List of cities in New Zealand

Palmerston North
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 government in New Zealand was significantly reorganised. 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" is used in a general 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.

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

The populations given in the table below are provisional New Zealand resident populations, June 2016s,[2] and they refer to the entire urban area, unless otherwise stated.

Rank (population) Urban area Population Area
1 Auckland 1,495,000 1,086 1,376.6
Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand
2 Wellington 405,000 444 912.2 1.
Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand
3 Christchurch 389,700 608 641.0
Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island
4 Hamilton 230,000 877 262.3 2.
5 Tauranga 134,400 178 755.1
6 Napier-Hastings 131,000 375 349.3 3.
7 Dunedin 118,500 255 464.7
8 Palmerston North 84,300 178 473.6
9 Nelson 65,700 146 450.0
10 Rotorua 57,800 89 649.4
Rotorua from Mt. Ngongotaha
11 New Plymouth 56,800 112 507.1
12 Whangarei 56,400 133 424.1
13 Invercargill 50,700 123 412.2
Whanganui from Durie Hill
14 Whanganui 39,600 105 377.1
15 Gisborne 36,100 85 424.7


  1. Kapiti Urban Area (41,800) 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 193,600, the Cambridge urban zone is 19,600 and the Te Awamutu urban zone is 16,750.
  3. The population figures for the Hastings urban zone is 68,900, and for Napier 62,100.
  4. Blenheim (30,700) is rarely referred to as a city.
  5. Timaru (28,800) 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 29,800.
  7. Taupo (24,100) is rarely referred to as a city.
  8. Masterton (21,200), the main centre in the Wairarapa, is rarely referred to as a city.
  9. Levin (20,600), 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 13,700 residents.

City councils

Populations of present-day city (and Auckland) councils

The populations given are the latest (June 2016)[2] Statistics New Zealand estimated resident populations.

Rank (pop.) City council Population First proclaimed
1 Auckland 1,614,300 1871
2 Christchurch 375,000 1868
3 Wellington 207,900 1870
4 Hamilton 161,200 1936
5 Dunedin 127,000 1865
6 Tauranga 128,200 1963
7 Lower Hutt 103,400 1941
8 Palmerston North 86,300 1930
9 Napier 61,100 1950
10 Porirua 55,400 1965
11 Invercargill 54,700 1930
12 Nelson 50,600 1874
13 Upper Hutt 42,500 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 Whangarei, 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 that which did not change the name 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

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.

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

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


  1. "Local Government Act 2002, Schedule 3 part 16, Cities". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  2. 1 2 "Subnational Population Estimates: At 30 June 2016 (provisional)". Statistics New Zealand. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016. For urban areas, "Subnational population estimates (UA, AU), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996, 2001, 2006-16 (2017 boundary)". Statistics New Zealand. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  3. "Freedom from Crowding: Living Density Table 1". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 28 January 2010. (Areas are based on 2001 boundaries. Water bodies of areas greater than 15 hectares are excluded)


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