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Whose Queens Wharf?

May 8, 2014 Urban design

What happens when someone comes up with a good idea for Auckland?

First published in the April 2014 issue of Metro. Feature photos by Ken Downie. Artwork above, courtesy of Logan Brewer.


The sky above is a deep indigo blue and filled with stars, and you look for the ones you know. The Southern Cross; Orion’s belt, always easier to think of as the Pot. Just above the far horizon, there’s that little shimmering cluster: the Pleiades, better known hereabouts as Matariki.

You take your place in a giant double-hulled waka; all around you, others are getting themselves seated too, nudging each other, pointing excitedly. The boat fills and, as if at some subtle signal, you all fall silent. There’s a karakia then, the voice so plaintive, so filled with hope and longing, and suddenly it’s time for the voyage and away you go. South across the Pacific.

At first the air is thick with seabirds, and when they fall back, reeling away on the bright high wind, the flying fish arrive. Turtles glide by in the water, and faster sharper shadows too, and then, the flipper tail, the spout, the entire rippling barnacled body of a sperm whale. You ride the swells, look dolphins in the eye, sail through a storm, learn to navigate, learn how to keep the craft afloat without nails or glueguns or anything but flaxen rope and adze-hewn planks.

You learn to read the world around you — and at a certain point you realise you have become, in ways you had not anticipated, a part of that world.

Eventually, with the immensity of the voyage behind you and yet surely over all too soon, with the sky once again filling with birds — gulls and gannets and mollymawks — you sight a long low bank of clouds, and a slip of land beneath, and then the surf is pounding, there are rocky outcrops and swirling kelp and a white sand beach on which, with a long last sigh, your boat, your precious waka, slides to a stop.

Who wouldn’t want to do that?


A simulated voyage to Aotearoa, sailing on a virtual Pacific Ocean, is the central feature of a major visitor attraction proposed for Queens Wharf. In many respects, it’s just what Auckland has been telling itself it needs. In others, it is completely wide of the mark.

The proposal is called Pacific Discovery. It includes an auditorium for the presentation of “the arts, live cultural performances, ‘Pacifika’ and native bird shows”, and a large restaurant surrounded by a “Pacific coral reef enclosure” featuring “authentic tropical-coloured fish”.

The whole thing is housed in three linked buildings, each with a PVC membrane “sail” curved over the top, onto which projections can be screened. The sails are also intended to evoke nautilus shells. “Four double-hulled ocean-going waka” are moored right outside.

A highly visible, distinctive focal point to the downtown waterfront precinct. A new heart of the city, presenting a powerful expression of Maori culture and at the same time celebrating our myriad other cultures. Tourists arriving by cruise ship would disembark and be readily seduced by the attraction, right there in front of them.

Don’t get too excited — or worried — just yet, because it will almost certainly not be built. At least, not in its current form and not in its proposed location. Why not? Among the problems:

•   There is no Maori involvement.
•   It’s a private project on public land.
•  There are several other competing ideas for the future of Queens Wharf.
•  The whole downtown waterfront is under review, and nothing much will happen until that’s done.
•  It’s not all that distinctive (those shell shapes remind you of anything in Sydney?).
•   If it’s “authentic”, how do the coral reef and tropical fish fit in?

Pacific Discovery is the brainchild of Bill Ludbrook, a retired property broker from Mission Bay, and Logan Brewer, an events producer, sculptor and set designer from Northcote Point. Brewer has had a long and very distinguished career presenting cultural attractions, including the New Zealand pavilions for Expos in Brisbane (1988) and Seville (1992) and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1990.

Ludbrook and Brewer are a couple of guys who like living in a city whose vibrancy comes from different cultures. Ludbrook is Pakeha; Brewer is Pakeha with one-eighth Maori. They’re both getting on a bit and want to create something of lasting value celebrating that vibrancy, which they can be proud of and we can too. And they want to taste entrepreneurial success.

Admirable goals, all of them.

They say they’ve been working on this thing for nine years, during which time they have developed the idea, settled on the technology of the “sails”, got a quantity surveyor to cost it all ($46.5 million), chosen their preferred site and talked to some potential investors. If they get Queens Wharf, they don’t think it will be hard to raise the money.

