The Auckland urban area (as defined by Statistics New Zealand) ranges to Waiwera in the north, Kumeu in the northwest, and Runciman in the south. Auckland lies between the Hauraki Gulf of the Pacific Ocean to the east, the low Hunua Ranges to the south-east, the Manukau Harbour to the south-west, and the Waitakere Ranges and smaller ranges to the west and north-west. The surrounding hills are covered in rainforest and the landscape is dotted with dozens of dormant volcanic cones. The central part of the urban area occupies a narrow isthmus between the Manukau Harbour on the Tasman Sea and the Waitematā Harbour on the Pacific Ocean. Auckland is one of the few cities in the world to have a harbour on each of two separate major bodies of water.
The isthmus on which Auckland resides was first settled around 1350 and was valued for its rich and fertile land. The Māori population in the area is estimated to have peaked at 20,000 before the arrival of Europeans. After a British colony was established in 1840, William Hobson, then Governor of New Zealand, chose the area as his new capital. He named the area for George Eden, Earl of Auckland, British First Lord of the Admiralty. It was replaced as the capital in 1865 by Wellington, but immigration to the new city stayed strong, and it has remained the country's most populous urban area. Today, Auckland's central business district is the major financial centre of New Zealand.
Auckland is classified as a Beta + World City because of its importance in commerce, the arts, and education. The University of Auckland, established in 1883, is the largest university in New Zealand. Landmarks such as the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, the Harbour Bridge, the Sky Tower, and many museums, parks, restaurants, and theatres are among the city's significant tourist attractions. Auckland Airport handles around one million international passengers a month. Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Auckland is ranked third on the 2016 Mercer Quality of Living Survey, making it one of the most liveable cities.
The isthmus was settled by Māori circa 1350, and was valued for its rich and fertile land. Many pā (fortified villages) were created, mainly on the volcanic peaks. The Māori population in the area is estimated to have been about 20,000 before the arrival of Europeans. The introduction of firearms at the end of the eighteenth century, which began in Northland, upset the balance of power and led to devastating intertribal warfare beginning in 1807, causing iwi who lacked the new weapons to seek refuge in areas less exposed to coastal raids. As a result, the region had relatively low numbers of Māori when European settlement of New Zealand began. However, there is nothing to suggest that this was the result of a deliberate European policy. On 27 January 1832, Joseph Brooks Weller, eldest of the Weller brothers of Otago and Sydney, bought land including the site of the modern city of Auckland, the North Shore, and part of Rodney District for "one large cask of powder" from "Cohi Rangatira".
After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840, the new Governor of New Zealand, William Hobson, chose the area as his new capital and named it for George Eden, Earl of Auckland, then Viceroy of India. The land that Auckland was established on was given to the Governor by a local iwi, Ngāti Whātua, as a sign of goodwill and in the hope that the building of a city would attract commercial and political opportunities for iwi. Auckland was officially declared New Zealand's capital in 1841, and the transfer of the administration from Russell (now Old Russell) in the Bay of Islands was completed in 1842. However, even in 1840 Port Nicholson (later renamed Wellington) was seen as a better choice for an administrative capital because of its proximity to the South Island, and Wellington became the capital in 1865. After losing its status as capital, Auckland remained the principal city of the Auckland Province until the provincial system was abolished in 1876.