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Notes on the Geography of New Zealand: Auckland

More than a quarter of New Zealand's population crowds into Auckland. That's unusual: Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Ireland all have about the same population as New Zealand--say 4 to 6 million--yet their capital cities all run about 600,000, half of Auckland's 1.3 million.

Perhaps there's a tidy explanation. For now, we're just going to look around.

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When in doubt, add Frisbee.

The city was founded in 1840, the same year that New Zealand became a crown colony separate from New South Wales. For a decade or so Auckland was the capital, but it soon lost out to Wellington, which was more central. Still, Auckland has never come anywhere near losing its status as the country's demographic center: Wellington and Christchurch each have only a third as many people as Auckland--say, 400,000 each.

We're out on a pier for a view of the central business district. The brick building, from 1912, is the ferry terminal, though ferries now leave from the gull-winged sheds in front of it. The ferry service, which serves the extensive suburbs on the north side of the harbor, is operated by a private company, Fullers Group.

The frisbee belongs to the Vero Center, completed in 2000 as the Royal & Sun Alliance Center. (Vero is the latest incarnation of that company's local unit.) To its left is the antenna-fitted Lumley Center, home of another insurance company. Between them is Harbour City, alias Auckland Harbour Oaks, a hotel with serviced apartments.

The 7-story building just to the left of the old ferry terminal is the Endeas Building, a landmark hotel rebuilt after a fire in 1915 and converted in 1993 to residential and commercial use. Two doors down, there's another residential building, Harbourview; it's the one whose windows are just slits. In comparison, the HSBC building, from 1973, almost looks good. But enough: the outside air is fresh.

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Here's the pier from which the previous picture was taken. It's Prince's Wharf, which opened as the Queen Street Wharf in 1913. That's when it got the lamp posts, made in the UK by Wragge of Salford. In 1929 the Royal Navy's battleship Hood tied up here. After the war, ocean liners came, but that ended with our friends at Boeing. The dock sat until the early 1990s. A hotel then sprouted at the end of the wharf, and in 2002 the port authority sprang for a half-million-dollar restoration of wharf gates, fences, and 25 red lamps.

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Auckland's working port today is a mile to the east; it handles about 600,000 containers annually--a third of the national total. We're here instead for the early cemetery.

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Father, son, father's wife. There's a story here, carefully worked out by the anonymous blogger called Timespanner. She writes that Tizard was master of a schooner that set sail from nearby Hokianga Harbour with a cargo of sugar, ale, cider, jewelry, brandy, flour, and more. The ship was wrecked off the notorious Whangarei Heads, and in due course a death notice appeared for Tizard and his small crew.

Then this: "Mr. Tizard, formerly master of the cutter Wildfire, which was totally lost off Hokianga some months ago, returned to town yesterday in the cutter Maxwell, after a long and fruitless search for tidings of the lost vessel." Timespanner works out the puzzle. There were two brothers, William and Hayes. Hayes was the ship's master. A newspaper at the time explains: "We may state, however, that when she arrived at Hokianga Mr. Hayes Tizard, who took her down, left her there through ill health, and his brother Mr. Wm. Milner Tizard then took charge and sailed as master. She had a crew of three sailors on board, but we are not aware if there were any passengers." Lucky for Hayes that he was too sick to sail that day. For his brother, not so much.

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Ever wonder what happened to survivors of the Indian Mutiny? Here's one who lived for another 58 years before dying in Auckland. His widow, a decade younger, survived him by over 25 years.

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Here's the church itself, built a year before the Mutiny. It's St Stephen's, built in 1856 on land acquired in 1843 by George Selwin, who had arrived as bishop of New Zealand in 1841. Too bad it's locked up.

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No self-respecting Victorian city could do without a city park, and no name for it could be better than the queen's husband's.