“We’ve been so careful,” says Pacific Discovery’s Bill Ludbrook. “ATEED told us, ‘You’ve ticked all the boxes.’”

“We’ve been so careful,” says Ludbrook. “The design, we’ve preserved view shafts, we’ve got public shelter, we’ve enlarged the public area. At ATEED [the council’s big Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development agency], they told us, ‘You’ve ticked all the boxes.’”

If that’s true, ATEED was being disingenuous. In those nine years, Ludbrook and Brewer have had little contact with the people who will be critical in deciding the future of Queens Wharf.

It wasn’t until late last year that they approached Waterfront Auckland (WA), the council agency which runs the wharf. WA told them a few things straight off the bat. One: Queens Wharf is a public asset not available for private lease. Two: no one is making big decisions about the wharf just yet. Three: they really should be talking to mana whenua.

Their answers were: that could change; so could that; and, we don’t know how to do that.

Pacific Discovery planetarium
Conceptual image inside the Pacific Discovery planetarium. Artwork: Sofia Minson.

Bill Ludbrook is a gentle, softly spoken man filled with optimism, and he’s clearly in love with the project. To him, it’s an opportunity that represents the best of what this city is and might become.

He’s a Rotary guy, well connected in a big part of Auckland society. But neither Rotary nor the rest of his professional life seem to have given him any insights into how a Maori-based cultural project gets developed.

Logan Brewer, however, has worked often with Maori and Maori organisations, including, quite recently, as producer of the stage musical version of The Whale Rider. But his experience, similarly, does not seem to have prepared him for getting this project off the ground.

Waterfront Auckland did not turn them down, but gave them an introduction to Auckland’s largest iwi, Ngati Whatua Orakei, which owns most of the land from west of Vector Arena eastwards to the Strand bridge over the railway lines.

Ngati Whatua are mana whenua, but they are not alone. There are 19 iwi who can claim that status in the greater city area, and 12 of them — including Ngati Whatua Orakei — are represented by the Tamaki Makaurau Collective, a body set up to negotiate with the Crown over Auckland’s maunga.

“Developers usually want a tick,” says Tupara Morrison. “We want to be in on the planning.”

Ngati Whatua were polite and, says Ludbrook, they seemed very positive. But, he cautions, he knows this is not the same as actually having iwi support. “We have consulted with iwi,” is how he describes the relationship.

Tupara Morrison is the CEO of Whai Maia Ltd, the “tribal development” arm of Ngati Whatua Orakei. He says there are several proposals for Queens Wharf, and none has formal mana whenua backing, either from his iwi or from the Tamaki Collective or other iwi.

One of the reasons is that they don’t like being approached by people with fully developed proposals. “Developers usually want a tick,” he says. “What we want is to be in on the planning. We want to be in the decision-making tent.”

Ngati Whatua is a recently wealthy iwi, in asset terms, thanks to property investments made possible by treaty settlements, and it is keen to establish a cultural and economic presence on the downtown waterfront. “If you arrive at Queens Wharf now on a boat,” says Morrison, “you could be anywhere in the world.”

They hope to create an eastern gateway to the central city, near the Strand bridge, and they strongly agree there should be a major visitor attraction in a good central waterfront location. But they’re not jumping into anything. “The worst thing would be for the iwi to be involved in a $50 million-$60 million development and it fails. Because in this town…”

Indeed. In this town, when a Maori economic initiative gets into trouble there’s always a whole lot of shrieking from the rooftops.

Pacific Discovery has other cultural hurdles to jump. It’s billed as “a total cultural experience for all of Auckland’s cultural diversities”, but generalised multiculturalism doesn’t sit well with mana whenua.

“We are a bicultural society,” says Morrison. “Other Pacific cultures understand that.” He means, while Pacific Discovery will showcase all sorts of cultural activity, the experience at its heart will have to be a Maori experience.

There’s more. “It’s about employment, as well as cultural authenticity. The best people to tell the stories are the people who own those stories.”

All of which is why, as he puts it, “The process for talking to us is: early engagement.”

