List of cities in New Zealand

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List of cities in New Zealand is located in New Zealand
Palmerston North
Palmerston North
New Plymouth
New Plymouth
Map showing locations of urban areas in New Zealand

The word "city" began to take on two meanings in New Zealand after the local government reforms of 1989. Before the reforms, a borough council with more than 20,000 people could be proclaimed a city. The boundaries of councils tended to follow the edge of the built-up area, so there was little difference between the urban area and the local government area.

In 1989, the structure of the local governments in New Zealand was significantly reorganized. The new district councils and city councils were nearly always much larger geographically, and they covered both urban land and the surrounding rural land. Many locations that once had had a "city council" are now governed by a "district council".

The word "city" began to be used in a less formal sense to describe the urban areas of New Zealand, independent of local body boundaries. This informal usage is jealously guarded. The district government of the town of Gisborne, for example, adamantly described itself as the first "city" in the world to see the new millennium. However, Gisborne is governed by a "district council", though its status as a city is not generally disputed in New Zealand.[citation needed]

Today an urban area has to be at least 50,000 residents before it can be proclaimed as a city.[1]

Urban areas by population[edit]

The populations given in the table below are provisional New Zealand resident populations, June 2015 estimates,[2] and they refer to the entire urban area, unless otherwise stated.

Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand
Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand
Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island
Panorama of Dunedin
Rotorua from Mt. Ngongotaha
Whanganui from Durie Hill
Rank (population) Urban area Population Area
1 Auckland 1,454,300 1,086 1,339.1
2 Wellington 398,300 444 897.1 1.
3 Christchurch 381,800 608 628.0
4 Hamilton 224,000 877 255.4 2.
5 Tauranga 130,800 178 734.8
6 Napier-Hastings 129,700 375 345.9 3.
7 Dunedin 117,400 255 460.4
8 Palmerston North 83,500 178 469.1
9 Nelson 64,800 146 443.8
10 Rotorua 56,800 89 638.2
11 New Plymouth 56,300 112 502.7
12 Whangarei 55,400 133 416.5
13 Invercargill 50,300 123 408.9
14 Whanganui (Wanganui) 39,400 105 375.2
15 Gisborne 35,700 85 420.0


  1. Kapiti urban area (41,300) is the only Statistics New Zealand main urban area not listed. It spans the towns of Otaki, Paekakariki, Paraparaumu, Raumati and Waikanae, and is not considered to be a city. It is part of the Greater Wellington Regional Council's area – though listed separately by Statistics New Zealand. Hundreds of people there commute daily to Wellington for work, and the suburban commuter rail network serves the Kapiti area. If Kapiti were added to Wellington the total population of the Wellington urban area would be approximately 440,000.
  2. The population for the Hamilton urban zone is 188,400, the Cambridge urban zone is 19,200 and the Te Awamutu urban zone is 16,450.
  3. The population figures for the Hastings urban zone is 68,200, and for Napier 61,500.
  4. Blenheim (30,600) is sometimes referred to as a city, especially by locals, although its former borough council was never proclaimed a city.
  5. Timaru (28,500) once had a city council, but is now administered by a district council. It is classified as a secondary urban area by Statistics New Zealand. It is still considered a city and the principal centre of South Canterbury. Road signs state "city centre" rather than "town centre".
  6. Pukekohe, a town not far south of Auckland, has an estimated population of 29,000.
  7. Taupo (23,700) is rarely referred to as a city.
  8. Masterton (21,000), the main centre in the Wairarapa, is rarely referred to as a city.
  9. Levin (20,300), the main centre in the Horowhenua district, is not considered to be a city.
  10. Tokoroa was long expected to become a city when its population continued to grow past 18,000 during the 1980s. However, with the fallback in the forestry industry, Tokoroa's main industry, many jobs were lost and Tokoroa's population declined. It now has 13,600 residents.

City councils[edit]

Populations of present-day councils[edit]

The populations given are the latest (June 2015 estimate)[2] Statistics New Zealand estimated resident populations.

Rank (pop.) City council Population First proclaimed
1 Auckland 1,570,500 1871
2 Christchurch 367,800 1868
3 Wellington 203,800 1870
4 Hamilton 156,800 1936
5 Dunedin 125,800 1865
6 Tauranga 124,600 1963
7 Lower Hutt 102,000 1941
8 Palmerston North 85,500 1930
9 Napier 60,400 1950
10 Porirua 54,500 1965
11 Invercargill 54,200 1930
12 Nelson 49,900 1874
13 Upper Hutt 42,000 1966

Many cities were reorganised into districts by the Local Government Commission in 1989 under the Local Government Act 1974, for example, Timaru. The most recently proclaimed city is Tauranga, which became a city, for the second time, from 1 March 2004. Another former city is Rotorua. Some present cities, such as Christchurch (1862 and 1868) and Invercargill (1930 and 1991), have been declared cities more than once.

Under Section 27 of the Local Government Act 2002, a district may become a city by either a "reorganisation scheme" with the Local Government Commission, or under Section 27(1) it may apply for a change in status under Schedule 3, Clause 7. The new city must have "a population of not less than 50,000 persons", be "predominantly urban" and "a distinct entity and a major centre of activity within the region" (or regions) that it is encompassed by. Existing cities are grandfathered under Schedule 2, Part 2 of the Act. The only new city council so far under this section is the Tauranga City Council, from 1 March 2004.

Previously, under Section 37L of the Local Government Act 1974, new cities could only be formed from a "reorganisation scheme". The same criteria were used. The last city to be constituted under this section was Invercargill, which was re-reorganised into a city in 1991.

In 1991 the Lower Hutt City Council became the Hutt City Council by a special Act of Parliament [1] that which did not change the name [2] of the city of Lower Hutt; the city's coat of arms still refers to the "City of Lower Hutt".

Cities during provincialism, 1852 to 1876[edit]

During provincialism in New Zealand, from 1852 until abolition in 1876, there was no uniform system of local authorities in New Zealand. There is thus some argument over which of the following cities was the first.

  • Nelson (1858, by Letters Patent)
  • Christchurch (November 1862, revoked June 1868, both by provincial ordinance, and restored October 1868 by Act of Parliament)
  • Otago (later Dunedin) (July 1865)

The Municipal Corporations Act 1876 included the first schedule of cities, with the dates they were constituted. Dunedin was the first city in New Zealand to be described in an Act of Parliament as 'City of...', something now automatic under the Local Government Act 2002.

Cities, 1877 to 1989[edit]

Up to October 1989, the Local Government Commission undertook reorganisations of local government. As a result, some cities were reorganised into other cities or changed to districts, and some of these areas are still considered cities by many New Zealanders. This is a list as at circa 1986.

See also[edit]



  • Gordon McLauchlan (Editor), Illustrated Encyclopedia of New Zealand, The, Auckland: David Bateman, 1989 (second edition) (ISBN 1-86953-007-1) - confirmation, pre-1989 dates

External links[edit]