Karangahape Road

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Karangahape Road
Auckland Karangahape Road.jpg
Karangahape Road from the intersection with Pitt Street.
Length 1 km (1 mi)
Location Auckland CBD, Auckland, New Zealand
Coordinates 36°51′28″S 174°45′35″E / 36.8577935°S 174.7597039°E / -36.8577935; 174.7597039Coordinates: 36°51′28″S 174°45′35″E / 36.8577935°S 174.7597039°E / -36.8577935; 174.7597039

Karangahape Road (commonly known as K' Road) is one of the main streets in the central business district (CBD) of Auckland, New Zealand. The massive expansion of motorways through the nearby inner city area - and subsequent flight of residents and retail into the suburbs - turned it from one of Auckland's premier shopping streets into a run-down red light district from the 1960s onwards. Now considered to be one of the cultural centres of Auckland, since the 1980s-1990s it has been undergoing a slow process of gentrification, and is now known for cafes and boutique shops.

It runs mostly west–east along a ridge at the southern edge of the Auckland CBD, perpendicular to Queen Street, the city's main street. At its intersection with Ponsonby Road in the west, Karangahape Road becomes Great North Road, at its eastern end it connects to Grafton Bridge.


The name stems from the Māori language. The original meaning and origin of the word as a street name is uncertain, but there are many interpretations - ranging from "winding ridge of human activity" to "calling on Hape". Hape was the name of a Māori chief of some importance living over on the Manukau Harbour, thus the name possibly indicates the route that was taken to visit him.[1]


Corner Pitt Street and Karangahape Road in 1909, showing the rich architecture typical of many historic retail buildings constructed on the ridge street.
K'Road in 1957, a healthy main street with department stores and many other shops - before the motorways destroyed or degraded much of the surrounding residential areas, starting several decades of decline.[2]
The run-down street turned into the city's red-light district. After several decades in disrepute, only a small number of obvious remnants of the time, like the 'Vegas Girl' of the 'Las Vegas' strip club, still exist in the 2000s.[3]

As it was a travel route used by the pre-European Māori, Karangahape Road is an older thoroughfare than Queen Street, which was only developed by Europeans in the 1840s. The land was part of the parcel of 3000 acres sold by local Māori sold to the governement in 1841.[4] The Karangahape ridge was the formal southern edge of Auckland in the 19th century.[4]

From about 1900 to the early 1960s K' Road was Auckland's busiest shopping street with many clothing shops large and small along with several department stores. Most retail chain stores had branches here, often in preference to Queen Street. During the interwar period most of Auckland's main shops selling furniture, musical instruments, radios and household appliances were located here.[5][citation needed] In 1908 the gas street lighting was replaced with electric lamps. In 1935 the whole street was lit by electric lights under the shop awnings to create a "Community Lighting" project referred to as the "Great White Way", this created a mile of lit-up shopping. In 1948 the first traffic lights in Auckland (and the first lights to have pedestrian phases) were installed at the Pitt Street interesction. In 1949 the street lamps were fitted with the first fluorescent street lights in New Zealand.[4]

After 1965 K' Road lost most of its local customer base when construction of the inner-city motorway system resulted in over 50,000 people having to move out of the surrounding areas.[5][citation needed] The downturn in trade led to many shops closing and the relocating of businesses to other areas of Auckland. This accelerated the decline, and by the early 1970s the low rents meant it had acquired a rather seedy reputation as Auckland's red-light district. Since the early 1990s there has been a move away from this image due to newly constructed apartment blocks attracting residents back to the area, as well as a general gentrification of close-by areas like Ponsonby. Nowadays only very few enterprises are connected with the adult industry.[5]

Alongside the few remaining shops and venues catering to the sex trade, K Road currently boasts an eclectic collection of shops, cafés and art galleries. At night its restaurants, bars and nightclubs make it a major part of Auckland's social scene. K Road has become a centre for much of Auckland's bohemian scene, with many venues for alternative music and fringe art as well as the LGBT community. It is also known for its trendy op shops.

The street received a major upgrade of its footpaths and street furniture which finished in 2006, at a cost of NZ$3.5 million.[6] As of 2009, approximately 400 businesses are on K Road.[5]

Buildings and attractions[edit]


Popular guided heritage walks are conducted on Karangahape Road. Notable buildings and sites include:

  • Baptist Tabernacle, 1884, Edmund Bell architect. Corner Queen St and K Road. This brick and stucco structure was designed in the Imperial Roman style. Based upon the London Metropolitan Tabernacle located at the Elephant and Castle.
  • St Kevin's Arcade, 1924, extended 1926, Walter Arthur Cumming architect. A shopping arcade in the 1920s Neo-Greek style. It incorporates the K Road entrance to Myers Park. In the mid-19th century when Auckland was the capital of New Zealand, this was the site of the second Government House in Auckland,[4] while the Old Government House, now part of the University of Auckland was being rebuilt after the 1848 fire.
  • Ironbank, an award-winning modern (2009) mixed-used development lauded and criticised for looking like "rusting containers".
  • Rendell's Department Store, 1904, extended 1911, William Alfred Holman architect. Brick and stucco retail building in the late 19th century Italianate style. Holman was a relative of William Morris.
  • George Court Department Store, 1924, Clinton Savage architect. Corner K Road and Mercury Lane. Proto-modern building showing the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and Otto Wagner. George Court opened his first department store on K Road in 1890.[4]
  • Mercury Theatre, 1910, Edward Bartley architect. The oldest surviving theatre in Auckland. This English Baroque styled building was constructed in 1910 as the Kings Theatre. When it was converted into a cinema in 1926 a new entrance on K Road was built (now the Norman Ng building). Between 1962 and 1990 it was the location of the Mercury Theatre Company. Currently owned by a church, it is occasionally used as a theatre.
  • Naval & Family Hotel, 1897, Arthur Wilson architect. Corner of Pitt Street. An ornate three-story building with Italianate, English Baroque and Queen Anne influences. A veranda was added in the 1940s, the original building being designed without one, in common with many hotels of the time, to discourage intoxicated men from loitering outside. It has an Historic Places Trust B classification, which protects the exterior. A Georgian-style hotel occupied the site from about 1862 until it burnt down in 1894.[4]
Symonds St Cemetery.
  • Symonds Street Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Auckland and the first official burial ground. Here are located the graves of many of Auckland's early settlers including Captain William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand who died in 1842. The cemetery was officially closed in 1905 when it was handed over to the Auckland City Council as a park. When the motorway system was constructed in the mid 1960s, it required the moving of over 4100 bodies. These were reinterred in two memorial sites within the cemetery.
  • Langham Hotel, at the corner of Karangahape Road and Symonds Street. It was a Sheraton Hotel before becoming part of the Langham chain. Partington's windmill stood on the site from 1850 to 1950. The windmill's demolition was controversial and led to laws for heritage protection and the formation of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.[4]
  • Grafton Bridge, 1910. At the eastern end of Karangahape Road, a large concrete structure spanning Grafton Gully. When it was completed in 1910 it was the largest concrete single-span bridge in the world.
  • Myers Park. On the slope of the Karangahape ridge facing north towards the Waitemata Harbour is a natural gully now the site of Myers Park. This is, or rather was, the start of the Waihorotiu Stream also known as the "Queen Street River".

Media connections[edit]

Western part of K'Road, looking east.

K Road has gathered some appreciation as a film and audio visual precinct. It has six independent film-makers, three screening venues, two radio stations (K FM Radio and Boosh.FM) and New Zealand's only television arts channel.[citation needed] It was also the home of now defunct independent television station Alt TV.

The Auckland office and the reference library of the New Zealand Film Archive is located in 300 Karangahape Road, where the institute also has exhibition space.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

The song "Verona" by New Zealand rock band Elemeno P, from their album Love & Disrespect, refers to the cafe/restaurant/bar of the same name at 169 Karangahape Road. The current Verona building dates from 1923 and gets its name from the Victorian house that previously occupied the site, Mrs Bishop's "Verona" Boarding House.


  1. ^ Auckland City Street Names (from the Auckland City Libraries website)
  2. ^ Edward Bennet. "The K'Road area in 1957". Heritage Walk - Karangahape Road (Heritage Guide / Pamphlet). Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Edward Bennet. "The Las Vegas Girl, 335 Karangahape Road". Heritage Walk - Karangahape Road (Heritage Guide / Pamphlet). Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Taylor, Colin (23 October 2010). "A chance to own slice of hotel history". The New Zealand Herald. p. E1. 
  5. ^ a b c d Taylor, Colin (17 October 2009). "Four-level property has plenty of options". The New Zealand Herald. 
  6. ^ Orsman, Bernard (24 April 2008). "Final stage more facial than facelift". The New Zealand Herald. 
  7. ^ Locations and Opening Hours (from the official New Zealand Film Archive website)

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Lively Capital, Auckland 1840-1865" Una Platts, Avon Fine Prints Limited New Zealand 1971.
  • The Heart of Colonial Auckland, 1865-1910. Terence Hodgson. Random Century NZ Ltd 1992.
  • Colonial Architecture In New Zealand. John Stacpoole. A.H & A.W Reed 1976
  • Decently And In Order, The Centennial History of the Auckland City Council. G.W.A Bush. Collins 1971.
  • Auckland Through A Victorian Lens. William Main. Millwood Press 1977.
  • Heritage Walks - The Engineering Heritage of Auckland. Elizabeth Aitken Rose. Tourism Auckland & IPENZ; Auckland Heritage Engineering Committee. I2005

External links[edit]

  • K'Road (official K'Road business association website, includes good heritage section)
  • Karangahape Road Online (mainly a business listings website, includes timeline, virtual tour - streetscroll)