Ludbrook and Brewer came to them very late. They don’t have a board or even a cultural advisory group, and have not met with the Tamaki Collective or other iwi at all.

Pacific Discovery want to put their buildings at the north end of Queens Wharf. That’s also the proposed site for a sculpture by Michael Parekowhai, a gift to the city from real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson (coincidentally, the same company Ludbrook used to work for).

The council’s Arts, Culture and Events Committee has expressed support for the Parekowhai, but it’s hard to discern much real enthusiasm. Some of that is because the sculpture itself — it will suggest a state house filled with an enormous chandelier — is not to everyone’s taste.

Siting a major artwork in a public place simply because someone gifted it to go there is not good planning.

More significantly, siting a major artwork in a public place simply because someone gifted it to go there is not good planning. Decisions on sculpture are supposed to come late in the planning process, not pre-empt it.

Barfoot’s generosity is widely appreciated, but the whole thing is going to get messy. Councillor Chris Darby thinks the way it’s been handled will have “scared off corporate Auckland”, which would be a pity.

Another option involves Shed 11, the old wharf building taken down to make way for the Cloud. Every piece was numbered and it’s now in storage, waiting for someone to rebuild it. There’s no plan to do that, yet.

Of more substance, and similar in several ways to Pacific Discovery, is a proposal known as Kiwa. It’s a “Centre of Contemporary Maori and Pacific Culture”, which would become a “spiritual and cultural home, growing and celebrating the knowledge and value of Pacific peoples in the world”. There would be a performance space, visual arts, artists in residence, environmental and indigenous research, waka, a ceremonial space and a restaurant/bar/catering service.

Kiwa is a direct rival to Pacific Discovery. It’s in the process of constituting itself as a trust with Maori board members, including artists and administrators working for Maori outfits, and some Auckland business leaders. Chair Mark Graham says Michael Dreaver, the lead negotiator of the Tamaki Collective, is a supporter.

Importantly, Kiwa does not have formal mana whenua backing, and Graham, who is Pakeha, says getting it will be “central to the authenticity of the project”. But, he says, “It’s been flagged that something like this has to happen” and “everyone we talk to gets it straight away”. Bill Ludbrook says the same about his proposal.

Kiwa will be a centre for Pasifika, in the city with the world’s largest Pasifika population, that will “acknowledge the whakapapa shared between Maori and their whanaunga of the wider Pacific”. The tangata whenua of this Pasifika project, they like to stress, will be Maori.

Graham says Kiwa is unique, although he adds that the beautiful Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, designed by Renzo Piano in New Caledonia, is conceptually similar.

Kiwa’s Mark Graham says Aucklanders should be wary of “tiki tourism”: things that “exploit the culture rather than invest in it”.

The essential differences between Kiwa and Pacific Discovery? Mark Graham says Aucklanders should be wary of “tiki tourism”: things that “exploit the culture rather than invest in it”. Bill Ludbrook says theirs is the only proposal he knows of that could be commercially viable.

Graham means Ludbrook is a cultural tourist himself, with no right to appropriate Maoritanga to his own financial ends. Ludbrook means Graham’s plan would be a sinkhole into which we have to keep pouring money. They might both be right.

Certainly, for each of them, proving the other wrong is the key task they face if they want their dream to be realised.

Meanwhile, others are in on the act. The lobby group Committee for Auckland says it too has been exploring the potential for a cultural centre on Auckland’s waterfront, in consultation with council agencies, iwi interests and business leaders. “An ideal location has not been settled on as it is still in concept stage,” says executive director Heather Shotter.


What about the Cloud? It would have to be demolished if Pacific Discovery was built. About time? The temporary structure was rushed into place for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and it’s a difficult shape to use well for many events. But despite what many people hope, the Cloud will be with us for a while yet. Auckland hosts the World Masters Games in 2017: that’s 25,000 participants plus 10,000 others, all descending on the city in April. The Cloud will be needed, according to Brett O’Riley, CEO of the events agency ATEED. O’Riley’s one of those men who contrives to present you with both boyish enthusiasm and business smarts.

