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!
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.
When looking for accommodation in Auckland, whether its short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Auckland City Central and Accommodation Guide to Auckland. You’ll also find more information on the city centre and suburbs in these guides: Auckland Central – Guide for Backpackers and Auckland – Suburbs Guide for Backpackers.
2. Wellington (490,000 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.
3. Christchurch (360,000 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 Christchurch – Guide for Backpackers for inspiration on what do do in Christchurch.
4. Hamilton (230,000 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 Waikato region, check out Waikato – Guide for Backpackers. If you are looking to study in New Zealand, then Hamilton is for you, it one of the major cities in Zew Zealand for international students.
When looking for accommodation in Hamilton, whether its 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 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.
5. Tauranga (135,000 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.
When looking for accommodation in Tauranga, whether its short-term or long-term, take a look at our Accommodation Guide to Tauranga.
6. Napier and Hastings (130,000 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. Dunedin (120,000 People)
The next entry on our list of 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.
8. Palmerston North (85,000 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.
9. New Plymouth (74,000 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 bestof New Zealand’s country side. 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.
10. Nelson (65,000 People)
The last, but not least, 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 in 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.
Two More Worth Mentioning: Rotorua (60,000 People) and Queenstown (23,000 People)
Although both of these cities are too small to make the list of largest cities in New Zealand, Rotorua and Queenstown are bustling tourist hubs with a fluctuating seasonal population. Rotorua is a hub for 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. Queenstown, on the other hand, is surrounded by mountains and dubbed the “Adventure Capital of the World” thanks to its great deal of adrenaline activities. Both cities are still New Zealand major cities and should be considered when planning a trip to New Zealand.
Location: For more information on things to do, start with Rotorua – Guide for Backpackers, 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in Rotorua, Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers and 15 Free or Cheap Things to do in Queenstown.