Auckland Lonely Planet’s number one city as guide returns from hiatus

Auckland is the number one city to visit in 2022 according to publishers Lonely Planet.

Tāmaki Makaurau was singled out by the Best in Travel list for its diversity in landscape and population, saying the Kiwi city has what international tourists are looking for in the year ahead.

Absence clearly makes the heart grow fonder. Almost 600 days after New Zealand closed its borders to international tourists, the city is being championed as the top destination for post-pandemic travel.

“Auckland doesn’t necessarily realise what it has,” says the publisher’s senior director trade sale and marketing, Chris  Zeiher.

“It’s not just about that little patch in the CBD,” he says. “Travellers are rewarded for going a little bit further afield.”

Conservation islands such as Tiritiri Matangi and Peter Gordon’s Māori kai and Pacific food school Homeland are named as uniquely Auckland experiences but also sustainable destinations that any city would be lucky to have.

Having put all his eggs in one basket, closing his London restaurants to move permanently to Auckland in 2019, chef Peter Gordon was thrilled to be mentioned.

“I’m just all loved up with Auckland and the way we’ve navigated the pandemic,” he said.

“Even though Auckland has taken a hit at the moment, we will get out of it and it will be great to be in the world’s coolest city.”

The city’s outdoor spaces, variety of activities and Covid response has provided a beacon of hope for tourists planning their return to international travel.

Gavin Oliver of Waiheke Island Tourism and the city’s regional tourism forum said it was a “precious piece of good news” for the whole city, not just downtown.

“The Hauraki Gulf is extremely diverse,” he said. “You have world-class restaurants, beaches and wine regions within easy reach of the city.”

Whether that’s a 35-minute ferry ride to Waiheke or a drive north to Kumeū, Oliver says Auckland’s accessibility to these regions is something that other world cities can only dream of.

The eyes of the world have been on Auckland particularly during the America’s Cup, record-breaking concerts in Eden Park and in the run up to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2022.

Nick Hill, CEO of Auckland Unlimited, described the Best City title as “a real shot in the arm and informs our plans for welcoming visitors back from elsewhere in the world”.

The return of international visitors might still be some way off but the more immediate value might be a change in how Kiwis see the city.

“There’s no doubt that Auckland has been damaged by local Covid restrictions and we have a lot of work to do to get the rest of the country to visit,” Hill said.

Mayor Phil Goff said it was “tremendously good news” and hoped the international attention would help New Zealanders see the supercity in a new light.

“Auckland is hugely underrated by the rest of New Zealand,” says Goff.

“Pre-Covid we contributed one-third of the tourism sector’s GDP and employed 69,000 workers in hospitality.”

As the home to the world’s largest Māori and Pasifika populations, the Lonely Planet guide describes the Polynesian influence as being at the centre of Auckland’s “blossoming cultural scene”.

Given the Cook Islands were also named as the Lonely Planet’s number one country to visit in 2022, the guides have high expectations for the region.

Auckland’s strong cultural and travel links with Rarotonga are likely to put both destinations on the radar for international travellers.

As a destination rarely visited by tourists outside of Australia or New Zealand, Graeme West, regional GM of Cook Islands Tourism, said they were “extremely happy” to learn of the news.

Across the Ditch, the Scenic Rim in Queensland’s subtropical hinterland made the top 10 Regions for 2022.

After taking a year out from their Best in Travel list in 2021, Lonely Planet put special emphasis on this new list.

In their 17th year, the prestigious awards take into account the reviews of Lonely Planet writers in more than 221 countries, before being compiled by an independent panel of judges.

Auckland last appeared in the list eight years ago but never the top spot.

The entry praises Auckland’s “homegrown swagger”, developed during the city’s “much-vaunted pandemic response”.

The recognition is bittersweet for Aucklanders, who have been under regional Covid restrictions since August 18.

Lonely Planet acknowledged they were aware of the danger of how quickly guides date, particularly in these times.

“We’re moving to using a lot more local authors,” said Zeiher. “They know their backyard the best.”

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2022 is available to order from today.

Lonely Planet's top five in Auckland

1. A day at Piha and the West Coast black sand beaches.
2. Head into the Hauraki islands to spot takahē on Tiritiri Matangi or taste wine on Waiheke.
3. A stroll around the Auckland Museum and Domain.
4. See the cutting edge of the city’s culture at Auckland Art Gallery.
5. Maungawhau or Rangitoto, take in a city view from one of the 53 volcanic cones.

Lonely Planet's top 10s for 2022

Top 10 cities

1. Auckland, New Zealand
2. Taipei, Taiwan
3. Freiburg, Germany
4. Atlanta, USA
5. Lagos, Nigeria
6. Nicosia/Lefkosia, Cyprus
7. Dublin, Ireland
8. Merida, Mexico
9. Florence, Italy
10. Gyeongju, South Korea

Top 10 countries

1. Cook Islands
2. Norway
3. Mauritius
4. Belize
5. Slovenia
6. Anguilla
7. Oman
8. Nepal
9. Malawi
10. Egypt

Top 10 regions

1. Westfjords, Iceland
2. West Virginia, USA
3. Xishuangbanna, China
4. Kent’s Heritage Coast, UK
5. Puerto Rico
6. Shikoku, Japan
7. Atacama Desert, Chile
8. The Scenic Rim, Australia
9. Vancouver Island, Canada
10. Burgundy, France

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