It does’t impress Bill Ludbrook. “What’s wrong with the Viaduct Events Centre for this?” he asks. It “cost ratepayers $30 million odd and is hardly ever used”. He also says, “This business about saving the Cloud for the Master Games is absurd — and then what after that?” That’s a good point. The city will always have upcoming major events, and as long as the Cloud exists it will always be used for them. Is that a reason to let it block better development on the waterfront?

Perhaps more pertinent, the Cloud belongs to the government and is linked to debt arrangements over Eden Park. A law change is required before it can be removed, and there’s no chance of that before the election in September. It won’t be this year, nor probably the next.

If you go down to the wharf today, the first thing to strike you will probably be that it’s a road.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. When the red fence was removed in 2011, Queens Wharf was going to become public space. As in, a pedestrian-friendly open area for events and informal public use, with two buildings (the Cloud and Shed 10) serving as venues for hire.

Technically, that’s still what it is. But last year, Shed 10 was renovated and became Auckland’s number-one cruise ship terminal. On most days over summer, a passenger liner berths next to the terminal, disgorging a few thousand people into fleets of buses and taxis, while the ship itself is restocked by further fleets of trucks and other service vehicles.

The Cloud
The Cloud from the north end of the wharf.


In 2011, downtown office workers might have expected a delightful pop-up park, with food stalls, shaded outdoor seating and recreational options. Instead, take your lunch down there now and you’ll be waiting at the lights of a busy intersection, and when you walk onto the wharf you could well find yourself negotiating a large bus park.

Take your lunch down there now and you’ll be waiting at the lights of a busy intersection, and when you walk onto the wharf you could well find yourself negotiating a large bus park.

Queens Wharf does host many events, indoor and outdoor, and it does have some rather lovely supersized recliners. But it doesn’t have a strong food-stall culture and it doesn’t have any shade. If you think those things sound unreasonable, next time you’re in Wellington check out the market at Chaffers Park, with its large cluster of exceptionally good food stalls housed in container terminals.

Pop up: simple, relatively cheap, thriving on the energy and enthusiasm of the stallholders and their fans. In summer, the Chaffers market is thick with people.

Alex Swney of the business lobby group Heart of the City says they warned council in 2011 about the buses. “I don’t gain any satisfaction from saying, ‘I told you so,’” he says, “but what we’ve got now looks like an airport terminal.”

There will be more cruise ships. Two a day was not uncommon this summer (with the second berthed at Princes Wharf); sometimes there were three. As Brett O’Riley of ATEED says, Auckland is the country’s principal cruise ship exchange port — the departure port or final stop for a lot of passengers — so they need larger onshore facilities than usual. “Cruise ships need a port,” he says. “Stevedores, tugs, all those things.”

In fact, servicing the boats generates as much economic activity as does tourist spending.

O’Riley is extremely keen to see the ship numbers grow, but he also asks, “How will we deal with three, four, maybe eight? We’d like Auckland to become the home port for some of them — but where would they go?”

Queens Wharf appeals to the cruise ship industry because it’s so central. But it isn’t big enough to meet demand now and it has compromised the short-term chance to improve the downtown waterfront precinct.

Swney wants the ships to berth on the western edge of Bledisloe Wharf, but that presupposes the Ports of Auckland’s container operation is either downsized or moved.

Heather Shotter of the Committee for Auckland, sitting in her boardroom high in an office block in Queen St, looks wistfully towards the Harbour Bridge. “If the connectivity is good,” she suggests, “they could be at Westhaven. But, maybe east is an option as well. It’s a big waterfront.”

O’Riley, sitting in the ATEED offices right on the waterfront, looks across to the finger wharves immediately to the east of Queens: Captain Cook and the little Marsden next to it. Captain Cook Wharf, he says, should be an option for the cruise ships. It can’t be a holding yard for cars forever. Then again, he asks, “Is that where Pacific Discovery should go?”

If the longer-term plan for cruise ships is to move them away from Queens Wharf, that bears directly on the commercial viability of visitor attractions like Pacific Discovery and Kiwa. As Tupara Morrison at Ngati Whatua says, “When cruise ships arrive, if we’re serious about a cultural presence, we need something proximate to where they are.”

