Steve Braunias compiles his annual list of the 20 best things of Auckland life.
Best bus stop
Bus stop 7850, Kepa Rd, Ōrākei. It's across the road from the Ōrākei RSA and around the corner from the Eastridge mall but the beauty of it is that it backs on to a lovely green field with an enormous Norfolk Pine. It's elevated, and drops down to Purewa Creek, Kepa Bush, Hobson Bay. You sit there in a wonderland of the east and hope that your bus is late, that in fact it may never arrive, so you can just stay and enjoy the vibe – it's a bus stop that makes you feel like a child of nature.
Western Suburbs Radio Club, 3000 Great North Rd, New Lynn. One of the great hidden treasures of Auckland is this small but beautifully formed radio shack on the banks of the Whau River where it meets the Avondale Stream; it's very discreet, lurking between two massive pylons and down a gravel path. It's a fibrolite bach which has been the home of shortwave radio hobbyists for over 50 years. They've got up to all sorts of hi-fi hijinks in that time inside that shack, which looks as antique and old-timey as a crystal radio set, and warms the heart of all those who see it – it's a clean signal in the static of modern life.
Best wellness centre
Kāwai Purapura, 14 Mills Lane, Albany. The journey from unwellness to wellness is enshrined in this 100-acre spiritual retreat, and home to roughly 100 people: it was once the Centrepoint "community". Bert Potter's wicked and stupid disciples roamed its grounds to abuse women and children. It's now a place for sound, colour and crystal therapists, acupuncturists, and yoga, mirimiri and reiki practitioners. Om and chur.
Best patisserie done out in a lot of pink, and I mean a lot of pink
Divine Patisserie, Ormiston Town Centre, 240 Ormiston Rd, Flat Bush. When she was littler, my daughter Minka loved the picture book Pinkalicious. It remains a worldwide smash hit, a modern classic, with its celebration of all things pink in the life of Pinkalicious Pinkerton, a featherhead infatuated with pink. The pages are made real at Divine Patisserie – the seating is pink, the masses and masses of paper roses that decorate the store are pink, and a cherry blossom tree in the middle of the room is an explosion of pink. The sweets include pink champagne doughnuts. I chose a blackberry meringue. It was yum; and when I bit into it, the blackberry looked pink.
Best symbol of hope and happiness in a city deprived of both for four goddamned months of lockdown
The Sky Tower. God bless this sharp pin, this firm stake, this temperature rising, this marvel of engineering and illumination, burning like the colour of dreams every night, a flag raised every day, above it all, visible to all, a sign of life that all citizens of the Hermit Isthmus could cling on to during those four goddamned months of lockdown – no matter where you are in Auckland, the Sky Tower is there, as constant as God or Satan.
Business class, onboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the Air New Zealand hangar on Laurence Stevens Drive, Auckland Airport, during the Super Saturday Vaxxathon. There was something cruel and mocking about it - it's the closest most of us could get to an international flight this year – but it was actually a really cool idea. You sat there in comfort and style, got made a fuss of, and the whole experience was the closest that most of us could get to a business flight. Nice one! But to tell you the truth I felt sick with envy. Like most Kiwis, I'd already got vaxxed, and it wasn't any big deal. I demand the booster shot in business class, please. It's not as if the Boeings are going anywhere in a hurry.
Brian Tamaki's underpants, as in the year's best headline, "Destiny Church's Brian Tamaki stripped down to his undies before court appearance". Tamaki was arrested in October and charged with violating Covid-19 lockdown orders. The cops put him in the cells, shivering in his underpants, for six hours. And verily these were among the best six hours of Auckland life in 2021.
Best enchanted forest
The Enchanted Forest in Te Atatū peninsula. You should go there at once. Take the kids, take a picnic, take your sense of wonder. It's at the end of a walking path alongside the famous horse paddocks just as you enter Te Atatū. Little signs point to THE ENCHANTED FOREST; you enter a stand of bush that goes down to the water, and the artist, or artists, has painted bright, delicate scenes from fairytales on tree trunks lined along a track. Snow White is there. The Three Bears. And all kinds of other creatures; it's so beautiful, so touching, so fun.
Pici, Shop 22, St Kevin's Arcade,183 Karangahape Rd. "I'm deeply in love with this restaurant," wrote New Zealand's best reviewer, Jesse Mulligan, in March, in the pages of Viva. "I ate there on Tuesday and wanted to go back on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday." I never miss a Mulligan review. His ratio of lols per column is higher than anyone else in the country and his enthusiasm, his knowledge, and his consuming greed are writ in every sentence. I ate at Pici with my daughter after his rave review and it was every bit as good as he said; that same night, Jacinda Ardern was filling her face in an upstairs table. It's a compact little place with young staff and great food, electrified by the happiness going on all around in the arcade and K Rd. Eat there tonight, and tomorrow night, and the night after that.
Best lunch bar
Hollow Legs, 12 Kaka St, Ōtāhuhu. The stomachs of working-class Auckland are fed by those great icons of New Zealand life – lunch bars. Hollow Legs (awesome name!) is behind a barbed-wire fence in a zone of factories and garages; sheet metal is made here, canvas and vinyl goods, stainless steel, God knows what else. Hollow Legs do burgers, toasted sandwiches, lamb shanks, and hot chips with a free squirt of tomato sauce. It means more to thousands and thousands of Aucklanders than the best restaurants.
