Karangahape Road: One of Auckland’s Most Interesting Streets
By Phin Upham
Deep in the Auckland Central Business District is a road with an intriguing history. The original strip of land that Karangahape Road sits upon was part of a 3000 acre parcel that the native inhabitants sold to the government. It didn’t become an official part of Auckland until 1882.
The early 1900s were a busy time for K-street. A host of clothing shops opened up on the block, competing with department stores and major retailers. All were vying for the middle class manufacturing money that was pouring into the city. Between World Wars, most of K-Street transitioned to handmade artifacts. Musical instruments, furniture, radios and appliances were sold by the dozen as more people flooded into the city.
Gas lighting was replaced with electric in 1935, creating what the community called “The Great White Way.” The effort was spearheaded by Mayor Sir Ernest Davis, and the goal was an entire mile of lit up shop fronts to add glamour to late-night shopping excursions. As a result, the street became quite popular for date nights and weddings as well.
As manufacturing left Auckland, and rent prices dropped, K-Street gained an informal reputation as a red-light district. A new motorway system led to 50,000 residents leaving the area, which led to several shop closures and relocations. The adult industry did maintain a presence there, but the reality was that it never accounted for more than 4-percent of businesses at any one time.
K-Road has since been refinished at the cost of NZ$3.5 million, and roughly 400 businesses serve tourists and residents alike.