The first time I visited New Zealand, the beauty of the Auckland area took my breath away as my flight from Sydney began to descend. The colors seemed brighter than anywhere else in the world, the air clearer. Unfortunately, the city itself left me less that impressed.
Christchurch, by contrast, didn’t strike me as especially beautiful, neither when I passed through there on my way to the wilder reaches of the South Island, nor when I came back to properly explore it afterwards. Yet the culture and character of the city slowly but surely won me over.
Obviously, you should visit both of these cities if you get a chance. If you can’t, however, here’s how to decide between them.
Auckland and Christchurch: Fast Facts
Before we compare Auckland vs Christchurch in more detail, we should look at them more zoomed out. Auckland (which is on New Zealand’s North Island) is the largest city in New Zealand as a whole, while Christchurch is simply the largest city in the South Island. Neither of these cities are New Zealand’s capital; that honor belong to Wellington (on the North Island, but just across from the South Island).
Both Auckland and Christchurch have international airports with flights to many destinations overseas, but the vast majority of tourists arrive in Auckland. This because with few exceptions, the only international flights to Christchurch and from Australia, and from limited other destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. On the other hand, Christchurch is usually the first place you visit when you travel from the North Island to the South.
Ways to Compare Christchurch and Auckland
Auckland is a larger city than Christchurch in terms of population, with a million and a half to Christchurch’s 300,000-and-some-change. However, Christchurch actually covers a slightly larger land area, which seems strange to me because Auckland does seem very sprawling.
Another way to compare Christchurch vs Auckland is the city’s neighborhoods. Apart from Downtown, the main place you’ll want to be in Auckland is Mt. Eden Village, which sits just below the summit of the same name. In Christchurch, meanwhile, I actually really love the CBD, although hillside Cashmere is also very inviting.
Auckland has New Zealand’s most recognizable skyline, but if I’m honest there’s not a whole lot to do in the city center besides admire or go up in the Sky Tower. Christchurch, on the other hand, is home to quirky attractions like the Cardboard Cathedral and the colorful houses of New Regent Street.
Landscape and climate
Neither Auckland nor Christchurch is unseasonably hot or cold, although Auckland is slightly less frigid in winter and more humid in the summer. In terms of landscape, both are coastal cities. However, while Auckland sits at the tip of the green, lush North Island, Christchurch is a vantage point for the towering Southern Alps (on a clear day).
My favorite day trip from Auckland is probably to Waiheke, a winery-filled island a short boat trip from Auckland’s main ferry terminal. From Christchurch, meanwhile, the most popular day trips are the whale watching hub of Kaikoura, and Castle Rock viewpoint, accessible via the Christchurch Gondola.
North Island vs South Island
When comparing Auckland and Christchurch, it’s impossible not to be draw into a broader discussion. I’m talking, of course, about the merits of the North and South Islands where they sit. Interestingly, while I think the winner of this contest is pretty clear-cut—I prefer the South Island, for its sublime natural beauty, as well as the fact that it’s very sparsely inhabited—I’ve met many people who prefer the North.
As is the case when choosing Christchurch or Auckland, deciding between the North and South island is a matter or preference. Do you want to spend your time somewhere more convenient and populous, even if it means the nature you see is more muted and understated? Or are you willing to drive for hours, often through the middle of nowhere, to experience beauty you you won’t find anywhere else?
Other Christchurch and Auckland FAQ
Is Auckland warmer than Christchurch?
Being farther north (which is to say closer to the equator), Auckland has a milder climate on a whole-year basis than Christchurch. However, two things are worth noting. The first is that neither city is tropical; both can get very cold in the winter. Likewise, Christchurch can be downright hot during the summer, in spite of being closer to the South Pole than Auckland.
How big is Auckland compared to Christchurch?
Auckland is home to 1.65 million people as of August 2021, and covers 419 square miles. Christchurch, on the island hand, occupies 551 square miles, but is home to just 381,500 people.
Which is the best place to live in NZ?
If I had to choose between living in cosmopolitan, convenient Auckland or quirky, eclectic Christchurch, I would definitely choose the latter. However, many expats (and indeed New Zealanders) prefer Wellington, whose beautiful location and dynamic urban life seems to straddle the best of both Auckland’s and Christchurch’s world.
The Bottom Line
My opinion on Auckland vs Christchurch is somewhat nuanced. If I were to live in New Zealand, I would choose Christchurch hands down—it just feels better! However, there’s something to be said about Auckland’s convenience, as well as its connectivity. There really isn’t a better New Zealand crash pad, at least not if you’re come from far afield. Now, this post may seem superfluous if you’re reading it in 2021 or even early 2022, when New Zealand’s border is likely to remain closed to most outsiders. However, I hope that it will be relevant to you at some point—and that when the time comes, you’ll consider hiring me to plan your New Zealand adventure.