For a grandstand view of Auckland's City Rail Link project, there's no better place than the outdoor terrace at the Shakespeare pub brewery on Albert St.
From the historic hotel, built in 1898 from red bricks imported from Melbourne, people can see the city's future taking shape over a beer.
It's along a stretch of Albert St, from the pub to Swanson St, that the first trench is being dug to take a pair of tunnels for the underground rail link running from Britomart to Mt Eden at a cost of up to $3.4 billion.
The project dwarfs the $1.4b Waterview tunnel connection and is up there with the largest public projects in New Zealand's history, such as the Clyde Dam, which opened in 1984 at a cost of $1.4b, or $4.4b in today's dollars.
In a remarkable feat of engineering and, in the words of Auckland Transport construction manager Scott Elwarth, "trying to keep the world pseudo normal", the CRL is being built in the country's most densely populated city centre.
"It's just tight and correspondingly slow," says Elwarth, an Auckland-born engineer who has worked on rail projects in Britain and Germany and passionately believes in the outcomes of the CRL.
They include turning a one-way cul-de-sac rail system at Britomart into a through system carrying up to 30,000 passengers an hour on trains every 10 minutes in peak hours.
The word "tight" repeatedly comes up during a tour of the work sites nearing the first anniversary of last winter's groundbreaking ceremony.
Take the old Central Post Office building, a regal lady, her grimy face of Oamaru stone and Coromandel granite, refurbished 15 years ago to become the city's train station. The 1910 building is undergoing a second structural overhaul; the ornamental ceilings and arched windows shrink-wrapped in plastic and columns boarded up with plywood while more than 1000 tonnes of rubble is removed.
The old postal chamber has been virtually sealed to safeguard thousands of commuters from the noise and dust created from cutting through the reinforced floor to a lower level to create headroom for a piling rig to begin the work of tunnelling. It's an eerie, tomb-like atmosphere metres from a new, temporary shed-like station that will act as a mini-Britomart for three years.
• WATCH: City Rail Link explained
The next leg of the first construction stages for the 3.5km rail route from Britomart to Wyndham St, via Customs St and Albert St, is under the old Downtown Shopping Centre. Here, Precinct Properties is building the $850 million Commercial Bay tower and shopping centre.
So far, "CRL stub" walls have been built for the tunnel interface between the Precinct site and the Lower Queen St and Customs St sites. Anchoring works under neighbouring Zurich House for the CRL are complete and excavation of the rail corridor is well advanced.
The third leg of the CRL works is the intersection of Customs St and Albert St. This is where cars and pedestrians rub shoulders with diggers and hard hats.
Keeping traffic flowing along this key route out of the city and providing pedestrian access to several large office towers has been a real test. A Bluetooth system has helped, tracking vehicle movements and travel times along surrounding roads that are constantly being narrowed and closed.
A key project, says Elwarth, has been the construction of an underground bridge structure at the intersection to allow the tunnels to be excavated when the road is reinstated.
After removing a spaghetti of utility services running across the intersection, the bridge is being built in four sections, each one closing a different section of the intersection leading to a new traffic diversion and pedestrian crossing.
Three sections have been built. The final section is due to be finished in September, allowing all four traffic lanes to be reopened.
Heading up Albert St to Wyndham St, 362 piles, 20m deep have been driven into the ground every 2.5m, or thereabouts, on both sides of the road by a nine-storey piling rig affectionately named "Gomer" after the 1960s TV character Gomer Pyle.
Heavily reinforced concrete capping beams are being built over the piles to tie them together and support the trench walls that will be excavated to 12.5m. Massive, three-tonne steels beams to hold the trench open and support a working deck are now in place between Wyndham St and Swanson St, where the first 1.5m of digging has started.
All up, 16,000cu m of concrete will be poured into the pile and tunnel boxes - enough to fill Newmarket swimming pool nearly seven times.
The final piece in the jigsaw for the early works has been the construction of a 2m diameter stormwater pipe to replace an old stormwater pipe running up Albert St in the path of the CRL route.
Valerie - a tunnel boring machine named after Olympic shot putter Dame Valerie Adams - has been simultaneously excavating and installing a new 500m stormwater pipe under Albert St since November last year.
The Orakei main sewer line that crosses below the new stormwater pipe and the future mid-town Aotea Station is also being strengthened.
Work on the pipes is due to be finished about September.