K' Road

K' Road Peter James Quinn
Karangahape Road—a kilometre of seal that’s been an ancient Maori path and redoubt, a promenade for housewives to ritzy stores, then a motorway-scarred red-light party zone… and now maybe something else again.  

Karangahape Road's name has its origins in the first arrival of Maori in Aotearoa. The tohunga Hape had a club foot, and legend has it that because of the deformity, he was banned from the Tainui canoe that sailed from Hawaiki. He rode a stingray instead, and arrived on the shores of the Waitemata Harbour before the others, who saw him standing on a ridge performing a karanga to Tane Mahuta. It was the karanga a¯ Hape, and the strategic hill would forever bear his name.

 

 

It became an important arterial route for Maori for more than 600 years—the way out west, through Avondale to the Manukau Harbour. With the coming of the European also came the horse, and two limitations of that beast made K' Road important to white settlers, too. The top of Queen Street was too steep for horse-drawn traffic, making Great North Road (on the western end of K' Road) the main road north out of town, and Symonds Street (on the eastern end) the main route south. In the middle, K' Road bloomed into a shopping precinct. It was paved, lined with shops, and the first kilometre was named after the tohunga's plea to God.
The other limitation was earthier. Horses produce a lot of waste, and Queen Street became the conduit for that and all the city's waste. By contrast, K' Road runs east-west on a ridge and gets prevailing breezes. "The women tended to K' Road," says K' Road Business Association historian Edward Bennett.

They were fitted for bridal gowns, and shopped, and had tea with their friends, and photos taken. There were hairdressing salons and furniture shops. The names of the department stores that once lined the street are still chiselled in stone on some of the fronts. The lit shop windows on the late nights were one of the great free attractions of the burgeoning city. Painter Charles Blomfield had a studio here; Charles Goldie lived in a house just around the corner in Pitt Street.

It stayed a shopping destination until the 1960s, when social change dramatically altered the street. While the shops were posh and proper, the housing around K' Road was not. And that, believes Bennett, led to its destruction.
From 1955, the Government bought nearby land for the new motorway system, a move, suggests Bennett, that was more than a matter of practical necessity. He believes planners were influenced by the controversial Manhattan motorway builder Robert Moses, who used motorways as a form of social engineering. Though Moses' motives are indistinct, from the 1930s–60s his roads steamrolled through poor districts in New York, destroying communities.

Criminals, students and unionists lived in the houses in Newton Gully before the motorway displaced about 50,000 consumers who had spent their earnings in stores on K' Road. It was the beginning of a decline made worse by the increasing usage of cars and the coming of the suburban mall. Rents plummeted and the sex industry—evicted from its old stomping ground near Britomart in another burst of social engineering—began to move in. Its first tentacle, the Pink Pussycat strip club, arrived on K' Road in 1966.

Bennett is philosophical about the image of his road. "It's perception versus reality. The adult industry is just three per cent of the businesses here. There are 700 businesses, and even if you factor in all the nightclubs, it still only comes to 13 per cent. Most people think the adult industry must be 20 to 25 per cent of K' Road, but it isn't, and it never was."

Article continues in issue 127

 

Additional Info

  • Author: Alistair Bone
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