Auckland: What lies beneath

By John Roughan

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

Auckland's waterfront has been built up over the years. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland's waterfront has been built up over the years. Photo / Richard Robinson

Downtown Auckland today looks nothing like the array of little bays its first settlers knew.

But take a walk down Queen St and it is not hard to imagine the
waterfront as it was then.

None of the original land was flat and none of the reclaimed land is hillside. When you walk down Queen St you reach flat land at Shortland St. Stop at that corner and you are near the site of the first building erected in Auckland, a crude store. Shortland St, winding up hill to your right, was the city's first street, a line of tents at first and then some wooden shops and houses.

Walk a little further, to Fort St, and you are on the original
foreshore. Look to your right and imagine the curve of Fort St
is a beach with small Waitemata waves washing it. That is exactly
what it was.

Now walk along that beach to the far end of Fort St and you arrive at the base of a headland that was the most prominent point of the bay until it was excavated to fill in the bay for port development.

All that remains of Pt Britomart today is a small street, Emily Place, rising steeply towards Eden Terrace and Princes St. Climb those streets and you are in the vicinity of the army barracks and fort that was erected on the headland.

The streets enclose a small reserve where an old sprawling pohutukawa shields a monument to the chaplain of the colonial garrison, Rev John Frederick Churton, and marks the first site of St Paul's Church, founded in 1841.

On your left, Eden Tce drops into a dip that was a small bay called Official Bay or, as the settlers nicknamed it, Exclusion Bay, since nobody but Government officials were welcome to live on its slopes.

Walk up Princes St to Waterloo Quadrant and directly across the street, in the grounds of Auckland University, stands Old Government House which was built in 1859 on the site of the original house built for Governor Hobson overlooking Official Bay.

Walk down Waterloo Quadrant to Symonds St and below you lies another reclaimed bay, or several adjoining bays. The small reserve in front of you, Constitution Hill, is all that remains of the neighbourhood known as Mechanics Bay, which was where skilled tradesman of all sorts established themselves.

At that time the Waitemata came to the base of Constitution Hill. Today the scene is dominated by the former railway station and heavy trucks travelling to and from the port via Beach Rd and Stanley St.

But the other side of the original inlet is clearly marked by Parnell Rise and the streets to its north that would once have stood above St Georges Bay and Judges Bay.

Follow these streets to the Parnell Rose Gardens and there, at the lookout over today's container port, you can look back along redeveloped former railway land.

Blot out the cranes and container stacks, apartment blocks and other developments of recent times and imagine the shoreline as it was, bordering a harbour twice as wide, and a town growing behind bays now buried.

- NZ Herald

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