Have you ever found yourself in a foreign city, guidebook in hand, searching for an unusual carving on the facade of a church, or peering through the shutters of a house where some dead famous person once supposedly did something important?
Just because we're limited to domestic travel, for the time being, doesn't mean we should be deprived of the pleasure of seeking out the obscure, colourful or just plain weird in our own backyard. This central-city walking tour has been designed with precisely that in mind.
The history of Myers Park
Did you know that Auckland has its own Michelangelo statue? You don't have to go all the way to the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome to admire the Renaissance genius' marble Moses. You'll find him in all his buff beauty, Ten Commandments tucked under one muscular arm, to the right of the stairs heading down through Myers Park. Of course, it's a reproduction – but it's a fairly accurate, life-sized one.
The location is fitting, given that he's gazing towards the city's main synagogue from land gifted by the Nathans, one of early Auckland's most prominent Jewish families. And, yes, those are horns – Moses is occasionally depicted with horns due to a wonky translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin by St Jerome in the 4th century.
The reason for Myers Park's steep, narrow shape is that it holds another secret. As you walk down its grand avenue of immense phoenix palms you're actually walking on water. The Waihorotiu Stream once gurgled down this gully but has long since been relegated to a subterranean existence, confined to culverts until it empties into the harbour below the Ferry Building.
Follow its path through the park and into Aotea Square. As you continue down Queen St, look for the paving stones etched with zigzag patterns – an artistic echo of the lost waterway.
An ancient well and a Rolling Stones gig
Head down as far as narrow Durham St West and then turn right into Durham Lane. Here, hemmed in by high rises, you'll find the most Dickensian streetscape in the inner city, framed by the venerable Bluestone Room and the brick backsides of the Wyndham St shops.
Built as a warehouse in 1861, the Bluestone Room is the oldest stone commercial building in Auckland. Only adding to its mystique is the fact that the Rolling Stones played here in the 1960s. If you do find the bar open, check out the well displayed under glass in the floor; it's thought to be Auckland's oldest.
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There's another historic well hidden around the corner in Wyndham St – although you can't actually see this one. During the most recent renovations of St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral it was discovered beneath the floor of the nave. You can see its circular outline etched into the floorboards between the fourth and sixth pews from the back, to the right of the aisle.
While you're here, stop to admire one of Auckland's most beautiful churches and the many treasures it contains. One of the more recent additions is the shallow pink-marble baptismal pool at the side of the sanctuary. Follow the direction the water is flowing and exit via the north transept, noting how the St Patrick's Square ponds and cascades symbolically continue the flow from the font.
As you descend down to Queen St via Swanson St, try to visualise the beach which once stood before you. Fort St used to be called Fore St, as it follows the old shoreline of what the British settlers called Commercial Bay. Before that it was Te One Panoa, meaning "heads in a line on the beach" – a reference to the staked heads of fallen enemies displayed here.
Branch off Fort St at Jean Batten Place and head up Shortland St to Emily Place Reserve. Hidden under the giant boughs of the ancient pohutukawa is a sober Victorian-era obelisk memorialising an early clergyman. Spare a thought for the poor engraver who, having inscribed the verbose dedication, made a highly visible typo in the fourth-to-last word.
The architecture of the University of Auckland
Wander up Princes St and on to the campus of the University of Auckland. If you didn't study here, you may be oblivious to its notable architectural delights: the old synagogue (1858) and grand merchant's houses lining Princes St; Old Government House (1856), built of wood but with a facade made to look like stone; and the gorgeous University Clock Tower (1926), with elements of native flora incorporated into its delicate tracery.
Positioned between the tower and the library is an 80m section of basalt wall, interspersed with gun slots. It was built in 1846 to defend the long-gone Albert Barracks from Māori raids, which never eventuated. Now it's watched over by the inscrutable gaze of Michael Parekowhai's bronze statue of a security guard, entitled Kapa Haka (2008), as students scurry by, oblivious to its role in Auckland's colonial history.