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, 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’s “big” cities, and start planning from there! Note that the population data is approximate and of the urban population of the cities.
1. Auckland (1.7 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 in both population and landmass. 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, take a look at our 50 Best Accommodations in Auckland or The Long-Term Accommodation Guide to Auckland City and Auckland Region.
2. Wellington (542,000 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 an extended stay. 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.
When looking for accommodation in Wellington, take a look at The 50 Best Accommodations in Wellington and The Guide to Long-Term Accommodation in Wellington City and Wellington Region.
3. Christchurch (389,300 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.
When looking for accommodation in Christchurch, take a look at our 20 Best Hotels in Christchurch or The Long-Term Accommodation Guide to Christchurch City and Christchurch Region.
4. Hamilton (179,900 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, but the city makes a good hub for visiting the likes of Raglan, Hobbiton and Waitomo. For more information on Hamilton, check out The Complete Guide to Hamilton. If you are looking to study in New Zealand, then Hamilton is a population option as one of the major cities in New Zealand for international students.
For more information on things to do, start with the 20 Best Things to Do in Hamilton.
5. Tauranga (158,300 People)
Entry #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.
For more information on things to do, start with the 15 Best Things to Do in Tauranga.
6. Napier and Hastings (148,000 People)
Surrounded by vineyards and close to beaches, bike rides and walks, Napier and Hastings are super popular cities for travellers looking for wine and adventure and 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 take a look at our 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Napier or The Long-Term Accommodation Guide to Napier/Hastings.
7. Dunedin (130,400 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.
8. Whangarei (100,500 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. Whangarei Falls is a stunning yet accessible attraction, the local gardens are ever-blossoming, and the hikes of Whangarei Heads offer vistas like no other.
9. Palmerston North (90,400 People)
Often overlooked by travellers, nevertheless 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 much more!
When looking for accommodation in Palmerston North, take a look at our 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Palmerston North or The Long-Term Accommodation Guide to Palmerston North.
10. New Plymouth (87,700 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.
11. Rotorua (76,800 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.
12. Invercargill (56,800 People)
Invercargill might be the southernmost city in New Zealand but it’s certainly not the biggest, coming in 12th in this list of the biggest cities in New Zealand. Home of the “Southland Cheese Roll”, several vintage car museums and a few other quirks, Invercargill is a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s all part of the charm.
When looking for accommodation in Invercargill, take a look at our 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Invercargill or A Guide to Long-Term Accommodation in Invercargill.
13. Nelson (54,500 People)
The northernmost city on the South Island is Nelson. The sunniest city in New Zealand is a no-brainer for those who seek good weather. Plus, with four national parks within driving distance, Nelson is a great base for many of your wilderness trips on the South Island.
14. Gisborne (52,100 People)
Straddling the east coast of the North Island, Gisborne is one of the world’s first cities to welcome the new day. In turn, catching a sunrise here or even the annual Rhythm & Vines festival to be one of the first to celebrate the New Year is on many’s bucket lists. Other than that, Gisborne is a sunny fruit and wine-producing region, while surfing at the city’s idyllic beach is one of the ways locals spend their time.
15. Whanganui (48,100 People)
On the mouth of New Zealand’s most culturally significant river (so much so that it has been given the status of “living entity”), Whanganui is a place to immerse in the culture, whether it is of the indigenous Maori or the local arts. Whanganui is one that travellers rarely make it to, but those who visit are pleasantly surprised by its enchanting river walks, art galleries, museums, parks and proximity to some picturesque beaches.
When looking for accommodation in Whanganui, take a look at our 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Whanganui.
Honourable Mention: Queenstown (16,000 People)
Although this city is too small to make the list of the 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.
More About the Biggest Cities in New Zealand
That’s it for our list of the biggest cities in New Zealand by population. For more about New Zealand’s cities, check out these guides:
- Top 10 Cheapest Cities in New Zealand to Live In
- The Biggest Party Cities in New Zealand
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Planning a Working Holiday in New Zealand
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.