By Kennedy Warne

It takes 12 minutes to walk across Auckland at its narrowest point.

Let me elaborate.

The North Island of New Zealand, of which Auckland is the largest city, looks like a fish with its head pointing south. At roughly the base of the fish’s tail, two decent-size bites have been taken out of each flank, leaving two harbors.

Central Auckland fills the isthmus in between.

Maori dragged their canoes across the isthmus here, on what is now known as Portage Road. At an intersection, a weathered plaque informs passersby that this half-mile connection “must be surely the shortest road between two seas anywhere in the world.”

There’s a volcano nearby, and I climb it. Auckland is a city of volcanoes. Fifty of them lie within a 12-mile radius of downtown. They have been erupting for a quarter of a million years. The most recent—and the biggest—was Rangitoto, an island on Auckland’s front doorstep. The volcanoes blew up, and then they went extinct. Not one of them has erupted twice, but the magma field beneath the city is still alive. Between a hundred and a thousand years from now, say the volcanologists, it will give fiery birth again.

Auckland is also a city of water, overseen by Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea. (Photograph by Jenny & Tony Enderby/Getty Images)
Auckland is also a city of water, overseen by Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea. (Photograph by Jenny & Tony Enderby/Getty Images)

Fourteen of the city’s volcanic cones have been returned to Maori ownership. I’m not Maori, but it matters to me that the people of the land have been given back their ancestral peaks. Maori named and knew all these volcanoes. They terraced them for gardens, built redoubts on them, fought bloody battles to defend them. When they recount the history of Auckland (which they know as Tamaki Makaurau—Tamaki of a hundred lovers), their words (Read more...)

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