Christmas! God. In reverse time, it's wrapping presents, it's buying presents, it's shopping for presents alongside everyone and their dog shopping for presents – it's going to the mall. The true setting of Christmas is less the manger and more so the malls, those shining emporiums of want and waste, those great heaving symbols of Auckland life.
Malls are always awesome and right now they are at their awesomest. Christmas shoppers are trudging up and down escalators, driving round and round in carparks, filling every mall with the spirit of giving. Grinches are just tightwads. Real Kiwis spend money they don't have.
• READ MORE: Steve Braunias: Power ranking the malls of Auckland
There are malls in Hamilton, Tauranga, Whāngārei, other small towns. Not many, and not huge. Auckland has malls for Africa, overflowing with goods made in China. Incredible sums of money were spent on revamps this year - $78 million at Botany, $795m at Newmarket. Albany is next, with $500m set aside to raise it up and spread it out. Good times.
A few weeks ago, as part of my ongoing attempt to understand Auckland life by consuming it (people still come to me in the street and announce, "You're the man who ate Lincoln Road!"), I tramped around 13 malls in Auckland and recorded my impressions in a hotly debated power ranking. The ranking (these are just opinions, not facts, but I'm right) went as follows from highest to lowest, out of 10. St Lukes, 9.3; Albany, 9.2; Botany, 9.1; Sylvia Park, 9; WestCity Henderson, 8.5; Pakuranga Plaza, 8; Royal Oak, 7.8; Milford, 7.5; Eastridge, 7.4; Northwest, 7; Manukau, 6.5; LynnMall, 6.5; Newmarket 5. Newmarket, 5! Yes, because it'd only just opened and was mostly empty and very boring.
But the pressure of deadlines meant it wasn't the complete power ranking of Auckland malls. I missed a few. I went to them this week, partly to further my education in the important subject of understanding Auckland life, and because I needed to do some Christmas shopping. I went back to Newmarket and I also returned to Royal Oak because it, too, felt like a work in progress. That is, it felt like it was about to disappear, with three shops due to close.
Anyway. Rejoice; go forth, and shop; here, then, is the completed power ranking of Auckland malls.
Royal Oak 7.8/10
Last time I visited I found it at once depressing – CLOSING DOWN signs everywhere, a sense of doom – and cheerful, with a happy vibe and two great tubs of colourful flowers at the entrance. Well, same again this time. One store was empty and the customer service desk looked as abandoned as the Mary Celeste – I didn't quite believe the sign saying, "Will be up and running soon." But the other stores were hanging on in there and the whole joint had a nice Christmas vibe, decked out in blue and gold tinsel. There are some good bargains. Mobile Phone Services was flogging $35 solar-powered figurines of cats on mats. I asked, "What happens?" The shop assistant said, "The head of the cat, it moves," and waggled his head.
Dress Smart, Onehunga 9.1/10
Wow! I had no idea this place even existed until I read that it was up for sale. Then when I got there I found it difficult to find out how to get inside, and ended going down some stairs into what I thought might just be some sort of dismal underground carpark – but it turned out to be a huge and fantastically vibrant mall filled with outlet centres selling things at low, low prices. Crazy deals! Adidas, 50 per cent off. Peter Alexander, 40 per cent off. There were also huge discounts at Levis, Fila, Typo, Mi Piaci and other stores.
The joint was absolutely packed. Shop assistants were raced off their feet. The average age of the shoppers was maybe 23, mostly women – the only guy I saw for like 10 minutes wore a mullet.
When I found my way out, it was on to a shabby little sidestreet opposite a closed down Paper Plus. I went back in and ate a $5 icecream doughnut sandwich at Southern Maid. Then I ate another; really, I never wanted to leave, and the thing I wanted to buy the most was the mall itself. Dress Smart. Call me.
Westfield Newmarket 9.2/10
OMG. This isn't a mall. It's a thing of beauty and pompousness, a citadel of late-period capitalism, a monument to the want and stupid need of material crap at the expense of doing everything we can to save the planet – when you're inside the $785m revamp, the last thing you'll think about is the threat of climate change.
It ought to make you sick. But the Christmas fairy lights are so pretty, there are skybridges, H&M is opening soon, someone was dressed as a giant elf, there's a singing booth! and David Jones can help you out with a personal shopping consultation.
There are a lot of fake trees but some real plants on the rooftop. It's nice up there, except for the view: it looks over Newmarket, that dead, soulless, vacant lot of the rich. A man was mopping the floor of a long glass pond. It formed the ceiling of the level below it. I felt the urge to smash it and cause a flood, cause a riot, cause an extinction rebellion. Instead, I ordered an $11 slow-roasted pork roll at The Carvery and considered buying 12 fragrance diffuser sticks in scents of pink lemonade, coconut lime, or sea mist in a nice glass bottle for $59.95 at Redcurrent.
