Auckland has come a long way in recent years when it comes to the city and waterfront more interesting and people oriented. This was highlighted beautifully on the weekend as tens of thousands every day flocked to the waterfront to celebrate Auckland’s 175th birthday. From Captain Cook Wharf through to the Wynyard Quarter the place was buzzing with people once again proving that people respond when we make spaces for people.

Queen St Temporary Space - Ludo
Photo from Ludo Campbell-Reid

And it isn’t just Aucklanders noticing the redevelopment of the city. This piece a week ago titled Revamped Auckland waterfront inspires from The Press in Christchurch highlights the transformation that Auckland is making:

The girl sits inside what looks like a ventilation shaft, her very own stainless-steel cocoon, legs dangling over the side. Families with pushchairs, a woman walking her dog, cyclists, tourists, and locals stroll past. All look relaxed and carefree.

As they wander the length of the old pier, there’s plenty to grab their attention: Colourful metal cylinders, sculptures shaped like crabs, fish, whales, octopuses, and seahorses. Children splash through a pool underneath a gigantic metal sculpture that looks like it could be an intergalactic TV aerial. Teenagers shoot basketball hoops. Shoppers browse through treasures in market stalls.

Shipping containers have been turned into information booths; old warehouses have become restaurants and cafes. We join the throng for a leisurely and surprisingly affordable lunch.

Welcome to the Wynyard Quarter, part of Auckland’s burgeoning transformation of its previously neglected waterfront. Starting in 2011, this bold and imaginative, development has proved hugely successful. If you are heading to the City of Sails, go – you’ll love it.

We didn’t find getting around Auckland without a car too hard. We stayed on the North Shore. To reach the Wynyard Quarter, we used the Northern Express, a bus service that has is own motorway lane and bus stations. It couldn’t have been easier. We found Aucklanders more courteous to pedestrians than Christchurch drivers.

Public transportation makes a mockery of the calls for more car-parking in Christchurch. Without car parks, the city will fail, say those with a vested interest in developing their central city private businesses – for which they would love a dollop of public money.

Go to other cities and you won’t find car-parking easy either. If you can, you take the bus or train – or bike – instead.

Future cities will be nothing like the old ones. We need to be more flexible, and if that means tweaking or even radically changing former plans, let’s get on with it.

Hell even the few comments are fairly positive and it’s not like Cantabrians are known for their positive views on Auckland. This one in particular is good.

Wynyard Quarter is an amazing place to visit. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been revising my long held opinion of Auckland as a bleak soulless wasteland. Auckland’s inner city is now full of vibrancy and character again.

Wynyard Busy
North Wharf was certainly busy with people enjoying the space

What’s often forgotten is that some of the city’s most impressive transformations have only really been completed for less than 5 years. This includes Wynyard Quarter, the shared spaces and much of the Britomart Precinct.

And then there was this fantastic piece from Jack Tame in the Herald a few days ago:

Imagine describing Auckland to a foreigner who’d never heard her name. A sub-tropical climate with 1.5 million people; suburbs freckled by volcanic nipples, each so perfectly coned and green you’d swear it was just clever landscaping; a city with two impressive harbours, two impressive and different coasts; a city where rich, poor, suburban or central, most people are only ever a few minutes from the sea.

You’d likely explain to your foreign friend that Auckland is the Pacific capital, a city rich with Maori and Polynesian culture. There may be more Pacific Island people here than in all the islands combined and the blend and diversity of Aucklanders is unlike anywhere else on Earth.

We’re spoilt. Auckland is an almighty playground, geographic and cultural. But as the city flourishes and booms it will take planning not to balls it all up. Our city must intensify. It’s unsustainable to sprawl our way to Hamilton, and naive to think that every Aucklander needs to live on a quarter-acre block.

We’re making progress. Britomart and Wynyard Quarter are perfect examples of good public space and will always be embraced.

But high-quality, high-density living options and public transport are essential in ensuring Auckland remains a great place to live.

I’ve long said that Auckland has one of the best natural settings in the world, one that many cities could only dream about. If we can continue down the path we’re on we have a chance to make our urban environment just as wonderful.

Share this


  1. Yup. The transformations that we’ve long championed as desirable and necessary are no longer just underway but now have real momentum.

    I predict that they will accelerate from here as Auckland, and New Zealand culture generally, has a habit of resisting change stubbornly until we suddenly click and go all out in another direction. Often with abrupt haste. Whether it’s jumping from an over regulated ‘Polish-shipyard’ economy to the other extreme of reckless under-regulation, or more happily the history of café culture.

    Sadly I am old enough to remember when it was literally impossible to buy a drinkable coffee or in fact anything other than British tea or vile beer anywhere in Auckland [or NZ], there was literally nowhere to do so. All there was was barricaded pubs or net-curtained tea-rooms. Both serving the undrinkable to the miserable in charm-free prison-like rooms. Always an air of of violence in the pubs, and disappointment in the tea-rooms.

    Something happened, and now while we love to complain about an over frequency of cafés, the choice of places of ways to eat, drink, and socialise, and the quality of what is offered is really world standard. The quality of our coffee roasting and brewing now means that a trip to Italy or France, while fantastic for many other reasons, will leave the average discerning kiwi extremely surprised at the poor standard of the coffee, and often at the insipid fruit-less wine [at reasonable price points]. This is an unimaginable state of affairs from say 1980.

    My point here is not to bang on about cafés but rather our capacity for change, often quite sudden, 180 degree, and permanent change. Sometimes for the better sometimes not. In my view we are doing it again with the urban realm, with public transport, with cycling, and we’ve only just begun…. Already I noticed a change in the complaints of those who used to ridicule what we advocate for Auckland; now the compliant is not ‘that’ll never work’, but ‘where’s our service’. We’re on a roll.

