Not every city can pull off creating a new, genuinely interesting neighbourhood. But Auckland has and it’s called Britomart.
At the bottom of Queen Street, in what used to be the General Post Office, is the hub of the city’s transport system. Trains come and go, commuters bustle in and out – it’s a busy scene. On the eastern side of that lovely old Edwardian building is Britomart, a precinct developed to make the most of those bustling commuters.
It’s a mix of open spaces, sunny parks, low-rise shops and cafes, some super-cool new architecture and several beautifully renovated heritage buildings.
The Barrington Building was built in 1903 and was used as a warehouse which stored curios, tinned fish and fruit imported from the Pacific Islands. From the 1930s to the 60s, it was occupied by a china and crystal merchant. The first floor then became an art gallery in the 70s and today the ground floor is occupied by @ascolour and @huffer_ #buildingsofbritomart
When you realise it’s within cooee of the sea – the port is just over the road, to the north – the origins of Britomart’s old buildings come clear. Many were built as warehouses and storerooms and have names like Northern Steamship Company, Union Fish and Seafarers Buildings.
It adds to the romance, somehow, as you’re sipping a chardonnay on the balcony of Ostro, to realise you’re in what was once a land base for sailors.
These days it’s a very modern world. Free Wi-Fi while listening to live music in Takutai Square; public artwork everywhere, sleek brands under the glass ceiling of the Atrium. If you’re arriving at Britomart by car rather than public transport, a massive parking building is bang in the middle of it – with valet parking a popular option for those in a rush to dine.
Where to dine? The options are many – with or without harbour views, in the thick of the milling shoppers, hiding in a garden setting – from casual classic, pub-type food, to ultra-modern fusion cuisine.
Try drinks at The Chamberlain, cocktails at Talulah or Caretaker, wine and dumplings at XuXu, live music with pub food at 1885 Britomart or Orleans, fine food at Ebisu, Amano or Café Hanoi, a casual beer at Northern Steamship Co, dessert at Milse… but these suggestions cover only a percentage of what Britomart has. It really is dynamic, especially on the food front.
What else to do here? Shop, of course.
The labels are here – Karen Walker, Zambesi, Trelise Cooper, Lululemon – as well as excellent shoe stores, boutique shops, beauty spots – Jo Malone, Chanel, L’Occitane included. Artisan bakeries, too – check out Little Bird or The Store.
On Saturday mornings La Cigale Market in Takutai Square buzzes with apartment dwellers, piling fresh bread, veges and flowers into bags. Once loaded up, they’ll possibly carry their take-out coffees to the Sanctuary Garden, where Chris Bailey’s artwork, Seven Pou, stands or to stay in the square to watch Pipi and Pop Jets, a water sculpture by Chaz Doherty, surprise unwitting passers-by.
And if Britomart is their local ‘hood, they probably feel a little bit smug.