Auckland waterfront by train...
So what's like in Auckland then? Every major city is different to the next, and all have their pluses and minuses. How do you get around?
Auckland is young compared to many other similar sized urban areas, where road has been the preference for urban transport whereas rail was developed primarily for countrywide freight. Urban rail arrived late in the piece, although trams were in evidence in central Auckland in the 1950's.
Trams were a major form of transport in Auckland from the 19th century into the mid-20th century – they are no longer in use, but we still see remnants of them in some streets, especially at the docks. Bus services are the predominant public transport system, with newer urban rail improving.
So what are train journeys like in Auckland now, I wondered? We parked outside the local station, and bought tickets. I'd not normally go to town using the train, since we had a car. The other day, Murray had the car in for servicing so it was quicker to take the train than the bus into work from the repair shop. He was caught in rush hour so had no chance to look at the scenery. What spectacular views to miss out on... The last few stops on the train trip to the central train station, called Britomart, is, perhaps, the best part of the journey.
Many global cities owe a significant part of their ambience and allure to being on the the water. Vancouver, Barcelona, Nice, Sydney, etc would possibly not be as popular if they were suddenly twenty kilometres inland. Auckland's Waitemata harbour is always a hive of activity, with ferries, commercial freighters, pleasure craft, and cruise ships (in season) coming and going. The backdrop of Rangitoto Island and the reasonably shallow and still waters of Hauraki Gulf and beyond complete the splendid backdrop.
Looking about the platform, it was deja-vu: so reminiscent of a suburban train platform in London, i.e. British Rail. I was working in South East of UK before my stroke. We had a flat in west London, but I had a position in South Coast and Murray had a job in Bristol. To be out before 6am, we were the fortunate ones seeing the orange-pinkish glow of the jet contrails as the sky was criss-crossed by so many flights very early on Monday morning. Where were they going.... Milan, Amsterdam, Paris, further afield to LA, Barbados, Cape Town?
In the 1990's, the speedier diesel-electric trains we used to catch in Britain had air-conditioned comfort, tables to put food on, newspapers on hand for the long daily journey. Others also at that time, were what we called putt-putt trains, with click-clack windows and slam-doors. Quite slow, they stopped at almost every station. Since rail is so widely used in the UK, there is always something new to see. On one occasion on the Heathrow Express into central London, a mad scramble before the doors closed: the competitors of the Amazing Race and live trailing camera crew just made it on the same carriage as us – go for it!
Britomart area of downtown Auckland is a precinct of shops, cafes, apartments, businesses, a new public square to link the central business district with the waterfront and creating a vibrant vibe. In 2014, the Auckland train system railway network became electric. Prior to that the trains were all diesel. We got on the new electric train and zipped off towards Britomart. Soon it was Meadowbank station and the views suddenly got better.
On both sides are waterviews as we ambled down the track in the middle of Orakei basin. The larger body of water is Hobson Bay, next to Orakei basin. We glimpsed palatial homes, the iconic, heritage-protected boatsheds at the eastern edge of Hobson Bay inlet, and boating marina with gaily festooned sailboats at anchor, as we journeyed on. Past Parnell Baths and Judges Bay, adjacent to lush calmness of the pohutukawa trees lining Tamaki Drive, the sea-lanes were busy with sea-going traffic, Rangitoto in the background.
Joggers were out and about, a peloton of cyclists were coming into view, and an ever-present collection of hopeful fishermen trying their luck. On the other, land-side, a lone swimmer splashed about while others were sunning themselves in the park by the water. A helicopter about to land, cargo vessels intent on docking at the shipyards, cranes and containers, as we neared Vector Arena...
Britomart is Auckland’s main transport hub for train and bus, the Britomart Transport Centre, first opened in 2003. Trains terminate on six platforms two floors below street level. Adjacent to it, and also across to the waterfront are the busy and diverse collection of restaurants, bars, boutiques, offices and services. The 'Atrium on Takutai' and The Pavillions house eclectic designers stores and spaces where cutting-edge culture and architecture styles mix and merge, it has a unique vibe.
The Viaduct harbour is a hub of the city, with a backdrop of sheltered waters and sleek super yachts. Cruise ships had docked, visitors meandered about the streets carrying guidebooks or were huddled with tour guides. Ferry-catamarans on their way to Devonport or Waiheke island, business lunch in classy restaurants, teenagers sharing a laugh and icecreams, buskers with their fiddles, what a brilliant day to be out. Time for some lunch, and the return journey...