A contrast of centuries - celebrating our waterfront

From 1920s stone stairway to the biggest upgrade to Auckland's ferry infrastructure in more than 100 years

Last Updated : 05 Oct 2020
Historic Waterfront Ferry Infrastructure 1920 Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

A video created for Auckland Council’s Heritage Festival, taking place 26 September - 11 October, transports the public back to Auckland’s waterfront 100 years ago by showcasing the preservation of a historic stone staircase as part of the Downtown Programme, funded by Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.

The transformation of downtown will be complete in June next year, connecting the city to the waterfront through an enhanced and spacious streetscape, brand new ferry infrastructure and a beautiful new public space stretching out across the water, named Te Wānanga.

Between 1840s and the 1920s, a gradual transformation of the edge of the city centre occurred. The shoreline, which used to begin at Fort St, was slowly brought forward to where it is now, adjacent to Quay St.

A seawall was constructed along Quay Street in 1920 to support this land reclamation, and stairs were built for passengers boarding and disembarking ferries and other vessels – in days when transport by boat was hugely popular. The staircase and seawall have been looked after during the construction of Te Wānanga and will be included in the new waterfront space.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says, “this historic piece of infrastructure is not only a fascinating glimpse of our city’s past, it will also form part of Auckland’s future when preserved intact beneath the magnificent Te Wānanga deck under construction in front of Quay Street.

“It’s great to see Auckland being transformed into a modern, vibrant and world-class city while also protecting and valuing its heritage.

"I encourage Aucklanders to make the most of all the events on offer as part of the Heritage Festival, which the council is proud to support.”

Although the stairs have not been used for many years and haven’t been accessible; the deck of Te Wānanga has been built around the stairs, enabling a strong visible connection with the historic fabric of Auckland’s waterfront.


A contrast of centuries - celebrating our waterfront

Councillor Alf Filipaina comments on the respectful process undertaken in these projects to care for the precious artefacts found.

“We respect and value the 100-year history of our old stone stairways. They are no longer suitable for accessing ferries and haven’t been for some time but they will always be part of our waterfront story.”

“Auckland Heritage Festival is a perfect time to honour and celebrate them as we look to the future. A Māori proverb / whakatauki, encourages us all to look back and reflect before we move ahead. Titiro whakamuri, kokiri whakamua.”

For a glimpse of what Auckland’s newest ferry infrastructure will look like, have a look at this video:

Eric van Essen, Programme Director of the Downtown Programme says “the narrow stone staircase of our 1920s waterfront, highlights how far we’ve come with our ferry infrastructure in the last 100 years.

“Travelling by boat remains a popular way to get to the city centre, with six million people a year travelling through the existing terminal at Queen’s Wharf, and that number is expected to increase by up to 50 per cent in the next decade.

“The Downtown Programme will be the biggest upgrade to Auckland’s ferry infrastructure in more than 100 years.”

Auckland's Heritage In Numbers

  • Auckland has 2481 protected heritage places
  • 42.2 per cent of all Aucklanders live within 5 minutes’ walk of a protected heritage place
  • 93,974 people attended an Auckland Heritage Festival event in 2019.

Source: Auckland’s Heritage Counts 2020

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