Who said it’s the city of cars? Helen Van Berkel on 12 things she learned on her free Auckland walk

1. It's free

Barry and Suzanne set up this walk, inspired by similar tours of cities they visited overseas. You can join the walkers every day during the summer, meeting at 10am outside The Cloud, where one of their volunteers will be waiting, bursting with fun facts and holding an umbrella. Suzanne tells me up to 40 people show up every day. You'll be handed a map " Barry and Suzanne paid for that too so treasure it - which will give you an idea of where to go. The walk varies, the volunteer varies and the information varies. You may want to do it more than once.

2. Last stand
There are kauri trees in the middle of Auckland city. That's right. There is a stand of these magnificent trees right outside Britomart " they make some kind of artistic statement about how trees make way for progress because they're going to be chopped down for the Central Rail Link. You better get there and admire them pretty damn quick.

3. Brit-oh-mart
The original Britomart was designed as a post office at a time when the ties with England were strong and getting a letter in the post was a big deal and a complicated business. That's evident in the solid state of the building, its dominating presence outside, its elegant columns and decorative ceiling within. Britomart is all about the inside: the English settlers were not quite used to living in an environment where the best things were outside. We've since noticed the nice weather outside and "indoor-outdoor" flow is part of our cultural identity. You can see evidence of that later, in Tanakai Square, where living walls of greenery hang above the promenade. Inside. Isn't it cool how architecture can tell us about ourselves? Thank you, Britomart.


4. The name's Freyberg
He was a boxer, a swimmer, a mercenary in the Mexican Civil War, he was a Governor-General of New Zealand and his statue stands in Freyberg Square. Who was he? He was Bernard Freyberg, first Baron Freyberg, pal of Winston Churchill, the so-called enemy-fire-avoiding "salamander" of World War I and World War II who fought on the Western and the Battle of El Alamein, the Battle of Crete, the Battle of Cassino. He sounds like a real-life James Bond without the martini: at Gallipoli, he swam ashore in the darkness in the Gulf of Saros, ran up and down the beach planting and lighting flares attracting and avoiding Turkish fire and distracting the Turks from the real landing as he went. And then swam back. What a guy.

5. Suffragette city
Of course, in our egalitarian, Kiwi way, we also honour our female pioneers. Walk on to Khartoum Square and the Suffragette Memorial: a set of tiled steps only slightly marred by the great big electrical box thing on the bottom level. Suffragettes are pictured on bicycles: ironic then that their efforts are celebrated with a set of stairs.

6. Step lightly
You have to tread very lightly in Albert Park - or the dynamite in the tunnels beneath will blow up. I am a little bit sceptical at this news but our guide looks quite sincere so it must be true.

Albert Park in Auckland.
Albert Park in Auckland.

7. D-grade

The D sculpture in Albert Park references Auckland Museum windows and how far they could be blown in the next volcanic eruption. (Also, after I informed my teen I was about to tell her about "the D" and even show her "the D" I discovered that phrase has a very specific meaning to the hip and the youthful.)

The D sculpture in Albert Park. Photo / Greg Bowker
The D sculpture in Albert Park. Photo / Greg Bowker

8. Shooting the breeze

The guns on the edge of the park are not aimed at revolting office workers in surrounding blocks: they were put in place before the blocks were built and the park had a clear view to the harbour. Amazing.

9. Underwater love
Auckland's coastline use to be more or less where Eden Cres/Shortland St are today. That means the Scene apartments, the Vero Buildings, Fort St would all once have been underwater. That's a massive amount of reclamation. Imagine the resource consent application.


10. Milling around
There was once a working mill in downtown Auckland. You can still see it - well, what's left of it. This is how Auckland honours is built past: by plonking a great huge skyscraper behind pretty facades and pretending our heritage is protected. At least the Northern Roller Mill name (kind of) lives on as the NRM building. Our guide tells us it used to be a kauri mill, but a google check later says it was a flour mill. Still. It's a quirky little find when you're feeling dwarfed by sky scrapers.

11. Words fail
Under the mass of pohutukawa spreading on the boundary between the old Auckland and the new reclamations is a memorial to the Reverend John Frederick Churton, who was chaplain of the colonial garrison. After many flowery words about how great he was we learn his "wors do follow him". Hilariously, a poorly executed correction inserts a "k" - when we conclude it was probably supposed to be a "d". Oh, for a good sub-ekitor.

12. Statue of limitations
Look out for the statue that is - what is it? A weirdly muscular dog? Or Gargoyle? If you know what he is, join the walk and share your own fun fact.


Auckland Free Walking Tours depart daily at 10am from Queens Wharf Village.
Season ends on May 31, re-opening on October 1.
Auckland Free Walking Tours - Walk With Me aucklandfreewalkingtours.co.nz