Auckland’s boulevard: Tamaki Drive

Tamaki Drive could loosely be described as Auckland’s boulevard, a showpiece facing a magnificent harbour. Richard Silcock traces its history, and explores why this stretch of road holds such a special place in the hearts of many Aucklanders.

Tamaki Drive links Auckland’s central business district with the exclusive and trendy eastern suburbs of Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. Skirting the coast line it provides largely uninterrupted and unfolding picture postcard vistas of the Waitemata Harbour and seascape.

Aerial picture of Kohimarama taken in 1960s.
Bastion Point is touching the right hand
edge of the frame.

Some would say it is a stretch of road that many Aucklanders are extremely passionate about. There are often heated public debates over any proposed changes to it, or to the public spaces and amenities lining its 8.2-kilometre length, for Tamaki Drive passes many exclusive upmarket homes and apartments, prominent reserves, historical sites and landmarks, a number of popular beaches, a public swimming pool and a large marina. In summer, parts of the road are lined with flowering pohutukawa trees and expensive cars can often be seen parked up around Mission Bay and St Heliers, while those ‘on-trend’ and wishing to be seen frequent the many sidewalk eateries.

The numerous cliffs and promontories which the road circumnavigates are largely composed of sandstone and in places remnants of seashells and pumice can be seen in the strata. Golden sand adorns the beaches and such is their popularity the council spends millions of dollars barging in and replenishing the sand which is often depleted following severe storms.
Tamaki Drive is plied by around 32,000 plus vehicles a day and is both a week-day commuter route and a cruisy scenic Sunday afternoon drive for both Aucklanders and visitors alike. Tour coaches include ‘the drive’ as part of their route and frequently stop to spill their load of tourists at icons such as Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, the Savage Memorial, or the Memorial Fountain, art deco clock tower, Walsh Brothers Memorial and the recently refurbished stone-clad Melanesian Mission House (circa 1858) at Mission Bay. Tamaki Drive also serves as the access road for the Royal Akarana Yacht Club and the Tamaki Yacht Club.

Prior to European settlement, the area was the preserve of local Maori who settled around the various bays, with a pa built at Orakei and a significant presence on Bastion Point that affords a 180-degree view of the harbour. Seafood was abundant and the harbour provided an excellent ‘highway’ for their canoes. Walking tracks were formed around the foreshore and into the interior with the coastal strip given the name Tamaki Makau Rau – meaning ‘the isthmus desired by a hundred lovers.’
Although land in the area was ‘acquired’ by the Crown for development as early as 1841, it was not favoured by the early European settlers who tended to settle to the west of the ‘town’. A bridal track was the first attempt at establishing carriage access in the mid-1860s, but it was not until 1870 that the first house was built at Orakei.

Walking tracks were formed around the
foreshore and into the interior with the coastal
strip given the name Tamaki Makau Rau –
meaning ‘the isthmus desired by a hundred lovers.’

A defence post was established at Bastion Point (Fort Bastion) in 1886 to guard against a rumoured attack by Russian ships, but apart from that little was done by way of development. Through until the turn of the century and apart from the bridal track, access was by walking track and then a ferry service with a number of wharves built, the first at St Heliers and Orakei in 1905.
At the outbreak of WW1, gun emplacements and tunnels were established where the Savage Memorial is now sited and during WW2 at Bastion Point an anti-aircraft battery, observation post and a radar station were installed along with a military camp.
Development of a road was not until 1926 when construction commenced on a 3.5-mile section between Campbell’s Point and Hobson Point to service the increasing number of houses that were then being built especially in Orakei and East Tamaki using ‘cheap’ labour as a result of the economic Depression.

The ‘city fathers’ did see it as an opportunity to build a “magnificent boulevard”* reminiscent of the European and American boulevards, however this did not eventuate due to cost. Construction of Waterfront Road, as it was then known, was carried out by the Public Works Department (and subsequently the MoW) following pressure from Auckland City Council on the government to fund it in return for political support. A proportion of the project was also funded by the Tamaki/Orakei Roads Board, the Arch Hill Roads Board and the Parnell Borough Council following their amalgamation with the City Council, which also managed the project.

The road was extended to Mission Bay following the construction of Orakei Bridge and then on to St Heliers. It was initially constructed as a single-lane metalled carriageway, largely by 1000 unemployed men using picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts, however during the latter stages of construction steam-driven rollers and tractors were used. In the early-1930s the road was renamed Waterfront Drive and then changed to Tamaki Drive and was sealed using bituminous concrete paving and laid on a macadam base. It was completed essentially in 1932 at a cost of £270,000 though further work carried on until 1939 when bigger culverts were installed.

Grades were generally kept to a reasonable standard, but with no heavy earthmoving machinery, cut-and-fill techniques were avoided with the road following the natural contours of the coastline. Where cliffs jutted out into the harbour, land was reclaimed and the road built around them, though some were ‘cut-back’ during the latter stages of construction.
Responsibility for maintenance became an issue but was eventually accepted by the council as its responsibility.
Resurfacing and widening from a single lane thoroughfare to double lanes in most places has occurred over the intervening years with most of the pavement surface now asphalt. A stormwater and sewage pumping station was constructed in 1951 at Orakei, while the pedestrian overbridge to the Parnell Baths was built in 1967. Bus shelters first appeared in 1939. These days a dedicated bus-lane extends along a good part of Tamaki Drive as does a shared walkway/cycleway.

Bastion Point gained international media exposure in 1977 when Maori protestors staged a ‘sit-in’ on the land originally occupied by Ngati Whatua, which, and as previously mentioned, had been ‘acquired’ for defence and development purposes by the Crown. After a heated confrontation with Police lasting 507 days, the site was returned to the iwi, marking the beginning of subsequent Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal hearings.

Every year Tamaki Drive is closed to traffic for part of a day for the running of the ‘Round the Bays Fun Run,’ an iconic event, when over 70,000 to 80,000 people run or jog the 8.2 kilometres. Started in the early 1970s it is believed to one of the largest ‘fun runs’ in the world.

Such is the desire of Aucklanders to preserve all that Tamaki Drive represents and borders, the Tamaki Drive Protection Society was formed in 1991 with the primary purpose of ensuring it is safeguarded as a public amenity. It is listed with the Auckland Council as a scenic way and recreational traffic corridor in the District Plan, with new developments having to adhere to set guidelines that are in keeping with the natural scenic qualities of the area.

Due to the increased volume of traffic, ongoing work for the widening and improvement of the road at pinch points, such as the intersection with Ngapipi Road, is in the advanced planning stage. This $7 million construction is expected to commence in August this year, with the seawall extended and heightened to stop ‘king tides’ inundating the road, a second traffic lane added and additional traffic lights installed. The project will involve earthworks over an area of 1.25 hectares, land reclamation, paving and the installation of a stormwater system. Due in part to the number of incidents (some fatal) involving pedestrians, cyclists and cars, the widening of footpaths and an improved dedicated cycleway are also being planned for this much loved and scenic jewel of a road.

*Reference: Decently and in Order, by Prof. GWA Bush

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