K' Road at dusk, 2014. © Mike Mackinven.

Urban explorer: Karangahape Road


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Is there a New Zealand street more iconic, more infamous, or more misunderstood than Auckland’s Karangahape Rd?

Mention it to almost anyone around the country, and the words “red light district” are likely to come up.

Visit the notorious street in person, however, and you might be surprised by what you find: a colourful, creative district filled with contemporary art galleries, vintage boutiques, trendy restaurants and grungy music venues – and OK, maybe just a smattering of smut. 

Back in the mid-20th century, K’ Rd was Auckland’s premier shopping strip, lined with ritzy fashion stores, bridal boutiques and beauty salons. Things took a turn in the ‘60s, however, when a new motorway displaced 50,000 residents from the area, gutting the local customer base. The posh shops moved out, and the first strip club, The Pink Pussycat, opened its doors in 1966.

By the 70s K’ Rd had sealed its reputation around the country as New Zealand’s sleaziest street and had become a haven for artists, migrants and misfits. 

For better or for worse, K’ Rd is currently in the throes of gentrification, but the bohemian spirit that defined it for decades remains intact. Sure, there’s a shop selling artisan popcorn now and the iconic Las Vegas Strip Club recently hosted a pop-up dumpling shop, but there are still places to pick up a second-hand frock for $15, rock out to Auckland’s best alternative bands or see cabaret performed by drag queens. 

Looking over the strip for 55 years and counting

A post shared by K'Road (@kroadnz) on May 16, 2017 at 5:19pm PDT

And once again, K’ Rd is becoming one of the best precincts in Auckland for shopping. You won’t find any high street brands on the strip, but for one-off treasures, the independent boutiques and second-hand stores have you covered.

A few favourites include Hailwood and The Keep for women’s fashion, Helter Skelter for vintage homewares and The Bread and Butter Letter for New Zealand-made homewares and handicrafts. 

Art lovers visiting the area are equally well-serviced. Some of the top galleries include Artspace (a non-profit exhibition space featuring cutting-edge local artists), Bowerbank Ninow, Michael Lett and Starkwhite. Then, of course, there are the outdoor canvases. A great way to explore the area is to download a K Rd street art map and take yourself on a walking tour of the colourful backstreets.  

A work by @andrewj.steel on Cross ✖️ street

A post shared by K'Road (@kroadnz) on Sep 11, 2017 at 3:25pm PDT

Recently, K' Rd has been emerging as one of Auckland’s best dining districts.

In-crowd favourite Coco’s Cantina is as popular as ever, but new options are popping up monthly. The newly-refurbished St Kevin’s Arcade, with its gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows over Myers Park, is home to two excellent eateries – Bestie Cafe and Lebanese restaurant Gemmayze St. Other top places to try include Pie Piper for American-style sweet treats and sandwiches, Eight Thirty Coffee for your pre-shopping caffeine kick and Sri Panang for the best Malaysian food in Auckland. 

After dark, there’s a bar for every mood, from grungy live music venues like the Wine Cellar and Whammy to upscale watering holes like Apero and Love Bucket. Whichever you choose, there’s a good chance of ending the night at Family Bar – Auckland’s loudest and proudest gay bar. Shimmy on to the dancefloor at 3 o' clock on Sunday morning, and you’ll experience a sense of community, of freedom, and of frivolous fun. That’s what K’ Rd is all about. 

This photo gives me so much life!

A post shared by Lola Blades (@lola.blades) on Oct 26, 2017 at 5:08pm PDT

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