For a group of schoolchildren, the harbour is already a place of wonder, and its future is wide open.

In 2042, Zatritus Paku will be 40. Maybe she'll have become a doctor like she dreams, or she'll have her own kids by then, growing up in Auckland. Watching classmates joshing atop the deck of a ferry tour on a rare visit to the Waitemata Harbour, the girl from Mangere has a future that's wide open. There's no way to know who she'll be in 30 years.

What is clear, though, is she would be seeing a different waterfront were she to return. The ports estimate the wharves and their big cranes would have hit their limit as an industrial port. They could have encroached into the harbour, dug deeper channels, stacked their containers higher, and committed to the sheer industrial rigours of Hong Kong, Singapore and the busiest ports in the world - and yet they could still be running into capacity limits.

This isn't to undermine the value of the ports - but it suggests Auckland's waterfront can't be the future of the whole of our shipping and trade.

And, perhaps more importantly, Aucklanders are insisting on making the most of the city's waterfront assets. Local authorities are listening, too.


It might be a few tweaks that happen - a beautification of available spaces, making it all work together better - or something more. Maybe a giant failure.

For today, though, the tour boat moves toward the harbour with 140 pupils of Nga Iwi School who won't be disappointed.

Most haven't been on a boat before. Most haven't seen the Sky Tower or the Harbour Bridge, says their teacher, Glenda Shipman.

Sailing past the Hilton Hotel on Princes Wharf, they yell out: "Dolphin! Dolphin!"

And soon, as the Harbour Bridge pulls into view: "It's the harbour! It's the harbour!"

"This is the sort of thing we could never afford," Ms Shipman says.

"We've paid $6 a child for buses to get here, but that's it. You can see by the excitement they've never been on anything like this. One of my boys got on the bus today and said: 'I've been on a bus once before'."

The decile-one school was the first to respond to an invitation from the Ports of Auckland, as part of the company's community outreach.

"If anything it gives the kids experiences. Sometimes we expect a lot of knowledge that they just don't have. Somebody asked me if the Harbour Bridge was in the South Island."

Past the Hilton and the Cloud on Queens Wharf, the ports' container wharves loom large.

Huge orange hulls of container ships drift away from the docks. The tour's narrator announces calmly in the background: "I would like to show you the new reclamation project."

The kids don't hear any of it, of course.

Instead, spits of rain bring laughter and chaos to the upper deck.

Zatritus sits inside with Jahdee-Lee Nathan, a 7-year-old from Room 20.

"I like the blue ship. It had a lot of containers, and they fit lots of things on it," Jahdee-Lee says.

"This is my favourite place in Auckland," replies Zatritus.

Jahdee-Lee is good at writing and wants to become a journalist. Zatritus, with her dreams of medicine, is good at maths.

"I want to live in Auckland City and buy a mansion and be rich," Jahdee-Lee says.

I tell her to avoid journalism.

"I would like to live somewhere like a lakehouse around here, to see the views. And it would be a good place to go fishing. It wouldn't cost much to get fish," Zatritus says.

"Papa gets monkfish sometimes."

Even in Mangere, the CBD waterfront dominates the imagination. Even for a community that can't afford to visit, it's the most important part of their hometown.

Up on the deck, Ben Neba-Pange is revelling in the wind.

"It's nice! And you can see heaps of people having fun all around!" he sings out.

Semisi Mougavalu approaches to offer some creative thinking on how to improve the experience: "What if the engine went hypo and we started spinning around and crashed into the hotel!"

Ben wouldn't mind a brief encounter with it either. "But I don't want to live there because I want to see my family."

He reflects some more. "And I like our school. We have computers."

Sometime in the future, the waterfront will lose some of its wonder for these kids, the Waitemata ceasing to be home to fictitious dolphins, heroic cranes and endless awe.

Jahdee-Lee says the harbour might just keep changing though, alongside all the growing up she has to do. By the time she's a journalist, the ships will be bigger. And there will be a house for her on the water - one that doesn't rock in the waves. "So I don't move and fall out of my house."

Zatritus says she'll keep coming back for the sights, venturing offshore just to look back on Auckland's skyline and the lives that have been tucked away behind it.

