Sugar factory to open its doors in $7m tourism venture, writes Kirsty Wynn.

Its iconic pink buildings have been nestled on the harbour's edge for more than 130 years and soon the Chelsea Sugar Factory will be open to the public for interactive tours.

A new business venture called Chelsea Bay will open in April next year with factory tours, a cafe, interactive facility and kids' baking classes all on offer.

An artists impression of the Chelsea Bay at the Chelsea Sugar Factory
An artists impression of the Chelsea Bay at the Chelsea Sugar Factory

New Zealand Sugar general manager Bernard Duignan said the development had cost $7 million.

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It was hoped the venture would appeal to tourists - both internationally and from around New Zealand.

"We hope to bring in an estimated 50,000 local and international visitors annually, with guests being able to enjoy a beautiful café right on the water's edge," Duignan said.

"It's somewhere we see becoming a real foodie destination, or just to enjoy great coffee. "

Tours of the iconic Chelsea Sugar Factory were popular in the 1980s, when around 10,000 a year were held.

"Now with more and more Kiwis wanting to know where their food comes from, we wanted to do something that would open our doors and show a whole new generation of Kiwis how we operate," Duignan said.

He added the new development would see Chelsea Sugar become a "bigger and more open part of the community".

The tours will offer an educational and inspiring behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at Chelsea Sugar.

An aerial view of Chelsea Sugar Factory in around 1925. Photo / NZ Herald Archives
An aerial view of Chelsea Sugar Factory in around 1925. Photo / NZ Herald Archives

Visitors will see how raw sugar, off loaded from the ships berthed at the deep-water port, makes its way through the factory to the finished product that is sold supermarkets.

Horses were used to hauled bags of sugar at Chelsea Sugar Factory for around 70 years but stopped in 1957.
Horses were used to hauled bags of sugar at Chelsea Sugar Factory for around 70 years but stopped in 1957.

Chelsea ships in 27,000 tonnes of raw cane sugar every six weeks, that's enough to cover the whole of New Zealand.

An Artists impression of the new cafe at the Chelsea Sugar Factory in Auckland due to be opened as a tourist attraction.
An Artists impression of the new cafe at the Chelsea Sugar Factory in Auckland due to be opened as a tourist attraction.

The company has a strong environmental focus and said it produces very little waste.

There will also be a free interactive educational facility featuring the heritage and history of the well-known Chelsea and Edmonds brands, as well as demonstrating the sugar and flour milling process, from paddock to plate.

Baking classes for children will also be on offer from April with Chelsea partnering with Edmonds. The baking classes will be offered to primary and secondary schools as organised trips Monday to Friday during term time.

The sugar works are one of the most well-known buildings on the inner harbour coastline.

Duignan said it was a joy more of it could be shared with public.

"When the owners of the Chelsea Sugar refinery first came to this spot in 1882, what amazing foresight they had," he said.

"Not only does the harbour have a purpose built deep water port for ships, but the location has helped cement Chelsea's place on the Auckland coastline. It's such a recognisable and much loved national icon.

People stand in front of sugar falling from a conveyor belt forming mountains of sugar at the Chelsea Sugar Refinery. Photo / Steven McNich
People stand in front of sugar falling from a conveyor belt forming mountains of sugar at the Chelsea Sugar Refinery. Photo / Steven McNich

"The workers' cottages built in 1909 are listed as Heritage buildings and visitors to the Heritage Park can easily stroll down past these into the factory grounds. The factory buildings themselves are protected under the special buildings act so we've been sensitive to how we ensure the new development blends into the existing landscape while still providing an amazing view out over the Waitemata Harbour towards the CBD."