Four things Sydney could learn from ‘the world’s most liveable city’: Auckland

Auckland's city centre as viewed from Maungawhau/Mount Eden. Photo: Christian Mehlführer/Wikimedia Commons, shared under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Gary Nunn has just returned from a trip to Auckland – recently named ‘the world’s most liveable city’ – and has some ideas about what the Harbour City can learn from the City of Sails.

Auckland is, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list released this month, currently the world’s most liveable city. It certainly raised some eyebrows. 

One reason cited is that New Zealand’s tough Covid-19 lockdowns allowed their society to re-open sooner than most other global cities. 

Some Kiwis themselves were bemused by the #1 ranking, though – pointing out that Auckland has some of the least affordable housing in the world, poor public transport and some of the worst traffic jams in the southern hemisphere. 

Having just returned from my first trip there (I took advantage of the travel bubble as soon as I could) I can see some of its charm.

Sometimes nicknamed ‘Sydney’s little sister’ or ‘mini Sydney’, there are some obvious comparisons between the two cities. 

Both have similar looking tourist towers (the Sydney Tower and Auckland’s Sky Tower), landmarks that characterise their city. Both have harbour bridges and islands you can be transported to by ferries for day trips. There are similar shops and a similar vibe. 

For example, after a few cocktails on Auckland’s buzzy Karangahape Road (K’ Road), I could’ve easily believed I was on King Street in Newtown. 

Auckland Harbour Bridge. Photo: Visit Auckland/Facebook.

Whilst I still prefer Sydney, I reckon it must become slightly tiresome for Aucklanders constantly being compared to our city. Especially with the reductive ‘mini’ prefix shoved in front. It’s a little condescending. With a population of more than 1.5 million, an emerging status as a global city and now this surprise word number one ranking, Auckland has matured into somewhere that can hold its own. 

With that in mind, I thought I’d flip the usual nickname and explore some of the things we can learn from our ‘baby sister’. This is done with the fresh eyes of a tourist who was thrilled to jump on a plane to any country in the world at all. So with the context of that generous perspective, here are four things Auckland could teach Sydney.

1. Friendliness

It was dark, I was down a small side street in a part of town in which I hadn’t been before, I was alone, hungry and feeling slightly vulnerable, but in that enlivening way when you’re somewhere new. There was a light drizzle and a chill in the air. Hardly anyone was around. I was looking on my phone for places nearby to eat. Suddenly a man emerged and looked at me, then at my phone. He started walking towards me. I looked away, hoping he would too, then glanced back only to see he’d locked eyes with me. His pace quickened. He was walking right up to me, now at speed. I quickly shoved my phone in my pocket. As he came within spitting distance, I got ready to run. Then he opened his mouth: “You look lost! Can I help?”

I’m not saying Sydneysiders aren’t friendly – they can be, when you break outside of the cliques! And, of course, everyone’s different – you can’t really categorise an entire city by one characteristic. 

But Auckland is the only place in the word, outside of Japan, where people have approached me asking if I needed directions or help finding somewhere.

That man pointed me in the direction of a restaurant with delicious food. It happened more than once, too.

Another time, a woman on Waiheke Island (just outside Auckland) offered to cook me dinner in her family home after I returned a bike I’d hired from her. We’d met for all of four minutes. There’s friendliness, then there’s Auckland hospitality. It really was next level.

2. Sense of adventure

Sure, in Sydney you can do the Sydney Tower Skywalk – a stroll outside near the top of the tower.

But at Auckland’s Sky Tower you can literally throw yourself off the edge of it in a bungee-style experience. Inspired by Beyoncé’s sanguine demeanour and pure joy after she did it in 2013, I decided to take the plunge and base-jump by wire off the tallest structure in New Zealand.

Beyoncé jumped 192 metres off Auckland’s Sy Tower in 2013. Video: Beyoncé/YouTube.

I looked slightly less joyfully serene than Beyoncé but my jump – on day one in Auckland – really set the tone for my trip in a country dubbed the world’s adventure capital.

From zip-lining on Waiheke Island to stunning, world-class mountain bike ranges a few hours north or south of the city, Auckland made me long for Sydney to up the adrenaline stakes a bit.   

Gary Nunn, moments before unleashing his inner Beyoncé. Photo; supplied.

3. Integration of Indigenous culture 

From your first “kia ora”, you notice Māori culture is integrated way more deeply in New Zealand than Aboriginal culture is here. Partly it’s because there’s one Māori language across New Zealand, as opposed to more than 250 Aboriginal languages and more than 800 dialects here. Māori translations are everywhere, putting the nation’s Indigenous culture front and centre in every major institution. 

From billboards advertising cabaret shows to libraries prioritising Māori works, the culture just felt more visible to me than Aboriginal culture does here. There are lessons we could take from that seamless integration. 

4. E-scooters

I whizzed around the city on these every day – they’re fun, quick, super convenient and a smart way to help combat climate change. 

In a bewildering explanation of why NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance abandoned a NSW e-scooter trial, he said he “wasn’t in the mood”.

It seems no coincidence to me that Adelaide and Brisbane – which also have e-scooters – made the Top 10 of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most liveable cities, unlike Sydney. It’s time we became more visionary about personal or rented electric mobility transport options.

Auckland is the Dannii to Sydney’s Kylie: when the underdog shines, she can knock you out of the top ten altogether. 

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @garynunn1.