Key Points:

All of the major centres in New Zealand are said to have a distinct flavour of their own, but a survey released today has revealed which one offers the best lifestyle of all.

And the city that came out on top is renowned for its university, medical school and historic buildings.

Dunedin has been ranked the top place to live in New Zealand.

And the news hasn't been good for the northern centres.

A survey by the ASB Bank ranked Dunedin - the country's eighth-largest city - as the best city community ahead of Rodney District, north of Auckland, and Wellington.

On the bottom of the ranking was Waitakere City although it was a close run with adjacent Auckland.

The survey looked at several aspects which made people feel comfortable and happy living in the area.

They included:

* The sense of community in local neighbourhood;

* Feeling of trust;

* Availability of support;

* Frequency of feeling lonely or isolated;

* Contact with neighbours;

* Culturally rich and diverse arts scene;

* Sense of pride in the way their city looks and feels;

* Rating of graffiti, vandalism and litter as a problem;

Stephen Hart, the author of the report, said Dunedin was a clear winner after finishing in the top four rankings in seven of the eight categories.

He said all towns and cities "have their own sense of community or a collective sense of belonging, pride, culture and co-operation that stems from the people.

"Some cities seem to have a friendly, trusting atmosphere about them that lifts their residents and makes them proud of where they live," he said.

"Others have a colder formality and distance that affects how locals mix and socialise together."

The survey did not cover every city in New Zealand but included 56 per cent of the population and used data from the current Quality of Life Survey which examined peoples' perceptions of their own wellbeing.

The rankings from one to 12 were:

* Dunedin 650 points

* Rodney District 555 points

* Wellington 545 points

* Porirua 455 points

* Hutt City 440 points

* Tauranga 390 points

* Christchurch 375 points

* Hamilton 310 points

* North Shore 295 points

* Manukau 195 points

* Auckland 125 points

* Waitakere 120 points

Most Dunedin people felt there was someone they could turn to for help or support and although the city was near the bottom of the South Island residents did not feel isolated, Mr Hart said.

Dunedin people were also "a trusting bunch". The arts made a strong contribution to community strength and identity with Dunedin's culturally rich and diverse arts scene.

A majority of Dunedin people surveyed (72 per cent) had a sense of pride about how their city looked.

They also experienced positive contact with neighbours and more than half felt a sense of community spirit but also felt graffiti was a problem.

Dunedin achieved 650 out of a possible 800 points.