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Auckland

Auckland, known as the City of Sails, is as big, as cosmopolitan, as hedonistic, as subtropical, and as congested as any New Zealand city gets. If you're starting here, you're starting at the top. And if you haven't visited Auckland in the last 5 years, you're in for a major surprise -- it has slipped into a new stylish skin that is leaving the rest of New Zealand in its wake.

Along with its much-touted 48 dead volcanoes, Auckland is home to more than 1.3 million people. It has the largest Polynesian population in the world; more boats per capita than any other city; 22 regional parks covering 37,038 hectares (91,484 acres); 50 islands; and more than 500km (310 miles) of walking and hiking tracks. It also has the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, which attracts the most lightning, and if a daily shower is no longer enough, Auckland, surrounded on all sides by water, offers more ways of getting wet than just about anywhere.

This is our baby Sydney, and most of us are proud of it. It's a luscious, leafy city, and there's a contagious energy about this sprawling, show-off place. The injection of billions of dollars into the 1999-2000 and the 2002-03 America's Cup preparations and other international events polished Auckland's public face to gleaming.

Europeans arrived in Auckland in 1839, and the thriving area served as the nation's first capital until 1864, when the seat of government was transferred to Wellington because of its central location. Auckland, though, is still a capital place to visit. It isn't typical of New Zealand any more than New York and Los Angeles are typical of the United States, or Sydney is typical of Australia, but it does have a huge amount to offer.

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