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 took on two meanings in New Zealand after the local government reforms of 1989. Before the reforms, a borough that had a population of 20,000 or more could be proclaimed a city.[1] 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 local government in New Zealand was significantly reorganised. Almost all the new district councils and city councils were much larger in land area, and they covered both urban land and the surrounding rural land. Many locations that once had a "city council" are now governed by a "district council". Since 2002 an urban area must have at least 50,000 residents to be proclaimed a city.[2]

The word city is used in a general sense to identify 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. Similarly, there is no "city council" in Auckland, though its status as a city is not generally disputed due to its size.

Listed below are the large urban areas referred to colloquially as "cities".

Urban areas by population[edit]

Urban areas based on 2018 standard[edit]

Statistics New Zealand creates standards for statistical geographic areas that are the basis for determining population figures. Statistics New Zealand announced in 2017 that the Statistical Standard for Geographic Areas 2018 (SSGA18) would replace the New Zealand Standard Areas Classification 1992 (NZSAC92). The change impacted Wellington most, by splitting it into four urban areas, being the Wellington city and Lower Hutt city "major urban areas" and Porirua and Upper Hutt "large urban areas". Wellington as defined by Statistics New Zealand approximately halved in size, and Lower Hutt entered the city rankings in sixth place between Tauranga and Dunedin.[3]

The table below contains all "major urban areas" (100,000 or more residents) and all "large urban areas" (30,000 to 99,999 residents).[4] The urban area that will next move from the "medium urban area" category to the "large urban area" category is Paraparaumu (30,400).

"Major" and "large" urban areas
Rank Urban area Population Area
density (per km²)
1 Auckland 1,440,300 607.10 2,372.8 Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand
2 Christchurch 377,900 295.15 1,280.4 Christchurch, the second largest city
3 Wellington 212,000 112.29 1,888.0 Wellington, the capital and third largest city
4 Hamilton 179,900 110.37 1,630.0 Hamilton
5 Tauranga 158,300 135.12 1,171.6 Tauranga
6 Lower Hutt 111,500 78.52 1,420.0 Lower Hutt
7 Dunedin 102,400 91.58 1,118.1 Dunedin
8 Palmerston North 81,200 76.92 1,055.6 Palmerston North
9 Napier 66,800 104.90 636.8 Napier
10 Porirua 60,200 60.96 987.5 Porirua
11 Hibiscus Coast 60,000 42.90 1,398.6 Gulf Harbour on the Hibiscus Coast
12 New Plymouth 58,500 75.49 774.9 New Plymouth
13 Rotorua 57,900 48.12 1,203.2 Rotorua
14 Whangārei 54,900 57.06 962.1 Looking westward towards central Whangārei from the Mount Parihaka lookout, with Te Matau A Pohe bridge and the suburb of Port Whangārei to the far left, the Discovery Settlers Hotel in the suburb of Regent to the far right, as well as Maungatapere and Te Tangihua in the background.
15 Nelson 50,800 54.33 935.0 Nelson
16 Hastings 50,400 24.42 2,063.9 Hastings
17 Invercargill 49,800 60.70 820.4 Invercargill
18 Upper Hutt 44,800 540.1 875.5 Upper Hutt
19 Whanganui 42,600 40.35 1,055.8 Whanganui
20 Gisborne 37,700 36.17 1,042.3 Gisborne

Functional urban areas (metropolitan areas)[edit]

Functional urban areas (FUAs) are geographic areas which represent the functional extent of major, large and medium urban areas, based on commuting patterns. Functional urban areas correspond to New Zealand's metropolitan areas.[6]

FUA populations are as at the 2018 Census.[6]

Rank Urban area Population Area
Urban areas included
1 Auckland 1,574,619 3,358.8 Auckland, Hibiscus Coast, Pukekohe, Beachlands-Pine Harbour, Clarks Beach, Helensville, Kumeu-Huapai, Maraetai, Muriwai, Parakai, Patumāhoe, Pōkeno, Riverhead, Tuakau, Waimauku, Waiuku
2 Christchurch 470,814 2,408.1 Christchurch, Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Rolleston, Diamond Harbour, Leeston, Lincoln, Lyttelton, Pegasus, Prebbleton, West Melton, Woodend
3 Wellington 414,033 1,754.9 Wellington, Lower Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Featherston, Greytown
4 Hamilton 198,957 1,412.7 Hamilton, Ngāruawāhia
5 Tauranga 156,096 790.2 Tauranga, Ōmokoroa
6 Dunedin 125,007 1,033.8 Dunedin, Mosgiel, Brighton, Waikouaiti
7 Palmerston North 92,004 978.2 Palmerston North, Ashhurst
8 Whangārei 84,117 1,433.7 Whangarei, Hikurangi, Ngunguru, One Tree Point, Ruakākā
9 Nelson 79,998 1,177.2 Nelson, Richmond, Brightwater, Hope, Māpua, Wakefield
10 New Plymouth 79,074 920.9 New Plymouth, Inglewood, Ōakura, Waitara
11 Hastings 75,255 1,160.4 Hastings, Havelock North, Clive
12 Rotorua 67,179 649.1 Rotorua, Ngongotahā
13 Napier 64,767 260.0 Napier
14 Invercargill 54,084 428.5 Invercargill
15 Kapiti Coast 46,683 317.4 Paraparaumu, Waikanae, Paekākāriki
16 Whanganui 44,403 598.1 Whanganui
17 Gisborne 39,447 612.8 Gisborne

City councils[edit]

Populations of present-day city (and Auckland) councils[edit]

The populations given are the latest (June 2018)[7] Statistics New Zealand estimated resident populations.

Rank City council Population First proclaimed
1 Auckland 1,618,400 1871
2 Christchurch 380,200 1868
3 Wellington 209,000 1870
4 Hamilton 165,900 1936
5 Tauranga 140,800 1963
6 Dunedin 130,500 1865
7 Lower Hutt 107,600 1941
8 Palmerston North 87,300 1930
9 Napier 64,100 1950
10 Porirua 58,200 1965
11 Invercargill 55,800 1930
12 Nelson 52,400 1874
13 Upper Hutt 45,300 1966

Many cities were reorganised into districts by the Local Government Commission in 1989 under the Local Government Act 1974, for example Timaru. Other urban areas that are no longer cities, such as Rotorua and Whangārei, have higher populations than some present cities. The most recently proclaimed city is Tauranga, which became a city, for the second time, from 1 March 2004. Christchurch (1862 and 1868) and Invercargill (1930 and 1991) have also 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] 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 under took reorganisations of local government. As a result, some cities were reorganised into other larger 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]


  1. ^ Crompton, Bryan David; Williamson, Herbert (1966). "Major types of local authorities in New Zealand". In McLintock, A.H. (ed.). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 July 2021 – via Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  2. ^ "Local Government Act 2002, Schedule 3 part 16, Cities". New Zealand Legislation. New Zealand Government. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  3. ^ Mitchell, Charlie (15 January 2020). "Christchurch is New Zealand's second city, deal with it". Stuff. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  4. ^ Statistical Standard for Geographic Areas 2018 (PDF). Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. 2017. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-98-852841-0. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Urban Rural 2018 (generalised) - GIS | New Zealand | GIS Map Data Datafinder Geospatial Statistics | Stats NZ Geographic Data Service". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Functional urban areas – methodology and classification | Stats NZ". Retrieved 18 November 2022.
  7. ^ "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2019". Statistics New Zealand. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2020. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006–18 (2017 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2018.


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

External links[edit]