So, a long-term plan for cruise ships is needed before anyone decides where to build a visitor attraction aimed at their passengers. As O’Riley puts it, “We think Pacific Discovery is great. The question is, what’s the best location for it in the long term?”

Then he says something else: “Should it go near the airport?”

“We can’t just be planning for the waterfront at the expense of the rest of the central city, and we can’t be planning for the central city at the expense of the whole city.”

He says Butterfly Creek is surprisingly successful, and it’s important for the whole city not to concentrate everything in the centre. Shotter says that too. “We can’t just be planning for the waterfront at the expense of the rest of the central city, and we can’t be planning for the central city at the expense of the whole city.” John Dalzell, CEO at Waterfront Auckland, echoes O’Riley’s airport idea.

Bill Ludbrook says, “The sad part is we have considered every conceivable option to locate it and we are adamant Queens Wharf is the only site in Auckland where it would work as a commercial proposition.” He’s clearly irritated anyone is even suggesting that an attraction so inherently connected to the sea should not be sited in a prime location on the water’s edge.


What do you do first? The planners’ conundrum. Cruise ships and the Cloud are not the only things needing a new plan on that waterfront. The lease on the Maritime Museum, Voyager, expires within 10 years, and there’s a widespread desire that it should grow into something much bigger, though probably not in its current location by Princes Wharf.

Should Auckland have a big new maritime museum and entertainment centre that engages visitors on everything from the voyages of the first waka to the latest technology of the America’s Cup? Or should the component parts be kept separate? Where would such a facility go?

There’s also an immediate problem — the streets around Britomart can’t cope with all the commuter buses that clog them, waiting their turn to leave. And the developer Precinct Properties, which owns the Downtown mall building out the front of Britomart, has been hard at work with council agencies on plans to rebuild on the site.

There will be a new shopping precinct with outward facing shops, a new public plaza, enhanced access for pedestrians across Quay St to the ferries and the waterfront, new bus terminal facilities — and underneath it all, the City Rail Link (CRL) will continue from Britomart station, under the new building and on up beneath Albert St.

Precinct is preparing for a three-year build starting in 2015-2016 — assuming, of course, the public funding components are in place.

Meanwhile, there weren’t enough moorings for all the superyachts in Auckland this summer, each of which delivers $1.7 million worth of economic activity over the season. Andrey Melnichenko’s “Big A”, moored at the west end of Wynyard Quarter, is said to generate $1.7 million of activity a week.

And there’s more: stormwater problems to be fixed, the seawall in the ferry basin to be rebuilt. Ferry facilities will change as the number of ferry movements, currently 500 a day, continues to rise and operators start to consider using front-loading ferries.

Meanwhile, in the existing strategic plans, it’s proposed to turn Quay St into a “boulevard”, with fewer traffic lanes, trees and easier access for pedestrians across to the wharves. That can’t be done without decisions on where to route the east-west traffic.

Should Beach Rd get busier? Should vehicles currently passing through the downtown area be encouraged to go around, using Grafton Gully and the motorway connections? Should the container port be forbidden from putting trucks onto Quay St, especially at peak times?

“Encouraging” traffic to do anything means incentivising or penalising, which usually means the government and council have to agree. Since the creation of the super city in 2010, there hasn’t yet been enough of that.

Why stop there? Downtown waterfront planning is linked to planning in the rest of the central city. Construction of the Sky City Convention Centre will start next year (completion date: 2017).

Announcement of a billion-dollar deal is expected soon for Wynyard Quarter [edit: the five-star Wynyard hotel development was announced in mid-April] and proposals for the Tank Farm will also be back in the public arena.

There’s simmering talk of a new, elite, privately funded university somewhere on the waterfront, while debate on the container port is about to come back to a rolling boil: results of the major council-commissioned analysis of the port’s functions, siting and size are soon to be released.

“Even if we were the United Arab Emirates we probably couldn’t afford everything,” says Waterfront Auckland’s John Dalzell.

In all of this, it need hardly be said, there’s an awful lot of money to be found. “Even if we were the United Arab Emirates we probably couldn’t afford everything,” says John Dalzell.