"I think if people are still here and will want to see dreams coming true, there's going to a special place on the water where people can see the city."

It's hard to know who this polite, thoughtful 10-year-old will be in 30 years. I wonder what she'll be looking back to.

What our city's leaders think

Council members' views City leaders comment on the best idea for the waterfront and the balance between public spaces vs industry, where
0 = Put all emphasis on public spaces
5 = The balance is just right
10 = Put all emphasis on industry, including the port.
Len Brown Mayor
Ideal balance: 6.5

The Waitemata Harbour was a stunning backdrop when the world came here for the Rugby World Cup. The event's legacy is that Aucklanders now see the waterfront as our waterfront. People from across the region tell me they are proud of Wynyard Quarter. It's becoming the place to take visitors, and gives us a glimpse of what is possible.

We have a way to go to realise our waterfront's potential and truly connect the city with the sea but we are on the way to getting it right.

We want fishing boats and ship chandlers mixed with parks and cafes, hotels and apartments, markets and open spaces to attract as many people as possible.

We want real connection with the harbour, so people can walk right down Queen St to the water's edge and dip their feet in the sea.

With extensive input from the public, the council has formed a suite of plans giving us a co-ordinated vision for our waterfront, rather than the piecemeal approach and lost opportunities of the past.

Our waterfront has an important and evolving part to play in the life of Auckland, and while the port plays a vital role in our economy - it's up to us to structure that role. The best is yet to come.

Christine Fletcher
Ideal balance: 2

I'm proud of being part of kicking off our waterfront development with Viaduct Harbour and Britomart. In its next phase let's consider its role as gateway to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Tourism and recreational activities make a significant chunk of the total pie. Marine reserves, island sanctuaries, great walks, multisports, volunteerism, cultural journeys, education programmes, historic places and top recreational fishing spots should draw visitors to and beyond the waterfront.

Link this to high-value, uniquely marketed seafood, boutique wines and foods, a regulatory framework demanding environmental integrity and investment and we have a powerful engine for growth.

Arthur Anae
Ideal balance: 3.5

The waterfront is an iconic asset, and I'm in strong favour of a cruise ship terminal and attracting as much of the cruise ship market to downtown Auckland as we can.

I also support all the projects in the pipeline - the Wynyard Quarter, opening up the wharves, having pedestrian areas - to attract domestic visitors, who are an untapped market.

Sandra Coney
Ideal balance: 4

The waterfront is a working waterfront, not just an entertainment zone. It has a port, ferries and fishing vessels. These things make the waterfront gritty and interesting. A huge amount of waterfront has been opened up to the public and more will over time. But it all costs ratepayers' money, so a "big bang" approach is unpalatable.

Cathy Casey
Ideal balance: 4

I spluttered over my cornflakes this morning to read the vision of Tony Gibson (Ports' chief executive): "This year's industrial dispute is a distant memory. We reached an amicable settlement with the unions ...". That vision is easily achieved if the Ports engages in good faith bargaining. For me, the most pressing need on the waterfront is for the Ports to end the prolonged industrial dispute.

Penny Hulse
Ideal balance: 4

Having been born in Cape Town, where I spent a lot of time on the V&A Waterfront, my vision is an open, vibrant waterfront and port that can be a tourism attraction and an area loved by locals. Let's cut holes in the red fence and get people to the waterfront. It doesn't have to be either/or with the port. We just have to be more imaginative about how we use our assets.

George Wood
North Shore
Ideal balance: 5

Opening up the harbourside area between the Ferry Building and Britomart Place must be given the highest priority. Allowing Aucklanders and our visitors to break through the red fence to gain access to this part of the waterfront will be a huge accomplishment. The main attractor is the wonderful location itself. Integration to cafes and bars with outdoor dining should be part of the presentation. We have a plan - let's do it over time.

Sharon Stewart
Ideal balance: 5

Most people would agree what has been achieved in the Viaduct/Wynyard area is a vast improvement. However, I am against over-developing the waterfront, creating public space to the detriment of the ports. I was pleased that the cruise ship terminal was scaled down. I am not convinced further development in public areas will improve Auckland as a tourist destination. The CBD/waterfront areas will still be used by a small proportion of Aucklanders. Let's not put the city into huge debt with further grandiose ideas.

