A highlight of spring is Auckland’s annual heritage festival, offering over 200 free or nearly free events showcasing the surprising amount of history Auckland had packed into the past 175 years.
Less well publicised than it should be, the festival suffers from too many events, requiring time and dedication to decide what to go to. It can be a mixed bag from my experience. The reliables are any involving Edward Bennett (generally K Road and Ponsonby based), who is an absolute oracle of Auckland history, those organised by the Parnell Trust, Engineering walks in Auckland CBD, and the always hugely popular, and deservedly so, tours of The Civic.
This year I went to five events, learning a few things along the way, including that up until WW2 New Zealand railways was by far the largest employer in the country, and Maori didn’t build meeting houses until Europeans arrived in New Zealand.
Bill McKay of the School of Architecture at the University of Auckland ran two excellent lectures – Auckland’s State Houses: From Liberal to Labour and Beyond and Auckland’s Church Architecture: from Gothic to Modern – tying in nicely with a couple of books he has written. The later lecture was followed by a bus tour of four architecturally fascinating churches in Auckland, the subtle All Saints Church in Ponsonby, colourful St Josephs in Grey Lynn, impressive Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Parnell, and it’s neighbour, the beautiful Old St Paul’s.
Parnell Trust Presents: Grafton Heritage Walk took me to areas I never knew existed in central Auckland, despite being quite an explorer of the city. Starting from Grafton Bridge we explored part of the Symonds Street Cemetery, above which the largest concrete bridge in the world at that time was built, and through which the motorway was built, destroying an expansive area of native bush in the central city.
Across from the Domain lies Outhwaite Park, home to one of the grandest houses and families in Auckland in the late nineteenth century. Unfortunately none of Outhwaite’s children had children themselves so the family literally died out, and their riches and land left to the city, resulting in St. Peter’s College and this park.
Finally a tour of the S.S. Toroa, the world’s last surviving, wooden, double-ended, steam passenger ferry, showed the amazing dedication of volunteers working to restore the ferry to working condition. As it is being restored from the inside out a lot more has been done than is immediately visible, but they still have some way to go before it is sea worthy again.