Taking shape at Hobsonville Point, which is being described as 'the water gateway to northwest Auckland,' is a range of commercial projects under way around the wharf at Catalina Bay.

Development company Willis Bond & Co has commenced restoration work on a number of historic waterfront buildings that once housed and serviced Catalina and Sunderland flying boats and which became part of an important air force base in WWII.

The buildings, which have sat mostly idle for a number of years are being rejuvenated into a mix of character office, food and beverage and retail premises in the first stage of a Mixed Use development. Subsequent stages will include terraced housing and apartment complexes and further pavilion style commercial offerings.

The project will encompass approximately 1.8ha of land at Catalina Bay alongside the new wharf which provides a commuter ferry service to and from Auckland's CBD and is likely to be completed by the end of 2021.


The Hobsonville Land Company (HLC) was established by the Government to oversee the development of the former Defence Department land as part of its aim to increase the supply of quality, medium-density housing in Auckland.

HLC chief executive Chris Aiken says the Catalina Bay development will be a vibrant commercial and social hub for the rapidly expanding Hobsonville Point township which will eventually house over 11,000 people.

"We wanted it to provide an exceptional, world-class waterfront precinct for residents and visitors in what will be the main harbour gateway to the northwest," Aiken says. "It was also important any development celebrated the bay's aviation and military history and retained the seaplane hangar and key heritage buildings.

"Willis Bond was chosen for the project because of the innovative concept ideas it came up with for the site and its extensive restoration experience in Wellington's CBD and industry-leading waterfront development track record. At Catalina Bay, they have partnered with Cheshire Architects, which has played a leading role in the redevelopment of the historic Britomart precinct."

Willis Bond & Co project director Wayne Silver says work on the refurbishment of six former Airforce buildings of various sizes is well underway and should be completed by the end of the year. The largest of these will be the Catalina Workshops building developed in the early 1940s as a hangar and servicing facility for training Catalina pilots to assist British efforts against the Japanese.

The Catalina Workshops, one of the feature buildings planned for the development - artist's impression. Photo / Supplied
The Catalina Workshops, one of the feature buildings planned for the development - artist's impression. Photo / Supplied

The side walls of the concrete building are being opened up with extensive glazing which will flood the premises with natural light. A mezzanine level is being added and the complex will provide high-stud, character office space.

"It will be a very dramatic and striking building with the glass facade on its bold, main frontage fixed to the old hangar door frame," says Silver. "A large glass set back will lead into a double-level lobby area which will split the building into two parts."

One half of the building will be occupied by HLC which will relocate its head office into the premises in November. The other half, comprising about 600sq m of ground floor space and 400sq m of mezzanine, is available for lease.


Office leasing specialist, Brendan Graves, who is handling the leasing of the Catalina Point office space for Bayleys with colleagues Mark Preston and Simon Davies, says it will appeal to tenants looking for West Auckland premises with a 'wow' factor.

"There's not a lot of character space available in the west and this would suit entrepreneurial businesses looking for premises that are different and special."

On the seaward side of this building, adjacent to the wharf, will be a cafe, in the former Fabric Building where fabric for the seaplanes was made. "Piling work has been completed for a new deck that extends out over the water and will provide outdoor seating for the cafe as well as being an integral part of the 5km Te Ara Manawa coastal walkway which loops around the perimeter of the Hobsonville Point peninsula," says Silver.

"We have agreed on commercial terms with the operator of what will be a high -dawn-to-dusk cafe providing food and coffee for ferry commuters, visitors and residents."

This artist's impression, depicts a cafe/restaurant planned for the Fabric Building, where fabric for sea planes was processed. Photo / Supplied
This artist's impression, depicts a cafe/restaurant planned for the Fabric Building, where fabric for sea planes was processed. Photo / Supplied

On the other side of the Catalina Workshops building is the Armoury, a similar size to the Fabric Building which will accommodate a restaurant that complements the cafe, says Silver.

Next to that are two buildings that will be the base for the well-established Hobsonville Point Farmers Market, which will relocate from its temporary home in the Fabric Building into bigger premises.

"The Farmers Market has been a very popular weekend attraction for some time now and its operation will be expanded to include week days for some traders keen to establish an increased presence," says Silver. "This will mainly be sellers who provide fresh convenience products for commuters and residents such as fruit and veges, meat and roasted coffee. The traditional weekend-only stall holders will still be an integral part of the market and space will be created for them inside and outside the buildings."

On the eastern side of the Farmers Market will be the GRP building where technicians worked with glass reinforced plastics. Graves says this will provide around 400sq m of character office space over two levels.

"This is a striking, standalone building with a high-pitched roof. It would suit a service-related business looking to brand itself in West Auckland, and wanting a high-profile building - such as real estate company, architectural, legal or accounting practice."

The centrepiece of the Catalina Bay redevelopment will be the Sunderland Hangar, built in 1939 by TEAL for its new Trans-Tasman sea planes. In World War II, its operations were relocated to Mechanics Bay and the building became home to the Short Sunderland aircraft.

The massive British flying boats were critical to New Zealand's war effort, patrolling the Pacific and rescuing downed allied airmen. The RNZAF was the last organisation in the world to keep the Short Sunderland in service, retiring the aircraft in 1967.

The hangar used a state-of-the-art, lightweight-steel roof truss system to leave the interior free of supporting posts so it could accommodate large planes. This structure has been retained although stripped back to its membrane to enable asbestos cladding to be removed. It will be reclad in keeping with its original external look and internally will contain a new mezzanine office floor and combined manufacturing and retail space at ground level.

The interior of the GRP Building on the eastern side of Farmers Market - as conceived by an artist. Photo / Supplied
The interior of the GRP Building on the eastern side of Farmers Market - as conceived by an artist. Photo / Supplied

Silver says negotiations are advanced for an international craft beer brewer to take the bulk of the ground floor space. "We hope to make a formal announcement in the next six weeks and the offering will also incorporate a restaurant and be surrounded by other complementary artisan food and beverage providers.

"A full-height void will be left at the front of the building so that visitors can see the roof trusses, a spectacular 27m above. the 13m high mezzanine office level under these, will look down through glass walls over all the activity below."

Graves says the 1300sq m mezzanine can be divided in a number of ways and would suit smaller businesses or co-working operations which thrive in character buildings, offering the opportunity for social connection and a strong interaction between occupants.

The rebuilding of Sunderland Hangar is scheduled for completion by the end of 2018. A public plaza in front will ensure sight lines to the harbour remain and that the hangar itself is always visible from the water, says Silver.

The next stage of the development scheduled to commence in mid-2018 alongside the Sunderland Hangar will encompass around 80 apartments and seven terraced houses. The final stages of the project will comprise new retail and food and beverage outlets around the waterfront.

"Our aspirations for Catalina Bay are very high," says Silver. "All great cities have nodes of interest often centred on sites of historic significance which are an important part of their fabric - the Hudson Yards in New York being a good example. We need more of these in Auckland encompassing high quality mixed use communities tucked away from the congestion but still close to good public transport services which Catalina Bay offers with its ferry and bus terminals."

Silver sees it becoming a regional destination as well as the centre of the Hobsonville Point community. He imagines when cruise ship passengers arrive in Auckland in the future and are given a list of excursions, "taking the ferry to Catalina Bay will be near the top of the list of recommended day trips, just like Waiheke Island is now".