Ema Tavola tells Rebecca Kamm why the suburb of Otara is her home away from home.

I've been in Otara for 10 years now. I moved here from Fiji to do a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Auckland University campus in Manukau.

Saturday is very much shopping day for me. The Otara market is good for absolutely everything: fruit, veges, fresh juice, coffee; it's got more diverse as the years go by, too.

The market has a big T-shirt culture; people love wearing a statement on their bodies and there are loads of local designers selling their own variations. My favourite label is Popo Hardware; they've been there for more than a decade.

Another great place for T-shirts is a shop called Relon. It sells really cheap hip-hop style clothing and South Auckland-branded basketball gear. And there's an amazing new store called Capsure, where they customise clothing and caps with screen-printing and embroidery. Since they opened it's been cool to see people personalising their clothes with the names of their villages.


The town centre is a real hub for tertiary students, so you need cheap food and coffee. It's really buzzing at lunchtimes. For lunch and snacks there's Mike's Roasts; it offers real soul food for cold days. Everything in Otara is really cheap.

I buy delicious, old-school coconut ice from the icecream parlour next to the TAB in the town centre. It's only 50c a piece, and such a yummy little treat.

Just up at Botany Junction there's a place called Bruce Lee Sushi, which is like fusion sushi. It's really fantastic - very filling - and has a very strong Polynesian following.

Otara is known for its free access to swimming pools, like the newly refurbished Norman Kirk Memorial swimming pool. It's full of natural light and they always play great music.

Fresh gallery and the Otara Music Centre are both strong arts hubs. They offer free or heavily subsidised events, programmes and professional development opportunities.

A place people come to from far and wide is Matafaga nightclub, which has an electric dance floor and a safe, fun vibe.

It reminds me of a Jamaican dance hall mixed with the experience of clubbing in the islands.

Otara is the closest thing to the Pacific you can get in New Zealand. It turns New Zealand's demographic on its head - I actually get culture shock when I go to Central Auckland or Wellington.

I often say Otara is the Pacific "once removed"; the way people relate to each other, the warmth - I feel very close to the Pacific here.

Ema's picks
Otara market, Saturdays, 6am-noon. Ph (09) 274 0830. Newbury St, between Manukau Polytech and Otara town centre."Try the Pukeko Bakery stall for lovely breads."

Fresh Gallery Otara, Ph (09) 274 6400. Shop 5, 46 Fairmall, Otara Town Centre. "South Auckland has really great arts facilities."

Matafaga nightclub, Otara Town Centre (above Le Sunrise Takeaway). "Everybody's so comfortable on the dance floor."

Bruce Lee Sushi, Ph (09) 271 0234. Unit 1, Botany Junction. "The owner is a real character."

* Ema manages Fresh Gallery Otara and is the Pacific Arts co-ordinator for Auckland Council. She is also involved in the Southside Arts Festival, October 14-November 6.