    Generally Kiwis are adaptable and open minded and when they see a good thing, will get behind it. There are always a few who will fight to stop change to the last, but even they have a role to play in improving the quality of the proposition.


    1. I hope you’re right, Patrick. It sometimes seems Auckland has sooooo far to go – I was there in last weekend, although I was impressed by the numbers of cyclists in some parts of the city. Down here in Hamilton we’re really getting our act together with cycle lanes too, just in time for the invasion of Aucklanders priced out of the property market! 🙂

      1. Hamilton, like Christchurch and Palmy, are absolute sitters for huge cycling cultures- all three should leave Auckland way behind in this- flat, with so much road space just waiting to be liberated, all with important education institutions that drive higher cycling mode-share. Little in the way of space or cost barriers, just the old mindset to overcome at the institutional and political levels.

        However Auckland has the weight of numbers and intensity for a world-class Transit system, which I’m confident we are on the way to getting: New Bus Network, CRL, LRT, Ferries. Cycling too and of course the quality pedestrian amenity that all these Transit users need, but high class PT is at the heart of the Auckland project: It’s the necessary pre-condition, and happily AC, AT, and NZTA are doing a lot right to that end.

  2. More key corridors designed with a people focus. True multi – modal capable a whole network for protected cycle, and free flow bus. A public PT fleet that maximises capacity, with constant fleet upgrades, say 20% income locked in for that. Family passes weekend down from $24 to $10 and includes buses. $10 day pass adult, school kids 25%, all other students 50%. And a thank you to the canterbury writer and a confirmation that inner city carparking is the last thing you want for Christchurch a move away from the nightmare and create a dream of what you want, not what a car wants. Do all designs based on an ultimate mode share like Copenhagen and better outcomes will follow immediately.

  3. Brilliant. Thankfully not old enough to remember the tea rooms, but it does seem as if Aucklanders in general and the younger generation specifically are impatient for positive change in this city. Although I’m not involved in the transport planning an urban design industries, I will always hold a stake in the future of this wonderful city. I was born at the old St. Helen’s Hospital and grew up around the rural north-west and the inner city suburbs. It was only after I returned from overseas two years ago that I realised what a special confluence of natural, cultural and human assets this city possesses. Since then I’ve observed the city develop, often in leaps and bounds, sometimes reluctantly, and never without a strong debate, but overall mostly for the better. I can’t wait to see what the future brings now that we can almost observe that tipping point in general awareness around modern urban issues. As you said: ‘onward’.

    1. “It was only after I returned from overseas two years ago that I realised what a special confluence of natural, cultural and human assets this city possesses.”

      This is it in a nutshell. Auckland has the perfect basis: beautiful environment with spectacular harbours, mountains and coastlines, great beaches everywhere, temperate weather, a great mix of cultures and peoples, a friendly disposition, and high equality, a lack of true poverty, low crime, and a stable economy.

      Mealbourne is a great world city.., on a dry boring plain with a dirty brown river. Vancouver is a great city… where it sleets and snows 8 months of the year. San Francisco is a great world city… With a major homelessness problem and impoverished crime ridden areas where it is unsafe to walk at night. What makes those cities great is the urban, in short they have planned to become great cities and got exactly what they planned for… The one thing that is traditionally missing from Auckland.

      I’ve been lambasted for saying this in the past, but I truely believe Auckland will soon become one of the best cities in the world. Why, because we are actually starting to deliver the right kind of urban outcomes. Like vancouver in the 80s and Melbourne in the 90s, Auckland made the decision in the 00s to be a real city. We can do this just as easily as those other cities have… But melbourne will never grow volcanic cones, vancouver will never halt the cold and rain, and San Francisco has a looong way to go on its social issues. We have it all ready except one thing, and we are fixing that one thing at cracking pace..

      1. ….and of course Auckland’s great advantage is everything that’s currently wrong with the place is fixable, the mess we’ve made over the last 60 years, and the unchangeable stuff is already great, ie what god gave us, the natural environment.

        Melbourne will always be on hot flat plain with a dreary river…. probably increasingly on a hotter flat plain with an empty, then suddenly overflowing dreary river….

  4. What a joy to see the public transport opportunities gather momentum despite the doomsayers who still believe the motor car alone is the only way to go. As someone who is older than he wants to be, I really want to see the CRL started and finished asap.

  5. We took the NEX into town and back on Monday and it was packed both ways (to the extent of leaving people at the bus stop). Perhaps Auckland Transport could consider running more frequent services when these events are on. I don’t mind standing but for the gentleman wrangling 3 kids under 8 for whom there was no seat it was a huge challenge (and potentially dangerous).
    Town did look great though and there was heaps to look at and do. We really noticed the difference in atmosphere (in both senses of the word) when we got past the closed off street and back to car dominated Queen Street. Fortunately, the Giapo icecreams were worth the walk 🙂

  6. I visited Auckland last weekend.

    In the 4 and a half years since I last spent any time there (now living in Sydney but previously a regular visitor up SH1 from Hamilton), the city has almost changed beyond recognition. Full of life and colour and tangible promise. And the coffee was so. good. (everywhere)

    I am thinking of moving in.

    1. I’ve migrated to Auckland 8 years ago. I noticed the rate of development accelerated tremendously around the time of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when the Pavilions at Britomart, all the great restaurants on Federal St, & the revitalised Wynyard Quarter were all opened to the public.

      Then came the wonderful shared spaces on Elliot St, Fort St, Jean Batten Place & O’Connell St.

      Now really looking forward to the Skypath & the pièce de résistance – the City Rail Link!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *