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14 Biggest New Zealand Cities Ranked (Highest to Lowest)

New Zealand Cities Ranked ( Highest to Lowest )

New Zealand Cities ranked in order of population size from highest to lowest.

New Zealand is a beautiful country. As well as being beautiful it has a relatively low population density by international standards.

The country sits at around 16 people per square kilometre and a total population of just over 4.8 million.

The geographical size of New Zealand is small at only 268,000 square kilometres.

This is roughly the same size as California or a fraction bigger than Great Britain. 

Today we will look at the population size of the top 14 New Zealand Cities from Largest to Smallest.

As well as the geographical location, fun facts, and activities to do for each city.

Ranked No.1 - Auckland (1,590,261)

Auckland City New Zealand

Auckland Population Size - 1,590,261.

Quick Facts :

  • 1 in 3 New Zealanders are Aucklanders.
  • Auckland was the capital of New Zealand prior to Wellington from 1841 to 1865.
  • Auckland is home to the majority of New Zealand trade and business.

Information :

Auckland is New Zealand's largest city in terms of both population and landmass. Auckland has a greater population than the entire South Island of New Zealand.

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 in to stay for a while.

Known For :

  • Sky Tower
  • Auckland Harbour
  • Beaches
  • Coffee
  • Waiheke Island (30km from Auckland)
  • Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium

Where is it?

Auckland is located in the North Island of New Zealand. North of Hamilton.

Ranked No.2 - Christchurch (378,480)

Christchurch New Zealand

Christchurch Population Size - 378,480.

Quick Facts :

  • Christchurch was severely damaged by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on 22nd February 2011.
  • Hagley Park is the third largest inner-city park in the world.
  • Christchurch was originally first settled by moa-hunting tribes in 1250AD.

Information :

Christchurch is a pleasing calming city with origins of English heritage.

Christchurch offers refreshing views from its port hills, surf beaches, and vibrant artwork. Even after the 2011 major earthquake, there is still a lot to experience. 

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and the oldest historically in New Zealand. The city was established by Royal Charter on 31st July 1856. 

English-style public gardens, art galleries, restaurants, great tasting beer taverns, art festivals, shops, and cafes. Definitely worth a visit. 

 Known For :

  • The 2010 and 2011 Earthquake 
  • English Heritage
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Cardboard Cathedral Church 
  • Canterbury Museum
  • Antarctic Centre
  • Christchurch Adventure Park (Mountain Biking, Zipline & More)

Christchurch Adventure Park New Zealand

(Christchurch Adventure Park - Longest Zipline in New Zealand at 1.1km)

Where is it?

Christchurch is located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

Ranked No.3 - Wellington (202,737)

Wellington New Zealand

Wellington Population Size - 202,737

Quick Facts :

  • Wellington is the most southern capital in the world.
  • Wellington is so compact, 18,000 of the city's residents will walk or jog to work.
  • The Weta Workshop, the studio for the special effects and props of the Lord of the Rings Films is based here.

Information :

Wellington is a close-packed city with sandy beaches and a variety of restaurants. You can get a cable car getaway to the botanic gardens or visit the home of the official parliament house called the "Beehive". 

The coastline of the city is home to seals, marine life, and sea birds.

Strong winds are often felt here, hence the well-earned nickname "Windy Wellington".

Known For :

  • Capital of New Zealand
  • The Arts & Culture Capital
  • The Beehive (Parliament Building)
  • Mount Victoria (Scenic Views)
  • Great-Tasting Craft Beers
  • The title of "Windy Wellington"
  • Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand 

Where is it?

Wellington is located on the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand.

Ranked No.4 - Hamilton (160,911)

Hamilton New Zealand

Hamilton Population Size - 160,911.

Quick Facts :

  • Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city.
  • The longest river in New Zealand 'Waikato River' flows 16km through Hamilton City.  
  • Almost half of the residents in Hamilton are under 30.

Information :

Hamilton pleases visitors with its city gardens, often displayed with special garden themes of Japanese, Italian, and traditional Maori culture.

Unique Maori artifacts and art can be found in the Waikato Museum. Besides the Museum is the ArtPost gallery displaying more local art. 

