New Zealand’s Biggest Cities
Are you after your new favourite New Zealand city? As well as having some of the most stunning and varied landscapes you’ll ever set your eyes on, New Zealand has some pretty cool cities too. Coastal cities, cities dotted with volcanoes, cities with a geothermal park as its city park… Knowing the biggest cities in New Zealand is not only a good way to understand the geography of New Zealand, but it sure helps when visiting or looking to settle down for a while on a working holiday.
New Zealand’s cities are often where you’ll find an abundance of work opportunities ideal for saving up for the next leg of your travel. They are also a great place to play. For this reason, we’ve put some city accommodation guides to help you get settled, along with useful links on what there is to do in each city, public transport, etc.
So pick your city within this list of New Zealand “big” cities, and start planning from there! Note that the population data is approximate and of the urban population of the cities.
1. Auckland (1.5 Million People) – The Biggest City in New Zealand
First on our list of New Zealand cities is Auckland. It’s no secret that Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city both population and landmass-wise. In fact, Auckland has a larger population than the whole South Island! With a huge choice of regional parks mixed with bush and beach, beautiful island getaways in the Hauraki Gulf, and the conveniences of a city, Auckland has many appealing aspects that may draw you to stay for a while.
2. Christchurch (383,000 People)
The third New Zealand city on this list is Christchurch. The South Island’s largest city is not only teaming with work opportunities for backpackers, but the artwork, views from the Port Hills, and surf beaches entice many to explore. Take a look at The Complete Guide to Christchurch for inspiration on what to do in Christchurch.
3. Wellington (215,000 People)
Surprisingly, New Zealand’s capital city is not its largest, but it has been dubbed the world’s “coolest little capital”. In a city where there is always something happening, surrounding districts of wine, coast and mountains, and heaps of creativity, Wellington is a popular choice for backpackers to stay a while. Check out our guides on Wellington City Centre, Kapiti, Wairarapa and Hutt Valley and you’ll quickly see why Wellington is a traveller’s favourite amongst New Zealand cities.
4. Hamilton (177,000 People)
Situated on the banks of the mighty Waikato River, Hamilton is the centre of the Waikato region. The Hamilton Gardens and its nightlife are a drawcard for the city centre, but the city makes a good hub for visiting the likes of Raglan, Hobbiton and Waitomo. For more information on the Hamilton, check out The Complete Guide to Hamilton. If you are looking to study in New Zealand, then Hamilton is for you, it one of the major cities in New Zealand for international students.
When looking for accommodation in Hamilton, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Hamilton.
Location: For more information on things to do, start with 10 Great Things to Do in Hamilton.
5. Tauranga (151,000 People)
Entry number 5 on our list of major cities in New Zealand is Tauranga. The coastal city of Tauranga is close to many fruit picking work opportunities, as well as the popular beaches at Mt Maunganui and Papamoa. Enjoy road trips to glowworm dells and waterfalls in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park. More information can be found in The Complete Guide to Tauranga.
When looking for accommodation in Tauranga, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Tauranga.
Location: For more information on things to do, start with 10 Best Things to Do in Tauranga.
6. Napier and Hastings (116,000 People)
Surrounded by vineyards and close to beaches, bike rides and walks, Napier and Hastings are super popular cities for backpackers looking for work and sun! Explore the art deco architecture of Napier, or hire a bike and taste delicious food and wine around the Hastings area.
When looking for accommodation in Napier/Hastings, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Napier/Hastings.
7. Lower Hutt (111,000 People)
Number seven on our list of the largest cities in New Zealand is the city of Lower Hutt. Located in the greater Wellington region, the city is a bustling hub for the Wellington workforce. It is also a fantastic starting point to explore the Wairarapa region. More information can be found in The Complete Guide to Hutt Valley.
When looking for accommodation in Lower Hutt, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Wellington.
Location: For more information on things to do, start with 10 Best Things to Do in Lower Hutt.
8. Dunedin (107,000 People)
The next entry on our list of the largest cities in New Zealand is Dunedin. The student city has lots to do in terms of wildlife spotting on the Otago Peninsula, visiting the world’s steepest street, biking the Otago Central Rail Trail, and stepping back in time in what could be described as the most European-style city in New Zealand.
9. Palmerston North (82,000 People)
Often overlooked by travellers Palmerston North is an iconic New Zealand city. An extremely affordable city to settle for a bit, work and play, Palmerston North is the Manawatu region’s hub. Explore the hikes of the Manawatu Gorge, visit Te Apiti Windfarm, discover beaches, and more!
When looking for accommodation in Palmerston North, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Palmerston North.
10. Rotorua (59,000 People)
Rotorua is a hub of geothermal activity. Even in the city parks, you can watch the bubbling mud as the heat of the earth pushes up to the surface. Geothermal parks, mountain biking, Maori culture, hikes and more are what’s on offer in this North Island city.
When looking for accommodation in Rotorua, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Rotorua.
11. Whangarei (59,000 People)
The northernmost city on this list is Whangarei. With its subtropical climate and convenient location only a short drive away from Auckland, Whangarei is a prime choice when picking a place to stay. The local waterfall is a stunning yet accessible attraction, the local gardens are ever-blossoming, and some of the local hikes offer vistas like no other.
There is plenty of accommodation in Whangarei, whether it’s for a short holiday or a long-term stay. Check out our articles on the subject in our Whangarei Travel Guide.
12. New Plymouth (58,000 People)
With pumping surf waves on one side of the city and the stunning cone-shaped Mt Taranaki on the other, New Plymouth has the best of both worlds. You’ll get the typical New Zealand city life while having access to the best of New Zealand’s countryside. No wonder so many Kiwis call it home. Not only are there a huge amount of outdoor experiences to be had surrounding the city, but New Plymouth also has a great emphasis on the arts with a number of art galleries and street art found around the city. When looking for accommodation in New Plymouth, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to New Plymouth.
13. Nelson (51,000 People)
The last “biggest city in New Zealand” is Nelson. The sunniest city in New Zealand is a no-brainer for those who seek good weather. With four national parks within driving distance, Nelson is a great base for your wilderness trips.
When looking for accommodation in Nelson, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Nelson.
Honorable Mention: Queenstown (16,000 People)
Although this city is too small to make the list of largest cities in New Zealand, Queenstown is a bustling tourist hub with a fluctuating seasonal population. Queenstown is surrounded by mountains and dubbed the “Adventure Capital of the World” thanks to its great deal of adrenaline activities. Queenstown is still a major New Zealand city and should be considered when planning a trip to New Zealand.
When looking for accommodation in Queenstown, whether it’s short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Queenstown.