Wayne Walker
Ideal balance: 5

The boulevard along the waterfront gets my most backing. It ties the waterfront together and will make it buzz with life more than anything else. People like to see other people and be seen themselves, walking, sitting, eating - having fun. They will be able to browse through pop-up weekend markets, enjoy the busker musicians and artists playing to the crowds and dine out or catch a coffee at a waterfront cafe. All of this for modest money and cheap running cost. Create a welcoming free public space and people will make it work for themselves.

Alf Filipaina
Ideal balance: 5

I just agree with the direction we have at the moment. I voted for the Waterfront Plan and I support it. There will be interaction between our public and our assets down at the waterfront. Business and the public aspect will both be there - there has to be a good mix.

Cameron Brewer
Ideal balance: 6

It's great that Aucklanders love the opening up of the waterfront around the old Tank Farm. However, it's important we now activate the other part of the Wynyard Quarter plan, which was always to have the private sector move in. That's who the council needs to start paying the bills. Ratepayers have poured in tens of millions of dollars lately to create some fabulous public spaces and amenities but it's probably time for a cup of tea. The 25-year vision for Wynyard Quarter was never about transforming it for the general public alone. Rather, this area promises to accommodate a mix of residential, retail and commercial development.

Richard Northey
Ideal balance: 6

What is most needed is a long-term plan and vision for Queens Wharf. This space, the continuation of our main street, Queen St, into our Waitemata Harbour, should be the jewel in the crown for publicly accessible, exciting vibrant public space on the harbour. Let us have a thorough, creative and participatory look at what will succeed the Cloud. The next thing to do is to develop an equally exciting, albeit cheaper, vision for public spaces on the Manukau Harbour at Onehunga and Mangere Bridge.

Dick Quax
Ideal balance: 6.5

People at work and people at play. That's my vision for the waterfront. People create atmosphere, not buildings. Too much of the waterfront is lifeless. Over 70ha have been opened up and that's a lot of space. Give the new Waterfront Plan time to work before we open up more. Let's not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. The commercial port pours millions into the council coffers. Every container, every car, every cruise ship, is a few more dollars off our rates bill.

Ann Hartley
North Shore
Ideal balance: 7

The best idea for the waterfront was recognising that one, single governance agency would take responsibility for its redevelopment, avoiding the piecemeal actions of the past. The waterfront is much loved by its owners - the people of Auckland - however, the public purse will never be able to afford the revitalisation of this whole area. It needs commercial support and Auckland needs to start thinking about what kinds of private investment it can court to share the rewards and the risks of the redevelopment.

Mike Lee
Waitemata and the Gulf
Did not give a rating

Over the past six years, a significant amount of waterfront space has been opened to the public. More is to come. Remember, the port occupies only 2km of a continuous recreation waterfront of 13km from the harbour bridge to Achilles Point. While I oppose further encroachment of the port into the harbour, it would be foolish to talk about closing it down.

Calum Penrose
Did not give a rating

If Auckland Council think that we are exempt from what is happening across the globe then they live in dream land; the spinoff is hitting our shores daily. I would like to see the council defer the waterfront projects for the next 3-5 years.

Noelene Raffills
Did not give a rating

The waterfront is one of the truly amazing features of our city. For Kiwis the coast and beaches are part of our lifestyle, family life and informal enjoyment - and for the first time on the waterfront there are some family-friendly places for eating. The mix feels about right.

Did not contribute:

Michael Goudie, Albany

Des Morrison, Franklin

John Walker, Manurewa-Papakura

Penny Webster, Rodney

The campaign

This week, we examine the key issues in a campaign to break open Auckland's waterfront. This means:

1 Opening up what's already there for everyone's use - particularly Queens Wharf, which is still far from reaching its potential.

2 Looking ahead to more wharves being opened, notably Captain Cook Wharf.

3 Planning the entire waterfront - importantly, including ports land - as urban space, whether or not the working port is retained or developed.

Monday: What readers want on the waterfront
Tuesday: Auckland Architecture Association sketches the all-time good ideas
Wednesday: Tourism on the waterfront
Yesterday: The working port and its vision for Auckland
Today: Where our city leaders stand.