The Hamilton City Hub offers plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Known For :

  • Hamilton Gardens
  • Hamilton Zoo
  • Hamilton Night Market
  • Waikato Museum 
  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves
  • Hobbiton's Movie Set Dinner Tour (Lord of The Rings)

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

(Photo of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves)

Where is it?

Hamilton City is located in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.

Ranked No.5 - Tauranga (136,713)

Tauranga New Zealand

Tauranga Population Size - 136,713.

Quick Facts :

  • White Island, a volcanic island close by erupted on the 9th of December 2019 killing 47 people.
  • Maori first settled in Tauranga in the 13th Century. 
  • Mount Maunganui is 6 x winner of New Zealand's finest beach.

Information :

Tauranga connects with a harbor bridge to the beautiful Mt Maunganui which is a famous surf and beach town. 

An active volcano, White Island is located offshore in close proximity to Tauranga and used to be accessible by boat or helicopter as a popular tourist destination.

However sadly on the 9th of December 2019, 47 people died in an unexpected eruption while tourists were visiting the island.

At this stage, the New Zealand government has stopped all tourist trips to the island.

Known for business, fashion, and horticulture science. Tauranga is a special place in New Zealand.

Known For :

  • International Trade (New Zealand's Largest Port)
  • Business
  • Fashion
  • Horticultural Science
  • White Island Volcano
  • Mount Maunganui (6 x Winner of New Zealand's Finest Beach)

Mount Maunganui New Zealand

Where is it?

Tauranga is a harbourside city in the Bay of Plenty region in the North Island of New Zealand.

Ranked No.6 - Dunedin (126,255)

Dunedin City Council

Dunedin Population Size - 126,255.

Quick Facts :

  • Scottish settlement and gold rush in the 1800s brought in Victorian and Edwardian architecture that Dunedin is known so well for.
  • In 1869 the University of Otago was founded. New Zealand's largest and oldest university.
  • The Dunedin population is estimated to be 20% students. Given the title "The centre of learning" in New Zealand.

Information :

Known for its background in Scottish and Maori Heritage, a large student population, and Edwardian and Victorian architecture. 

An attraction to the Otago area is the sea animals such as the albatross, sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins which are a spectacular sight to see. Also enjoyed is Otago Peninsular offering great cycling and hiking trails. 

Known For :

  • Scottish and Maori Heritage
  • Victorian and Edwardian Architecture
  • Large Student Population
  • Hiking and Cycling Trails
  • Home to Albatross, Sea Lions, and Yellow-Eyed Penguins

Where is it?

Dunedin is a city at the head of the Otago Harbour on the South Island’s southeast coast.

Ranked No.7 - Lower Hutt (104,685)

Lower Hutt New Zealand

Lower Hutt Population Size - 104,685.

Quick Facts :

  • Thick swamp forest covered the Lower Hutt area before the Europeans arrived.
  • In 1839 a New Zealand company ship Tory arrived, welcomed by the local Maori, William Wakefield (the European agent for the company) negotiated with the Maori chiefs to allow settlement.
  • The name Hutt comes from the Hutt river originating from the founding member of the New Zealand Company. Sir William Hutt.

Information :

Lower Hutt is administered by the Hutt City Council. Making it one of the four cities that make up the Wellington Metropolitan Area.

Lower Hutt is favored for its mountain biking, fishing, and outdoor sports. Home to a sizeable shopping centre located in the central city.

Above the suburb of Taita, Dry Creek quarry was a famous site for the large middle-aged castle sets built for Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith. Major movie scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies. 

Known For :

  • Remutaka Forest Park
  • Remutaka Cycle Trail
  • Petone Settlers Museum
  • Dowse Art Museum
  • Lord of the Rings Movie Scenes

Where is it?

Lower Hutt is a city in the Wellington Region in the North Island of New Zealand.

Ranked No.8 - Whangarei (90,960)

Whangarei New Zealand

Whangarei Population Size - 90,960

Quick Facts :

  • In 1839, William Carruth born in Scotland arrived in the Whangarei area as the first European settler.
  • Mount Parihaka in Whangarei historically was the largest Maori Pa (fortified village) in New Zealand.
  • In 1845 a large majority of original settlers of Whangarei all fled and never returned due to the Flagstaff War. A war that began from the leader of the Ngapuhi tribe Hone Heke refusing to comply with the laws from the British. 