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People didn't have to think too hard about naming the park, because it had previously been the Albert Barracks, housing 900 soldiers during the New Zealand War of 1845-6. With that over and the capital moved to Wellington, the need for the barracks declined, and the army finally vacated in 1870. The city council took over in 1879. A competition was held for a park design, and it was won by a local architect, James Slater (1834-1921). Among his contributions was this bandstand, seemingly modeled on the Brighton pavilion. How pay for the park? Simple, the 22-acre site was cut down to 15, and the rest was sold, the proceeds earmarked for the park.

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Victoria has stood in the park since her jubilee in 1897. The statue was the work of her official sculptor, Francis Williamson. Two years later, the Herald remarked that "the statue will remain when all of us have passed away to remind our children and our children's children of a wise and virtuous ruler whom we loved and honoured, and of our attachment to the British monarchy and our affection for the Motherland."

See Michael Dunn, New Zealand Sculpture: A History, p. 25.

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Equally to Victorian taste, this is Victory of Peace, or Love Breaking the Sword of Hate. The sculptor was Andrea Lucchesi (1860-1925), a London-based sculptor specializing in female nudes. The donor was the widow of a pottery manufacturer. Perhaps it was she who called for decorous draping.

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Parks in those days needed fulltime gardeners, and Slater in 1882 provided this gardener's cottage at the edge of the park. The longtime occupant was Thomas Edward Pearson, FRHS. Born in Cheshire in 1857, he had worked in Philadelphia, then emigrated to Tasmania in 1885 as foreman in charge of government grounds. He returned to England in 1893 but thought better of it and five years later left for New Zealand, where he was appointed landscape gardener in charge of the Rotorua Government Domain. In 1908 he was appointed park superintendent for Auckland, where he remained until 1930, serving concurrently as Landscape Designer for the New Zealand Tourist and Health Department. The bit building behind the gardener's cottage is part of the University of Auckland.

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Here's one of the several houses built on lots carved out of the barracks property to pay for the park. It was built by John Smith, a draper, and was originally called Park House. A later owner, Arthur Nathan, renamed it Pembridge House, which certainly gives it the air of a peerage.

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Here's its neighbor, also built on the edge of the park. Houses in this line-up were required to have two storeys. The buyer in this case was brewer George Johnstone, a partner in Whitson and Sons. The architect was James Wrigley, trained in New York. For a while the place was a boarding house, but another brewer--Moss Davis--came along, restored it, and named it Hamurana, after a famous spring at Rotorua. In the 1930s the building was divided into flats, but since the 1950s it's been offices.

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A third house in this lineup of so-called Merchant's Houses, this is Sonoma, built in 1878 on a lot purchased by a chemist named James Sharland. After his death, the house was taken over by his brother-in-law, Philip Philips, who for 25 years was the Auckland town clerk. It, too, became a boarding house, then flats until the 1950s, when it was taken over by Auckland University College.

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Nathan, Davis, and Philips were all Jewish, which is why almost next door to their houses they built a synagogue.

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The congregation was gone by 1969, and the building was renovated 20 years later by a bank, which since 2003 has leased it to to the university, which uses it as offices for its department of external relations. It's grand enough to flatter almost any donor.

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Across the street there's another cottage. Uh, wait a minute: it's a gatehouse. What lieth beyond?

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It beeth no less than Government House, 1856. Despite the elegant quoining, it's fake: wood, not stone. It wasn't used much after the government moved to Wellington in 1865. Governor occasionally happened by on a peripatetic swing, but in 1969 a new government house (Birchlands) was built in Mount Eden, a mile away. The old place, still in good fettle, became the Staff Common Room for the university.

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Auckland needed a church bigger than St. Stephen's and got it with this, St. Mary's, reputedly the biggest wooden Gothic church in the world. It was begun in 1886 and consecrated in 1898.

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The architect was Benjamin Mountfort, described as a "Puginist down to his beard." This was the Cathedral Church of Auckland until 1973, when Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated.

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Detail of the interior woodwork.

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In 1982 the church was moved across the street (Parnell Road) to adjoin the much larger Holy Trinity.

