Auckland is located on a narrow isthmus of land, with the Manakau Harbour to the South and West and the Harukai Gulf to the North and East. At the narrowest point, in the Mangere Inlet, less than 2 kilometres separate the Pacific Ocean from the Tasman Sea – meaning Auckland is almost surrounded by water.
The central city is laid out along the Harukai Gulf coastline facing north, offering spectacular views of the calm, turquoise blue harbour and its many volcanic islands. The CBD (Central Business District) hugs the harbour, with residential suburbs radiating out along the coast to the eastern bays with their sandy beaches and cafe culture, behind the city to the south, west to the Waitakere mountain ranges, black sand beaches, abundant vineyards and pounding Tasman surf, and across the Waitemata Harbour and Harbour Bridge to the North.
Auckland’s primary business centre is the CBD, however, there are also commercial districts in Manakau City in South Auckland, North Shore City and Waitakere City in the West.
Because Auckland is so large and sprawling, it is primarily a commuter city. State Highway 1 runs the entire length of the North Island, passing through Auckland at the eight lane Auckland Harbour Bridge. SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge are the main route between the North Shore, Northland and the rest of New Zealand, this means it’s an extremely well used and very busy stretch of road; it is the main commuter route to the CBD, South and West Auckland when coming from the North Shore. People based in the Eastern and central city suburbs have a more difficult route to travel as there are no major commuter routes into the CBD, just suburban streets. The long and winding East Tamaki Drive provides a direct route out to the Eastern Bay suburbs, however, this route is extremely congested at peak times and weekends. It can often take commuters from the Eastern Bays much longer to get to work than it would take someone coming all the way from the North Shore. People walking and cycling from the Eastern suburbs will make better time than those trying to use a car. Those living out west have the option to use State Highway 16 (SH16) which reaches all the way from Auckland Port out as far as Kumeu in the West. Both SH1 and SH16 are excellent arterial roads to get into the CBD, however, these too are extremely busy at peak times in the morning and afternoon.
Auckland CBD itself is very small. It is possible to walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes as it comprises just a few main streets. As you fly over you will see a compact and modern city which will most likely look very small to anyone coming from another major world city. Auckland’s size lies not in its CBD though, but in its extremely spread out suburbs. Depending upon the traffic, it can take 2 hours or longer to travel from Silverdale in the North down to Papakura in the South.
When landing at Auckland Airport, many people seem surprised at how long it takes to get to their location. If you are staying in the city, you need to allow up to an hour to travel from the airport to your accommodation; you should allow up to two hours if you arrive mid afternoon on a weekday due to schools closing.