Information :

Whangarei has plenty on offer. The 'Town Basin' a boat dotted marina with restaurants, shops, and galleries by the Hatea River. A Clock Museum displaying eclectic vintage clocks.

Above the city is the volcanic Mount Parihaka featuring a war memorial and old historical remains of Maori Villages.

Also is home to Whangarei Falls, a must-visit location.

Whangarei Falls New Zealand

Known For :

  • Whangarei Falls
  • Clapham Clock Museum
  • Mount Parihaka (Volcanic)
  • The Town Basin (restaurants, shops, and galleries)

Where is it?

Whangarei is the countries most northern city in the Northland region of New Zealand's North Island.

Ranked No.9 - Palmerston North (85,716)

Palmerston North New Zealand

Palmerston North Population Size - 85,716

Quick Facts :

  • Discovered by Europeans mid 19th century.
  • In 1900, the population had just surpassed 6000 people. 
  • The name Palmerston came from Viscount Palmerston, a previous prime minister of Great Britain. The "North" was added into the name in 1871 by the post office to avoid confusion of the South Island town 'Palmerston'.

Information :

Palmerston North is acknowledged for 'Victoria Esplanade', a large park in the city with beautiful rose gardens, a cafe, a paddling pool, and a miniature railway. 

At the heart of the city is the 'New Zealand Rugby Museum' showing the history of New Zealand's favourite sport. Not far by is 'Te Manawa', an art gallery and science museum.

Further out from the main city is Manawatu Gorge with a great track to walk if you are looking for exercise.

Known For :

  • Rose Gardens 
  • Palmerston North Clock Tower
  • Manawatu Gorge Scenic Reserve
  • New Zealand Rugby Museum

Palmerston North Rugby Museum

Where is it?

Palmerston North is located on the North Island of New Zealand. The next city north from Wellington.

Ranked No.10 - New Plymouth (80,679)

New Plymouth New Zealand

New Plymouth Population Size - 80,679

Quick Facts :

  • New Plymouth is known very well for its location. Incredibly close to both sea and mountain. 
  • In 1860 the Europeans and Maori went to war for nearly 10 years. The Europeans wanted to buy more and more of the Maori farmland. The Maoris wouldn't sell, stopping the sales of their land to the Europeans. This resulted in land confiscations by the British Government.
  • New Plymouth features an art workpiece called the "The Wind Wand" at an impressive 48m in length.

Information :

Botanical gardens and birdlife at Pukekura Park, The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery displaying modern exhibitions. Further south waterfalls and subalpine forests are to be enjoyed at Egmont National Park.

Pleasant views of Mount Taranaki can be appreciated from the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge.

Known For :

  • Pukekura Park (Botanical Gardens)
  • Art Galleries (Len Lye's Artwork of a 45m Wind Wand)
  • 11km Coastal Walkway alongside the Tasman Sea
  • Given the title "New Zealand's Oil Town"

New Plymouth Art Feature

"Len Lye's 45m Tall Wind Wand"

Where is it?

New Plymouth is a city on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Ranked No.11 - Rotorua (71,877)

Rotorua New Zealand

Rotorua Population Size - 71,877

Quick Facts :

  • One-third of the Rotorua population is Maori, the highest proportion in any New Zealand city.
  • Rotorua has over 35 Maraes and offers live Maori shows, the best place to experience Maori Culture.
  • The Rotorua region provides some of New Zealand's best fishing waters.

Information :

A city known for its Maori culture and geothermal activity. Bubbling mud pools and a 30m tall Pohutu Geysers which erupts frequently every day to enjoy at Te Puia's Whakarewarewa Valley.

Outdoor activities play a big part in the heart of Rotorua.

Zorbing an adventure that involves rolling down a hill in a large inflatable ball is the first of its kind in the whole world.

A mountain bike heaven, home to many extensive tracks in the Whakarewarewa Forest. A mountain bike park with Gondolas and luge riding included.

Rotorua is home to a living Maori Village as well as the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts institute which have traditional wood carvings and weaving schools.

Known For :

  • Natural Hot Springs
  • Maori Culture 
  • Mud Pools and 30m Tall Pohutu Geyser
  • Gondola and Luge
  • Mountain Biking
  • Plenty of Lakes and Rivers

Rotorua Geysers New Zealand

We can't get enough of this place!

Rotorua New Zealand North IslandWhere is it?

Rotorua is a city on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua from which the city takes its name, located in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand's North Island.

Ranked No.12 - Napier (63,741)

Napier New Zealand

Napier Population Size - 63,741

Quick Facts :

  • Napier and Hastings are within very close proximity of each other, so they often get called "The Twin Cities".
  • In 1931 Napier experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8. 
  • A German submarine, the U-862 arrived and departed undetected from the port of Napier in January 1945. Rumored that the crewmen were milking cows to supply their scarce rations.

Information :

Napier is located inside the wine-producing region of Hawke's Bay. This means really good wine is on offer.

The city has come a long way since its rebuild from the earthquake in 1931. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake killing 256 people from Napier, Hastings, and Wairoa. This is known as New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster. 

Napier is recognised for its art deco landmarks, featuring designs such as the zigzag patterned daily telegraph building.

On the Marine Parade is the 'Pania of the Reef', a symbolic statue showing a Maori Maiden. The statue had gone mysteriously missing in October 2005, however it was recovered a week later thankfully unharmed.

Known For :

  • Wine
  • 1930's Art Deco Architecture
  • New Zealand's Deadliest Earthquake in 1931
  • Pania of the Reef (Statue of Maori Mythology)
  • The National Aquarium of New Zealand

Napier Aquarium New Zealand

The National Aquarium of New Zealand above, the Daily Telegraph building below.

Napier Art Deco Building

Where is it?

Napier is a coastal city northeast of New Zealand's North Island. The city is set in the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke's Bay.

Ranked No.13 - Porirua (56,811)

Porirua New Zealand

Porirua Population Size - 56,811

Quick Facts :

  • In 1885 the railway line was formed linking Porirua to Wellington city.
  • The first McDonald's restaurant in Porirua opened on the 7th of June 1976.
  • Porirua began regularly holding horse racing events on the harbor's southern beach starting around 1883.

Information :

Porirua is one of the four cities that make up the Wellington metropolitan area.

Porirua almost completely surrounds the Porirua Harbour at the south end of the Kapiti Coast. At the eastern inlet of the harbor is the Pauatahanui Inlet which is known for its world-class estuarine values.

Known For :

  • New Zealand Police Museum
  • Porirua Harbour
  • Windsurfing + Jet Skiing

Where is it?

Porirua is a city in the Wellington Region on the North Island of New Zealand.

Ranked No.14 - Nelson (50,880)

Nelson New Zealand

Nelson Population Size - 50,880

Quick Facts :

  • Located in Nelson Lakes National Park is Blue Lake, holding the title for the world's clearest lake officially.
  • The only major city without a rail connection in New Zealand.
  • The oldest city in the South Island.

Information :

New Zealand's sunshine capital, Nelson is known for local arts, craft stores, art galleries, and annual art festival. 

Nelson is said to be the direct middle of New Zealand, at the top of the south island. Technically the direct centre is 35 kilometres south-west of Nelson but it is still very close.

Nelson is a very popular resting point for nearby caving ventures, vineyard visits, and trips to the Abel Tasman National Park.

The history of the city is showcased at the Founders Heritage Park. A worthy museum with a historical railway. 

Known For :

  • New Zealand's Sunshine Capital
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Outdoor Recreation (Tramping, Kayaking, Boat Charters, Swimming)
  • Golden Beaches & Bay
  • Arts and Crafts (Nelson Arts Festival)
  • Rabbit Island (small island across from the city)
  • Home to 11 Craft Breweries

Where is it?

Nelson is the most northern city in the South Island of New Zealand.

Summary :

Don't judge a town by its cover! I'm sure you were just as surprised to find the many hidden gems & awesome activities to experience throughout New Zealand.

Next time you are off for a Road Trip make sure to cross some of the above places off your list!

New Zealand Country Side

References;

Population data is from the 2018 Census NZ. It's important the numbers are accurate, the 2018 Census is the most recent validated record of population data. Consensus: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/2018-census-population-and-dwelling-counts

 

 


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