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Here's the chancel of that newer church.

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While the chancel is some kind of Gothic, the nave is not. It's square and without internal supports, which makes it handy for the community events more popular now than sermons.

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Here's Auckland's General Post Office, which opened in 1911 and closed in 1988. The City Council bought it in 1995 and converted it to a transit center not only for buses but for rail. As a rail station it's a little awkward, because there are only two tracks and they dead-end right here. Talk about extending them westward has foundered on cost.

Just as the ferries are privately run, so are the trains, by Veolia, a French utility operator. The whole shebang is called Britomart, which sounds like a Valkyrie running a discount store. It's not: the name comes from Point Britomart, a headland long ago removed and used as fill to build the blocks between the GPO and the waterfront.

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All these buildings on Customs Street sit on fill from Britomart Point. The bright white facade is the Buckland Building, home for a time of the Evening Star, New Zealand's leading paper. The facade is flush with the Masonic Building, occupied by wholesaler John Buchanan, who dealt in tea, coffee, spices, and groceries. The dark building is the Nathan Building of 1903; next to it is Australis House, from 1904. Both are being refurbished as part of the Britomart redevelopment program: the idea is offices up, luxury-retail down. The scheme has been led by the Bluewater Consortium, which includes Cooper and Company, the California company responsible for Southlake Town Square near the Dallas airport.

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Those pesky Americans get around. Here's another example: it's the Old Custom House, from 1889. The Customs officials occupied the ground floor, where in the Long Room they processed shipping documents. Upstairs, space was rented privately. By 1970 the building was vacant and probably would have been demolished had not this "most imposing building in the city" caught the eye of John Hulbert, an American then developing the Hyatt Hotel (now the Warwick) in Fiji. It was a big job, requiring a new steel frame, but today the building is the DFS Galleria. DFS, in case you don't keep up with these things, is a Hong Kong company controlled by LVMH but established by Robert Miller and Charles Feeney as Duty Free Shops. Its initials hide its plebeian ancestry.

See Robert Goodman in Art New Zealand, 1982.

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If your idea of fun is swinging a wrecking ball, you'll have to go elsewhere. From the Imperial Building website: "an eclectic collection of some of the most unique and well located heritage spaces in CBD Auckland is now offered for lease..."

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This is the Dilworth Building, opened in 1927 as an apartment house whose profits would fund student scholarships. In the war it served as U.S. Army headquarters, New Zealand. The Dilworth Trust sold the building in the 1980s; since then, the space has been rented partly as residences but also as offices.

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On opening in 1930, this was the headquarters of the Auckland Electricity Power Board. Good timing: this was also the year when a hydro dam began generating power on the Waikato River. Even then, most of the building was rented privately; the utility only occupied the top floors. The big guy behind the building is Qantas House, built in 1986 and long ago abandoned by the airline.

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The Civic Theater, 1929, still the largest theater in the country, though with fewer than the 2,750 seats it originally had.

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Making the best of an oddly shaped lot, the Town Hall opened in 1911 and contained not only administrative space but a concert hall modeled on the Leipzig Gewandhaus. It was used as council offices until 1955, but not without first getting scolded as a "monument to the stupendous folly of the City Council."

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Every city needs one: in Auckland's case, it's over a thousand feet high and is called the Sky Tower. It opened in 1997 as--wait for it--part of a casino. Harrah's Entertainment bailed out almost at once, but the casino still runs as part of the Skycity Entertainment Group. Do you have to ask? Yes, of course, there's a revolving restaurant up there.

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This used to be Downtown House, now it's Zurich House. Originally it was a layer cake, mostly bands of masonry alternating with slightly thinner layers of glass. Is it better now, after a refurbishment in 2007 that made it into what the architects (Peddle Thorp) call a "shimmering glass box"?

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Out once more by St. Stephen's, we have a juxtaposition of old and new.

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Why do I think I need a sweater?

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Maybe I like this better, provided I don't have to prep the paint job.

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