My Auckland: Grafton

By Catherine Smith

Singer songwriter Caitlin Smith has lived in Grafton for 10 years. She appears on Sunday nights at DeBretts in the city, and is performing in the Waiheke Jazz Festival over Easter. She tells Catherine Smith why she loves her suburb.

Caitlin Smith in the Auckland Domain. Photo / Dean Purcell
Caitlin Smith in the Auckland Domain. Photo / Dean Purcell

I teach from home when I'm not performing so you could say I'm a self-made woman. After living around Arch Hill and Freemans Bay, I found the Grafton Residents Association the most amazing supporter of all things civic. David Haig used to be the president of the association and did everything from planting daffodils in the spring to being contracted to do demographic and social research. The GRA doesn't tout for business, people just tell people what's going on - my accountant lives around the corner and that's how I got to know them. It's nice to know people are representing your needs.

It is a mighty suburb for such a tiny population. Of course it used to be quite grand but then it got chopped up by the motorway, hospital and university. When it just had the university and the gentry it was known as Grafton Heights, but boy did they take a dip. Still, it was in Grammar zone so there was a craze for inbuilt housing like you wouldn't believe - lovely old deco apartments taken down for leaky buildings. Luckily Seafield View Rd around the corner is a protected heritage precinct.

When they extended the road and developed the hospital it practically killed the village because of the constant roadworks. The hospital sucked out a lot of life when they put shops in there. There used to be a fantastically eccentric green-grocer, the lady was there forever, but now it's a chemist.

Everyone has lived in Grafton as a student, I keep bumping into people who've lived here back in the day. You pay your dues in Grafton. Because I am legally blind, I don't drive, I walk everywhere. It's one hour to deepest darkest Grey Lynn, 20 minutes to town or Kingsland or Parnell. So this is the hub to get to all those spokes. There are lovely little parks to get there so I can go "off roading" to get to most places. The coolest thing is the back road route off Carlton Gore to the new railway station at Khyber Pass. I love all the walks around the Domain, and the underpass is special, not many people know about that.

When you're a pedestrian, you're at the bottom of the ladder where cars are concerned, you have to watch out. The taxi drivers all know me when I have to shift gear to a gig, they look out for me. It's great being able to use Grafton as it's so central to all the gigs I do.

I had a singing residency at Iguacu in Parnell for seven years and I would walk through the Domain. That walk spawned many a song. As a partially sighted person, you're not seeing so you're not using buildings as navigation, you're using the sound of your footsteps, and echoes of the sound off the buildings or trees or of number of people, even the air pressure. In my next album I've actually recorded the steps in the environments which birthed the songs - what I can hear long distance and middle distance. My steps are the segue between the songs, and when I walk everywhere, that becomes the click track to start the song. The tour buses idling in front of the Museum became the song "Another Goodbye">

There is a sweet Turkish place in Grafton, Karadinez - I love that it has been here as long as I have. He plays Turkish music, it has real atmosphere.

My cafe is Kokako in Parnell, just next to Al & Pete's. It's an organic vegetarian cafe, Christian who set it up was the Coffee Monster.

I walk out of the Domain and it's right there.

When I need to revive I go to the Wintergarden, to the most stinky flower section where there are these gorgeous tropical smells, the beautiful waterlilies. They always change the plants out so it is a smorgasbord - literally sometimes, when they put in exotic vegetables! I've sun at the Band Rotunda and at weddings at the Wintergarden.

And I mustn't forget the Grafton Bowling Club - it has the most amazing photos on its walls. It's a crazy piece of history and real estate as a marae and pa was co-existing next to the bowlers. That's pretty spesh!

Caitlin's picks

Karadeniz Turkish cafe and restaurant, 3 Park Avenue, Grafton, ph 09 307 3449. Open Sat 3pm-10pm, Mon-Fri 7am-10pm.

Kokako cafe, 492 Parnell Rd, ph 09 366 4464. Fair trade organic roasters and food providore. Open seven days from 8am on weekends, 7am weekdays.

Village Double Bill, part of the Village Music series of acoustic evenings, Old Mt Eden Methodist Hall, Ngauruhoe St, Friday May 6, 8pm.

Waiheke International Jazz Festival, April 22-24.

The Wintergarden at the Domain has two display glasshouses, a formal courtyard with a pond, and a fernery within an old quarry. Winter hours: 9am-4.30pm seven days.

- NZ Herald

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