It’s considered Auckland’s main street, the axis on which the city spins.
These days, Queen Street competes with modern malls and city-edge hubs for the attention of shoppers, it's still at the city’s heart though, and well worth a serious wander.
Queen Street slides down to the sea in a straight line. Upper Queen has galleries, converted cottages and modern apartments. Past Karangahape Rd, between the Baptist Tabernacle and Auckland Town Hall, are interesting ethnic restaurants, the highly-rated Real Groovy Records, Q Theatre and The Classic comedy club.
Then it’s Aotea Square. Here is the scene of casual lunchtime relaxing, summer music, winter ice-skating. True! It’s a good meeting spot – open, central and public. Aotea Centre, the city’s medium-size event centre is also set on the square.
Once you’re at sea level, Queen Street is a flat canyon criss-crossed with other major streets. On the intersection of Wellesley Street, the grand Civic Theatre dominates the corner. It’s worth popping in here, the interior is something special.
On the same side of the street and with a similar architectural vibe is Smith & Caughey's department store, a classy affair with great window displays, particularly at Christmas, and even better shopping opportunities. Its sales are legendary.
Now you’re into regular Queen St territory, with shops and occasional diverting little malls to investigate.
Parallel to Queen, behind Smith & Caughey's, is pedestrian-friendly Elliot Street. A good option for dining is Elliot Stables, where various vendors ply interesting menus. City Works Depot, a short walk up Wellesley Street, is another excellent option for food variety.
Running parallel to Queen on the eastern side is one-way Lorne St. Boutiques, cafes and art galleries abound here, more so than on busier Queen St. And one more street up, linked by Khartoum Place, is Kitchener St with the city’s very good public art gallery. Spend time in Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki for insight into New Zealand’s art scene, catch an internationally touring exhibition, shop at its gift shop and get a coffee at the veranda café. Over the road is Fingers, a collective of New Zealand jewellers selling unique modern treasure.
Kitchener Street follows the western edge of Albert Park, an old-school green space with shady paths leading uphill to formal gardens, sunny lawns and the University of Auckland. Where Kitchener meets Victoria St is a Chris Booth sculpture, a mighty hoop of stone rising surprising and confident under giant pōhutukawa trees.
From here, the Sky Tower is easily spotted. At its base is Federal Street, which buzzes with new bars and restaurants.
High Street is worth spending time in. Men’s and women’s clothes and shoe shops, Unity Books, many cafes – some with outdoor seating – and gift shops can be found here and also in Vulcan Lane, a pedestrian lane with several sunny pubs.
Meanwhile, back on Queen Street, it’s no coincidence that the closer you get to the harbour, where cruise ships dock the bigger the brand names. Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton all have glossy spectacular facades.
Strip clubs, backpacker hostels and late-night bars used to define Fort Street but there’s more to it these days. Some excellent food options – Ima Cuisine, Beirut, Indochine Kitchen – have transformed it. Nearby Fort and Imperial lanes are also fair bristling with impressive eating options and clubs.
Past Queens Arcade, a cute classic with a good variety of interesting retail, and we’re nearly at the end of Queen St. In the distance, the harbour, the Ferry Building where ferries to Devonport and Waiheke Island leave from, the central train hub of Britomart. People peel off toward Princes Wharf, the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter… the waterfront is another world.