A brief history of Auckland’s stylish High Street (New Zealand)

High St on the Rise

The old-world charm of Auckland’s High Street often puts the strip on the lips of travelers just returning from a New Zealand trip, championing the bespoke, the hip, and the craft that characterise the distinctive slice of the city’s cultural scene. It seems every city is now pushing it’s own “hipster” area in order to appeal to contemporary tastes, but High Street doesn’t really need any hype and posturing; it seems to speak for itself with a rich history that makes it’s evolution seem perfectly fitting. This isn’t curated hipster, it’s just effortless cool.

The historic street has been a go-to since before World War II, providing a more intimate part of Auckland even when skyscrapers shot up down towards the harbour, contrasting with the more metro-friendly areas of the city with small, quaint buildings which lent to the once hotbed of the debauched and deprived. The pedestrian Vulcan Lane which connects High Street with O’Connell Street became a staple for the many harlots, gambers, and journalists who would frequent the tucked-away pubs, earning it the reputation of “Vultures Lane” until a big fire consumed much of the area in the 1860s.

High St on the Rise

Buildings were rebuilt eventually – the time facing Queen Street – and the area quietly marinated until 1970, when High Street became home to New Zealand’s fashion designers, with labels like Zambesi, World, and Kate Sylvester staking a claim in the area. After that, the area slowly evolved to become the hub of New Zealand’s emerging fashion scene, an important step in a continual development that has now seen it become the revitalised district of menswear, boutique accommodation, high-end tailors, cafes, and creative agencies.

One of the most recent and more significant changes on the street has been the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of historic hotel DeBrett which began taking place in 2007 by owners Michelle Deery and her husband John Courtney. Now, those heading along to the boutique hotel will find mid-century furniture, an art-deco bar, and a restaurant located in a light-filled atrium. The hotel takes up almost a whole block and has a number of ground-floor shops that have been hand-picked by the owners, curated with a value of community spirit and getting the right mix.

“It had always been such a core part of the cultural life of Auckland”, says Murray Crane, who is the Creative Director of boutique tailor Crane Brothers, a business which moved onto High Street in 1990, on the end that wasn’t as fashionable.

High St on the Rise

Other sought after mens style retailers have since followed Crane Brothers, joining the tailor on that side of the street with the likes of NZ brand Barkers, business shirt retailer Three Wise Men, and shirtmaker Nicholas Jermyn, apt additions since the neighbouring Shortland Street is full of Auckland’s major law firms, accounting firms, and venture capitalists, resulting in a very office-type crowd at cafes like Giles Luncheonette and lunch musts like Pilkingtons, a new restaurant located in a pavilion that has been designed by local architect Nat Cheshire.

More recent additions to the area include Bespoke Barbers, which was opened last year by owner Paul Bartolo with classic cuts and wet shaves, Chuffed, a coffee-focused joint tucked down a long hallway, a flagship cafe from boutique roaster Eight Thirty, and two craft beer bars (Urchin and Amber + Vultures’ Lane) which have replaced what used to be the old pubs on Vulcan Lane, boasting ever-changing line ups of tap beers, really speaking to the craft beer scene which has been booming all across New Zealand as of late.

High Street is a safe bet for any modern day traveler keen to make a bee-line straight to one of the most vibrant, hip, and happening areas of Auckland with a good concentration of the cities most popular restaurants, diners, cafes, bars, retailers, and fashion outlets. It’s fairly easy to get to and from as it’s a short walk from major bus, train, and ferry networks.

After you’re done exploring High Street you can take a 35 minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island to have lunch at a vineyard, or you can head southeast of Auckland to Clevedon for a countryside experience with small sandy bays and sheltered coastlines. If Clevedon is on your to-do list, try time it for Sunday when some of Auckland’s finest artisan producers are the the Clevedon Valley Farmers’ Market.

All images supplied and credited to Suzanna Burton / www.susanna.co.nz.