So how do they do it? Get their project approval decisions made in the right sequence, and get the funding decisions made at the right time in relation to the projects? Dalzell is a guy who likes to lean back. Floppy haired, with a smile constantly playing about his mouth, he oozes insider experience. “The art,” he says, “takes over from the science.”


The Cloud and Shed 10
The Cloud and Shed 10 from the south end of Queens Wharf.

Although, in this case, it’s more like Stephen Town takes over from Doug McKay. Town is the new CEO of Auckland Council. A smallish and rather intense, grizzle-headed man who looks like he might want to arm wrestle you as soon as talk to you, he’s a seasoned public official, having come to the council after a long stint at the NZ Transport Authority. That makes him very different from his predecessor, McKay, who had no public service experience at all before being helicoptered into the role in 2010.

There are arguments both ways for such appointments, but Town is admired for being able to put his knowledge of how everything works to good use. One of the ways he’s done that is to set up the CCIG: the City Centre Integration Group.

The CCIG is the new engine room of the Auckland Council, at least as far as decisions go affecting everything within the old Auckland City Council boundaries. It comprises the CEOs of all the relevant council agencies (Transport, Properties, ATEED, Waterfront, etc) and aims, says Town, to get “the best possible combination of sequenced investments and activities”. The process, to him, is at least as important as the outcomes.

It’s not cosy. Waterfront is much keener on that Quay St boulevard than Transport, and there are many other interlocking disagreements over which they are all “working constructively”, as one official puts it.

Town likes to call the council and all its agencies and committees “the family”. O’Riley and Dalzell also call it that — none of them, apparently, with any sense of irony. They don’t mean, like the Corleones, but more like, we’re all on the same side so we need to work together. Not at all like the Corleones.

One of the things that’s a little surprising about this is that the CCIG doesn’t include any elected representatives. No mayor, no councillors, no one from the Waitemata Local Board, none of the “family” members who are responsible to us for all of this.

They’re all kept informed, of course — especially deputy mayor Penny Hulse, who chairs the powerful new Auckland Development Committee, on which all councillors sit. From that position, while mayor Len Brown is glad-handing his long-suffering supporters, Hulse quietly steers the ship, with Chris Darby as her deputy. “Penny will be running council for the next two years,” one official (not named in this story) told me, and others seem to agree.

Top of the agenda right now, for the CCIG as for the whole council, is the Long Term Plan: the LTP, which broadly defines budgetary expectations over a 10-year period. The 2012-2022 LTP is under review right through this year, and the outcome, a new 2015-2025 plan, will be the first based on the council’s 30-year Auckland Plan adopted in 2012.

Concurrently, the existing City Centre Masterplan and Waterfront Plan will be overhauled. The LTP currently allocates $130 million to waterfront development, especially on and near Quay St, based on those plans. The new LTP will reprioritise funding, effectively setting the blueprint for waterfront development over the next decade.

Planning is good, but things don’t always go according to plan. That open expanse we call Aotea Square was created in 2010 as the big crowd venue for the Rugby World Cup — but then the Prime Minister announced that the crowds would be invited down to Queens Wharf. Auckland could have had a much nicer square uptown if that had been understood earlier. The Cloud, installed by the government, was never part of any plan.

The best planning in the world is useless if it isn’t responsive to great ideas — even if they come out of nowhere.

The likes of Stephen Town and John Dalzell are plainly keen to plan better than that. But when circumstances change we also need the ability to change the plans. Dalzell agrees, in principle: “You must find a balance between being overly prescriptive and allowing designers to innovate.”

Pacific Discovery isn’t a circumstantial change that will force a rethink of any existing plan. But it is a big bold idea, and regardless of whether it ends up being the right one for Queens Wharf, it should remind everyone involved that the best planning in the world will be useless if it isn’t responsive to great ideas — even if they come out of nowhere.


They had the New Zealand Beer Festival down on Queens Wharf last month. Lots of Mexicans, German barmaids, flirty costumes. Aucklanders, having a good time. There was beer tasting in the Cloud and the Black Seeds played their cruisy music in Shed 10. Queens Wharf’s good for events like that. But, as Tupara Morrison says, “We should be enjoying it more. Now, with the Cloud, it’s event by event, and you have to pay to get in.”