Kelston Mall 6.5/10
I'd long entertained visions of what the Kelston Mall would be like. It's such an unlikely spot for a mall; Kelston isn't exactly Newmarket. The first thing I liked about it was the giant blue K on the outside. It's cool, and it made me want to eat a bowl of cornflakes. The second thing I liked about it was...was....okay it didn't really have a lot going for it.
It's not really a mall, anyway, it's just some neighborhood shops (chemist, nail salon, $2 shop) snuggled up beside a supermarket. The pharmacy had an attractive offer of blood pressure testing for $4, as well as jars of aqueous cream for $9.99. Imagine getting that for Christmas. But it's nice and quiet in the mall, and I got a photo printed and framed at Kelston Digital Photos for $28.99. I hope she likes it.
Southmall, Manurewa 6/10
Sign that greets shoppers to the saddest mall in Auckland: "NO PATCHES NO BIKE HELMETS NO BALACLAVAS NO BANDANAS."
It's not even exactly Kelston at Southmall. But it used to be glamorous, and way groovier and funkier than Westfield Newmarket will ever be when it opened in 1967. A quite striking photographic exhibition of Southmall's history is on display at the mall. There were beauty contests (Mrs Southmall), fashion parades, live music – in the swinging 60s, Southmall swung hard.
And now it's a collection of $2 shops. Nice Shoppe. The Gold Dollar. $2 Dollar Things. Simply Plus. Lucky Shop... Fun items include a $20 Summer Santa Suit, but who can afford that? I bought an egg sandwich for $3.50 from Classic Cafe and left to catch the train. There was a large Pacific Island security guard walking along the platform with a thin African man wrapped in a blanket. Good egg sandwich.
Glenfield Mall 9/10
"The mall with it all," it claims in neon writing. It doesn't have it all and the boast is so very North Shore but fair play to Glenfield, this is an awesome mall, large and busy, full of natural light, decked out in Christmas colours of green and white, with a decent-sized food hall and some unique gifts – Glenfield's greatest export, Rachel Hunter, has signed copies of her book Tour of Beauty at Paper Plus.
I got talking to Christmas shopper Mataio, Elise, 35, a construction worker and Samoan chief. He had the full body tatau, but I was even more impressed with his gold teeth. He explained that he took a gold chain on holiday to Tonga, had it melted, and then set as caps for his teeth. Imagine getting that for a Christmas present. Anyway, he was on the hunt for bargains for his four kids. "They want shoes, clothes, laptops, phones...Yep," he sighed. "But it's all good. They're good kids." And then he smiled, and I was dazzled by all that gold.
Next, I accosted Joseph Bhamra, 56, and Samantha Wilson, 42. Except they weren't really Christmas shoppers; they were eloquent and determined Christmas grinches. "Sickening," said Joseph, when I asked him what he thought of this time of year. I said that was a bit strong. He took it down the smallest notch: "Okay then. Overwhelming. I don't like buying crap for the sake of it." They were there to get each other something not very exciting and then leave. Joseph worked in sales, Samantha as an accountant – and, she said with real pride, as the treasurer for The Opportunities Party. I had a vision of former Top leader Gareth Morgan in a Santa suit. It wasn't much of a ho-ho-ho image but Joseph and Samantha were actually very funny company, a pair of smart cookies, and I liked them a lot. Merry Christmas, you two grinches.
Shore City, Takapuna 8.9/10
"I looooove Christmas," said Steph Hawkins, 50, who had taken the day off to conduct some serious research for what to get her three teenagers and her dad. I said, "What does your dad want?" She laughed, and said, "Dad wants a hat." As a dad, I suddenly wanted a hat, too, and felt a kinship with all Kiwi dads this Christmas, men who worked hard, loved their kids and hoped for nothing more in life than a new hat.
Shore City is a very good mall, compact, with the usual stores - and a Santa. He was wandering around with a Tank juice and I asked him how it was going. "I know you," he said. "You're the man who ate Lincoln Rd." Recognised by Santa! Career highlight, but then he apologised and said he couldn't talk to the press. Damn the North Pole and its red tape.
Todd Joshua-Shirley, 31, and his girlfriend, Kate Low, 25, were happy to talk. Much of their skin was decorated with ink and Kate wore a Cupid on one earring and a dagger on the other; they were the sweetest couple, so nice and happy and fun, and they talked about buying each other miniature figures to paint and play with this Christmas. They have at least 100 figures and Todd mentioned the game War Hammer 40K, set in the year 4000...Once again I really wanted a hat. Someone, please get me a hat. Merry Christmas!