To celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary, its demisemiseptcentennial, the Weekend Herald continues its series celebrating the growth of the city with a look at people who shaped Auckland. Today, Suzanne McFadden looks at the names and stories behind our streets.
In association with
ASB Tamaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum

Karangahape Rd can lay claim to many things. As well as being a colourful and eclectic cultural icon, it's also one of central Auckland's oldest thoroughfares - more deep-rooted than the city itself - and one of the most squabbled-over street names in Auckland's history.

Long before Europeans arrived, Maori wore a track along the ridge above the Waitemata Harbour, on their route to the Manukau Harbour. They called it "Te karanga a Hape" - the place of the calling of Hape.

There are a multitude of different interpretations of Karangahape Rd's moniker, but one of the most fascinating (on the road's own website, www.kroad.com) is the story of Hape, chief and founder of the Tainui iwi.

Legend has it Hape had mystical powers - but he was also cursed with a club foot. When the Tainui waka set off to the new land of Aotearoa, only those in the best physical condition were chosen; Hape was left behind in Hawaiki. When the waka landed on the shores of the Waitemata, a man appeared on the ridge above the harbour; it was Hape, who'd travelled by giant stingray to arrive weeks before. He called out a karanga - a cry of welcome - to the people who'd left him behind.

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The Karangahape ridge was the start of a track to the Manukau Heads settlement of Karangahape - now known as Cornwallis.

In 1841, the first Surveyor-General of the Colony, Felton Mathew, presented his blueprint for the streets of Auckland. He'd created two roads - Pyt and Bennett - along the ridge at the southern edge of the city. However, as with most of Mathew's plans, the names were tossed out in favour of Karangahape Rd, one of the few Maori place names to survive.

There were constant attempts to change the name so international visitors could easily roll it off their tongues. On the eve of the American naval fleet's visit to Auckland in 1908, the New Zealand Herald's local gossip column declared: "The Karangahape Rd people are always complaining of their street name, and really have some cause to, for it is a tremendous mouthful to say, and looks even worse in print than it actually is."

Moves to change the name of Karangahape Rd to Elizabeth were thwarted.
Moves to change the name of Karangahape Rd to Elizabeth were thwarted.

There were calls to rename the road Fleet St, King St, Broadway or even Perambulator Parade (a gibe at shopping mums blocking the footpaths with their prams). But the council voted for the status quo. Further attempts to rename it - including the suggested King George St before World War I and Elizabeth St before the 1953 Royal Tour - also failed. Fortunately for those who mangled the name, the abridged version of "K Rd" stuck.

Royal names were, of course, all the fashion when creating a new colonial settlement. Queen, Victoria, Albert, and Prince (now Princes) streets were all survivors from Felton Mathew's rejected plan. Coburg St was switched to Kitchener St, when the British royal family dropped their Germanic name during World War I.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was a British war hero who visited Auckland in 1910 to report on the state of the country's defence force. His impressive image, complete with enormous moustache, is remembered even today on recruiting posters for World War I, with the legend: "Your country needs you!"

Other early streets were named after British military men from the Napoleonic Wars - from Wellington, Wellesley and Nelson, to the lesser-ranked Ponsonby, Collingwood, Anglesea, Picton and Vandeleur.

Trafalgar Circus and Waterloo Quadrant were also part of Mathew's grand plan for the new city - a series of concentric circular streets that radiated out from a huge roundabout on the hilltop, now Albert Park. But his proposal - supposedly to suit Auckland's volcanic terrain - was too complicated and expensive and the network of streets were more like a grid. His name was, however, memorialised in an avenue in the suburb of St John.

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As Auckland grew, so did the popularity of Queen Streets, most named in honour of Victoria. Eventually, to help post offices avoid confusion with delivering mail, many of the Queens were forced to abdicate - some became Tecoma St in Ellerslie, Reimers Ave in Mt Eden, Luke St in Otahuhu and Onehunga Mall.