Party time in Shed 10 - the NZ Beer Festival. Photo: Ken Downie.
Party time in Shed 10 – the NZ Beer Festival.

Cr Chris Darby: “What if we wanted to put the Lantern Festival down there — it’s getting too big for Albert Park — at the same time a couple of cruise ships were in town? Not possible.”

Brett O’Riley says there ought to be a “Maori signature event” in Auckland. “Would that be Matariki? Waitangi Day? Anniversary Day? What about New Year’s Eve? We’re the first city to see the light — is there a way to make something out of that, with activations on the water?”

With fireworks? “I was thinking without fireworks, actually.”

Heather Shotter from the Committee for Auckland says the downtown wharf area should be “a public space with parks, events, what about a pool?”

“Queens Wharf is failing,” Ludbrook says, “because there is nothing to attract people down to the end.”

Darby says the problem with wharves is that they are cul de sacs. “People need things to do. A beach, swimming. Think of how popular the beach on the Seine is, in Paris. It’s beyond popular.”

Bill Ludbrook, as it happens, agrees with that. “Queens Wharf is failing,” he says, “because there is nothing to attract people down to the end. Every time I go down, I always go down to the end of the wharf. Always. Without exception, there will be six or eight people there. Even when there’s a cruise ship in.”

Shotter reckons that won’t be too hard to fix. Granville Island in Vancouver, she says, is the second most-visited place in Canada (after Niagara Falls). What started as a few market stalls and crafts people holed up on an island in the harbour is now a busy and extremely successful visitor attraction. Queens Wharf could be like that.

John Dalzell at Waterfront Auckland says Queens Wharf is “the people’s wharf” and it “shouldn’t be compromised by commercial activity”. No Pacific Discovery, in his mind’s eye, and no cruise ships either. We’re in a meeting room in his offices, with an aerial photo of the waterfront filling one long wall. He sweeps his hand across the photo: “Somewhere in there,” he declares, “there is space for all.”

“We have three horizons,” says Darby. In the short term they need to “stop the trucks from the container port clogging up Quay St at peak times”. That’s easy. In the medium term, they need to “change the Queens Wharf intersection”, so all that cruise ship traffic isn’t destroying the public experience of the wharf.

And in the longer term? “Change the whole precinct.”


So it’s 2025. The City Rail Link is complete and the expanded suburban light rail system is running at near capacity. Aotea Station, under the intersection of Albert and Victoria streets, is now the busiest railway station in the country. Beach Rd and Wellesley streets both serve as east/west link routes, but much of the traffic that used to traverse the city along Quay St now uses Grafton Gully and loops around.

Quay St takes one lane of traffic each way. Ports of Auckland and New Zealand Rail have developed a new inland port facility to process cars and other goods, and Captain Cook and Marsden wharves are now open to the public. Bledisloe Wharf hosts the cruise ships.

There’s a string of ferry piers along the waterfront, servicing every seaside suburb in the city. Josh Emett’s restaurant Ostro, which opened in 2013 with a view across the dreary carpark of Captain Cook wharf, now looks out on a giant weekend market.

At several points along the harbour edge, terraced steps lead down into the water. They fill with people every lunchtime. Pontoons moored between the finger wharves are used by bands for concerts, while kids (and former kids) flock to the salt-water pool with its brilliant waterslide. There is some truly magnificent sculpture.

There’s also a Museum of the Pacific, a joint venture involving the old Maritime Museum, the Auckland Museum, the Peter Blake Trust, the council and the government, several private interests, education interests, and, at its heart, the Tamaki Collective. You wouldn’t believe how stimulating, how thrilling, the interactive exhibits and performances are.

The remarkable thing, Aucklanders like to say to every visitor who will listen, is that all of this has happened in just 10 years. How? Well, they say, it’s because Auckland is a city that used to define itself by its cynicism, but then a couple of guys called Ludbrook and Brewer came along and said, “What’s the hold-up? Why aren’t we making this place better?”

And you know what? The city started to believe in itself.


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Metro N°442 is Out Now.

In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

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