For generations Britomart has been a strategically important place of defence, transport and trade.
Former headland Point Britomart was once the site of Fort Britomart, an active base for British colonial troops in the 1860s. Its name was taken from a Royal Navy gunship, HMS Britomart, which carried out the first detailed survey of the Waitemata Harbour in 1841.
Before the arrival of Europeans, this headland is thought to have been the site of at least one Māori pā, or fortified village. The Ngāti Whātua people trace ancestral ties to this area, including sites of ancient historical significance.
In 1840 Ngāti Whātua gifted 3000 acres of land to Governor Hobson for the building of a new capital city. It was on the headland at the centre of this land, soon to be named Point Britomart, that Auckland’s first Union Jack flew, marking the site of New Zealand’s first colonial capital.
Rise and Fall
Most of Britomart as we know it today was underwater until the 1870s. In a scheme to build improved port facilities for the growing city, Point Britomart was levelled and the land around it reclaimed from the sea.
In the 1880s this area of reclaimed land became one of Auckland’s principal business districts, eventually housing a railway station, dozens of warehouses and trading premises and later, the Chief Post Office.
A century on, however, Britomart had fallen into decline. The train terminus was removed to Beach Road in the 1930s and the Britomart station redeveloped as a bus terminal. In 1958 Auckland’s first parking building, Britomart Car Park, was opened next to the bus terminal.
In the following years Britomart suffered from lack of investment and increasing decay, and for 30 years much of it lay derelict and forgotten.
Rescue and Restoration
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s Britomart had a series of lucky escapes from proposed demolition. Eventually the New Zealand Historic Places Trust gave increased formal heritage protection to the historic Quay and Customs Street East areas.
A new proposal was developed for a mixed-use community at Britomart that would also preserve its special heritage, and in 2002 Auckland City Council put the development contract up for tender.
After an international design competition and a lengthy competitive bid process, the right to the Britomart development was won by the Bluewater Consortium. Consortium member Cooper and Company later took over responsibility for the regeneration and long-term management of Britomart.
The new Britomart is a place that both celebrates its history and embraces its future. In doing so, it will continue to provide vital links between the past and the present for many generations to come.