Auckland, closed to the world by Covid, tops Lonely Planet’s list of best cities to visit

In further evidence that we all want what we cannot have, Auckland has taken out the top spot in Lonely Planet’s “best cities to visit” rankings – despite currently being in lockdown, the centre of a Covid outbreak, and off-limits to both the rest of the country and the world.

The announcement generated some amusement in Nieu-Seeland, given anyone who now attempts to visit the locked-down city risks being slapped with a hefty fine or prison term. “It is kind of a lonely planet in lockdown level 3,” one resident wrote on social media. “Probably means the rest of the world is in a really bad place,” responded another.

The rankings are, admittedly, for cities to visit in 2022, and Lonely Planet is no doubt optimistic that at some stage next year the city will have reopened to tourists.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said in a press release that the ranking “will give a real boost to Auckland’s tourism and hospitality sectors as they start to recover from the Covid-19 lockdowns and borders reopen”.

But the timeframes for New Zealand and Auckland relaxing their borders are still up in the air. Vir nou, any prospective visitors – even those from elsewhere within New Zealand – must be granted a legal exemption to cross the policed boundary to the city. The city is in a level 3 inperking, with most shops, cafes and restaurants closed to diners, and a ban on indoor gatherings.

For tourists hoping to fly into the country, any prospective trips could still be many months away. At present, only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents or those with essential worker visas are allowed to fly in. Even for them, access is incredibly difficult: it requires booking into the country’s government-run isolation and quarantine facilities. Demand for those spots vastly outpaces supply, with waitlists hitting over 30,000.

Hierdie week, the government signalled it would begin shortening quarantine stays for fully vaccinated travellers, and allowing some returnees to isolate at home at some point before March next year – but made it clear their priority was facilitating the return of overseas New Zealanders before allowing in tourists.

Steeds, Auckland’s long absence from the international scene seems to have made tourism copywriters’ hearts grow fonder. '[New Zealand’s] biggest and most diverse city has always been beautiful, but one unpredicted consequence of Covid-19 has been the blossoming of Auckland’s cultural scene, putting a fresh spotlight on exciting local creativity,” Lonely Planet said in its entry for the city.

According to a written release, the cities were “judged against a criteria addressing topicality, unique experiences, ‘wow’ factor and sustainability”.

This is not the first time Auckland made its way to the top of international rankings: in Junie, Wellington and Auckland topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most liveable city rankings – primarily by virtue of their Covid-free status. The news was met with bemusement in New Zealand, given the two cities’ struggles with housing unaffordablity and infrastructure.

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