earthquake that devastated Christchurch in February 2011 was a huge blow to the city. Out of the rubble, however, emerged a resilience and a huge sense of community and nowhere is this reflected more than at the Re:Start container city which has grown into a thriving business district and a cool place to hang out.
  3. International Antarctic Centre – ever fancied experiencing an Antarctic storm? With a wind chill of -18 degrees Celsius, you have to be pretty brave to head into the storm. If you don’t fancy that, make sure you check out the awesome little blue penguins or take a ride on the Hagglund.

For more ideas of things to do in Christchurch, check out our awesome Complete Guide below and for a great deal on car rental in Christchurch, make sure you visit our rental car location page and find out why we’re one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies.

Christchurch Complete Guide

4.      Hamilton (160,911)

Image of Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton Gardens

Coming in at number four on the list of New Zealand’s biggest cities is Hamilton or ‘the Tron’ as it is affectionately known. Situated on the banks of the mighty Waikato River, Hamilton is the main city in the region of Waikato. It’s a great place for a stopover on a trip to Raglan, Waitomo or further south to Taupo or Rotorua. The annual hot air balloon festival is always popular as people from all over the country descend on the beautiful city to marvel at the aerial displays. Here are our top three things to do in Hamilton:

  1. Hamilton Gardens – probably the biggest draw in Hamilton are the stunning Hamilton Gardens. Rated as some of the best gardens in New Zealand, definitely add a stop off to the gardens to your list of things to do as you come through the region.
  2. Waitomo Caves – whilst it’s not in Hamilton, the Waitomo Caves are only a short drive from Hamilton and it’s definitely worth the trip out. The stunning glowworm caves are homes to millions of tiny glowworms and it’s a pretty special occasion heading underground to see them all doing their thing!
  3. Hamilton Zoo – there aren’t that many zoos in New Zealand so if you love a good trip to the zoo, Hamilton is as good a place as any to go and check out the awesome wildlife that calls Hamilton home.

5.      Napier-Hastings (143,778)

Image from the top of Te Mata Peak in Napier
Te Mata Peak, Napier-Hastings

Napier and Hastings are located on the east coast of the North Island in a region known as the Hawke’s Bay. It is one of New Zealand’s premier tourist destinations and attracts thousands of visitors every year. The region is packed full of things to do. Napier is the main hub and the place where most visitors choose to base themselves, however, Hastings and Havelock North are other popular spots in the area. The Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s premium wine-growing areas and there is no shortage of vineyards to explore. Napier and Hastings were devastated by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale in 1931, killing 256 people. When the cities were rebuilt, they were done in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time and the region celebrates its heritage every year. Here are our top three things to do in Napier and Hastings:

  1. Te Mata Peak – Te Mata Peak is one of the most photographed landmarks in New Zealand and is a highlight of a visit to the region. With countless walking and biking trails, Te Mata Peak is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, however, it is also possible to drive to the top if you simply want to admire the magnificent views over the region.
  2. Wine Tasting – It would be criminal to visit the region and not visit at least one of the world-class vineyards that call Hawke’s Bay home. Even if you don’t love wine, the restaurants attached to the vineyards are worth a visit and it’s also a great chance to grab some nice gifts for people back home.
  3. Art Deco Tour – Art Deco is such an important part of this region and it’s really cool to go and check out some of the amazing buildings that were constructed in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the region. You can go on an organised tour or pick up a map from the i-Site and go on a self-guided tour of the cities.

For more ideas of things to do in Napier and Hastings, check out our awesome Complete Guide:

Hawke’s Bay Complete Guide

So there you have it – New Zealand’s five biggest cities and the best things to do in them all. If you want to know the cities that make up the top 10 biggest cities in New Zealand, here you go!

  1. Tauranga (136,713)
  2. Dunedin (126,255)
  3. Palmerston North (84,639)
  4. Rotorua (71,877)
  5. Nelson (50,880)

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand and heading to any of our wonderful cities, make sure you check out our awesome Complete Guides which gives you some great tips on where to stay, what to do and where to eat and drink. If you need any help planning out your route or your itinerary, make sure you check out our awesome Trip Planner which has 80+ awesome road trip itineraries with some great suggestions for places to stay and things to see along the way. And if you need an awesome rental car for all this exploring, you know where to find us!

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