That was the case with many duplicated names as the boroughs and towns began to meld together in a larger city in the 1920s and '30s; again the "suitableness" of Maori names was debated. In 1953, city town planner K. F. Haszard, then responsible for the naming of Auckland's streets, told the Herald that he looked for "names that conjure pleasant thoughts like Hazelmere, Heathcote or Meadowbank".

He was not a fan of famous people or events, believing that in future years their significance would be lost on new residents. He was not in favour of renouncing Karangahape's title for Elizabeth.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was a British war hero who visited Auckland in 1910 to report on the state of the country's defence force. Photo / Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira
Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was a British war hero who visited Auckland in 1910 to report on the state of the country's defence force. Photo / Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tamaki Paenga Hira

"It would be a great pity, if we gave up our old Maori names, particularly those that have become worked into the fabric of the city. Karangahape is not difficult to say," he told the Herald. "We could learn from England, where half the charm of poking around the towns is in the odd little place name one finds."

Taking streets to the schools

With new subdivisions springing up all over Auckland to help tackle the city's housing crisis, there is a whole raft of streets requiring new and original names.

So how does a street earn its title these days?

For every future street, a subdivision developer approaches the council local board with a list of three names. Each name must not be a duplicate of others already in the city, should be no longer than 12-15 characters and must be easy to spell and pronounce. It helps if it has "interest value" - with a historical story of local significance, or honours a notable Aucklander.

The names are checked by NZ Post and the NZ Fire Service so there are no foreseeable problems with mail delivery or reaching an address in an emergency. The local board has the final say.

In 2002, a new subdivision in Flat Bush gave its street names to All Blacks who had played for Auckland or the Blues - like Michael Jones Drive, Mark Carter Place and Tonu'u Court.

"The sporting flavour emerged from a brainstorming session at Hawkins Construction. Every suggested road name appeared to be already taken. Then the general manager remembered that his cousin was manager of the Blues Super 12 side," a story in the Weekend Herald revealed.

Around 20 new streets will be needed in the new Special Housing Area in Whenuapai now under construction and developer Cameron Wilson of Oyster Capital has come up with a novel idea to name them.

He's invited pupils at the neighbouring Whenuapai School to come up with suggestions.
"For every name chosen, I make a donation to the school, and put on a pizza lunch for their classroom," he says.

In a year's time, you may see Lauren Boyle Drive (the premier New Zealand swimmer) wending through what was once rows of vegetables.

ANZAC memory defended

In December 1916, the city decided to honour the men who had died at Gallipoli by renaming one of its main streets Anzac Avenue. But the memorial was not popular with everyone.

A city resident, Mr H. Symons, asked the city council to reconsider keeping the upgraded street's original name of Jermyn St. In changing it, he argued, a concession was being made to people who mispronounced it as "German" - a contentious mistake in wartime. By repeatedly changing street names, he contested, the city would lose "interesting connections" with its past.

Jermyn St was one of Auckland's first streets, named after Captain John Jermyn Symonds who had been, among many things in the young country, the private secretary to Governor George Grey, a Member of Parliament and a founding member of the ASB.

Symonds had come to New Zealand to join his elder brother Captain William Cornwallis Symonds, who was Governor William Hobson's deputy, and who'd led the party that secured the land for the new capital of Auckland. But William Symonds tragically drowned in the Manukau Harbour soon after, while on "an errand of mercy" to help an unwell woman.

Hobson named the main road leading south out of the city Symonds St in honour of his heroic friend. When Hobson died suddenly from a stroke the following year, he was buried in the Symonds St Cemetery.

Mr H. Symons failed in his bid to keep the name Jermyn St, but nevertheless a tribute to Jermyn Symonds also lives on today in Symonds St, Onehunga.

The name Anzac Ave had to win another battle, this time with a British naval hero. The council was about to name the road Jellicoe St, after Sir John Jellicoe, who'd just led the British Grand Fleet in the Battle of Jutland (he was later to become New Zealand's second Governor General). But a council member successfully suggested Anzac Ave would be a better memorial to the men who had given their lives in Gallipoli.

• For more Auckland Stories, visit aucklandmuseum.com.

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