Foxtail agave, or agave attenuata. These jokers are the great and graceful divas of Auckland gardens, with their long, spectacular, actually quite outrageous stems, 1.5m to 3m in height, which then arch, or droop, to the ground. They are made for tropical and subtropical temperatures. They are made to just get on with it no matter the soil or whether they're watered. They are made for lush, steaming, fructifying Auckland.
Thomas Bloodworth Park, Shore Rd, Remuera. A toast to good old Tom Bloodworth (1882-1974), a carpenter, teetotaller and socialist who helped build Grafton Bridge, and who gave his name to this beautiful park with views out to Hobson Bay, a boardwalk through the mangroves, all of it perfectly flat (it's home to the Parnell Cricket Club) and perfectly gorgeous, a shining jewel among Auckland's many beautiful parks and recreation grounds.
Seventh-Day Adventist, 35 Brentwood Ave, Mt Eden. It's just off Dominion Rd and next to a motorway underpass, which gives it a tough, grimy, industrial look – really, it looks like a prison, Victorian with its red brick facade, something grim and gothic. Up close it's a work of Godly art. The windows are very, very narrow, for it is said that God's chosen must walk a narrow path, and the grounds include a community garden with a few spinach plants, a red cabbage, and kale. "Please help yourself to the produce," a sign advises, "but kindly refrain from any gardening during Sabbath hours (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset)".
Best Lotto shops
Southmall, Manurewa. You should go to the friendliest mall in Auckland at once, or at least once. You never know your luck and the two Lotto shops in Southmall have brought considerable luck over the years: the nice lady working the small Lotto kiosk in the middle of the mall has sold four First Division tickets since 2016 (including a $1m ticket in 2019), and in early November a mum and daughter won the $6.2m Powerball with a ticket bought at New World. "This prize is going to make an enormous difference," the daughter told the Herald. "Family has always been really important to both of us, so we're really excited to be able to help out not only our family, but those around us and in our community. It will be truly life-changing for many people. We feel incredibly blessed."
Stokes Point, Northcote. Stokes Point in Northcote is unlike any other Point in Auckland. It feels almost entirely pointless. It's directly underneath the Harbour Bridge - Northcote is the first piece of land that the Harbour Bridge touches on the North Shore – and the noise of traffic and size of the bridge overwhelm the senses. And yet when you take the time to adjust, you notice a discreet beauty, painted on the sides of concrete supports that hold up the bridge: lines from writers including Janet Frame, Frank Sargeson, Bruce Mason, and Robin Hyde. What a brilliant idea. It'd make an awesome spot for a book launch, although you'd have to shout.
The mural of authors Maurice Shadbolt, Maurice Gee and Dick Scott on the back of a smoker's hut opposite a platform at the Henderson train station. Along with the lines of verse and prose on the Harbour Bridge piers at Stokes Point in Northcote (see Best Point, above), this 2007 artwork by Douglas Ford brings Auckland literature off the page and into the open air of a transport centre. Bridges, train stations…Ford's painting has the three authors sitting around a wooden table with wine, tea, and tobacco, and views of Henderson Creek and the Waitakere Ranges in the background. It'd make an awesome spot for a book launch, but you wouldn't want to lose your footing.
Nathan watertower, Nathan Homestead, 70 Hill Rd, Manurewa. In addition to its cafe, its floral gardens, its tennis court, its theatre, its artist's studios, and its all-purpose preservation of olde worlde culture in this sun-dappled glade, the Nathan Homestead (built for the fabulously wealthy Nathan family early last century) features its own private watertower – built in the shape of a Norman church, with a kiwi on top of the weather vane. No, really. It has to be seen to be disbelieved.
Vegas Time, 335 Karangahape Rd. It's the small round clock above the famous mural of the blue-eyed Vegas Girl stripper wearing suspenders and breast implants. The time is stuck at 8.40 – morning, or evening, who knows, but really it's stuck in another age. It's a time-travel clock. It whisks you back to the dark ages of the sexualisation of women and the subjugation, of the male gaze when it made public what it wanted to see, which was women, naked. The model for the Vegas Girl worked at the Las Vegas stripclub and later died of cancer. God, she was hot.
The hexagonal house architect Ian Burrow created in the 1970s in Castor Bay was advertised in May when it went for sale. It was another chance to see the work of one of Auckland's greatest artists – this guy has dreamed up teardrops, Portuguese-inspired towers, and various assorted startling geometries, and his Castor Bay hexagons are among his most audacious work. The house is linked in a series of hexagonal pods. It has hexagonal decks, and hexagonal exposed timber ceilings; all that thinking, and it's only four bedrooms!
Okay so it's either September 21, when Auckland moved to Level 3 after five weeks at Level 4 and the cafes opened, or November 9, when Auckland moved to Level 3.2 and the shops opened, or December 15, when the border of the Hermit Isthmus finally opened, or - and this is my vote, probably the same as your vote, and it's nothing to do with Covid or lockdown or traffic lights; it's just that one day when we all get a break, and can down tools, and be with the ones we love, and feel lucky and blessed and fortunate to live in the most beautiful city in New Zealand – December 25. Okay, so it'll probably rain. But Merry Xmas, Auckland. We totally goddamn deserve it.