A Parnell park is cool for cats, but their presence has some neighbours holding their noses, reports Valerie Schuler.
Two kittens frolic on a grassy bank overlooking the Ports of Auckland. A little further along, clusters of colourful wooden kennels sit fenced-in on a patch of grass. This mini cat zoo is home to dozens of free-ranging felines.
While some dedicated locals care for and feed the strays, others have taken offence at the cat menagerie on Gladstone Rd and want it gone.
Parnell resident Roz Knill says: "The stench of cat urine is untenable, particularly with a northeasterly wind. I have lost count as to how many cats and kittens there actually are. They seem to be everywhere in and around the hillside. Surely the SPCA can find a more
permanent and caring home for these felines?"
Mrs Knill recently complained to Auckland City Council about the large number of cats living at Fred Ambler Lookout.
She worries what overseas visitors will think of dozens of stray cats roaming at the popular tourist spot. Ideally, she wants the council to remove them.
The Aucklander asked some visitors for their thoughts. For Annie Lin, just arrived in Auckland from San Francisco, the lookout is one of her first stops.
"I don't think the cats are a major problem," she says. "We have stray cats back home and there's hundreds of them. They come out at night and it's really quite bizarre. This looks quite clean, so I don't really think it's a big issue."
Another passerby, James Tucker, isn't overly keen on the cat colony. "There's a lot of them and it's quite smelly," he says.
The cats have an elite group of friends who care for and protect them - among them the Mayor of Auckland, John Banks and SPCA chief executive, Bob Kerridge.
"This is a very well-managed cat colony which has been at that site for many years," says Mr Kerridge.
"All the cats are de-sexed and dedicated feeders manage the colony very well. I doubt the Auckland City Council, with whom we work closely, will accede to the complainant's wishes as they are not well founded and the mayor is one of the feeders."
The mayor staunchly defends the cats. He says he knows them all by name and they have a right to remain where they are. "They've been there for 35 years, a lot longer than many residents in the area."
Mrs Knill, who lives nearby and goes for regular walks at Dove-Myer Robinson Park, disagrees. "As far as I can see, there is no birth control here. If John Banks and the people at council lived in the area, they would see it's a problem."
The council says removing feral cats can be problematic and is only a temporary solution. "It will not take too long for the remaining population to re-establish itself or for a neighbouring population to take over the turf," says a spokesperson.
The council admits that smell is a problem, particularly in summer. A product called "odarid" is sprayed regularly around the feeding sites. The surrounding area is not sprayed because it is inaccessible and covered in dense vegetation.
The council says it will continue to work with the people who look after the cats to try to reduce the size of the colony and minimise negative effects.
Fred Ambler founded Auckland clothing company Ambler & Co in 1919 after returning wounded from World War I. He started business with six staff in Albert St then built his own premises on Wellesley St in 1925. At its peak, Ambler & Co employed more than 400 people at four Auckland locations, including Grey Lynn and Browns Bay.