Discovering Mt Albert: Peta Mathias is pleasantly surprised by the historic suburb
Peta Mathias reluctantly moved from one part of Auckland to another, but she didn’t grieve or starve – quite the opposite. Plus, she found birds. And flowers.
It was when I started finding grapefruit outside my door that I realised I hadn’t moved into just any neighbourhood. When I found a jar of homemade marmalade outside my door, it was confirmed. Welcome to Mt Albert – land of friendly people, gorgeous walkways and a glorious heritage.
Mt Albert is a large inner-city Auckland suburb, so for the purposes of this story, I’m writing about things that are walking distance from my apartment. Created in the late 1800s, it’s the second-oldest suburb in Auckland, and walking around it, you quickly understand its past – lots of grand old houses signifying affluence, a lovely little mountain (an extinct volcano), and a very strong and connected community.
The most famous heritage mansion is Alberton, built in 1863. It was a farmhouse and is very grand – all towers, verandahs, curved roofs and sweeping staircases. It’s in beautiful condition – you can visit it, and every month there’s a market in the gardens featuring specialty produce, handmade items, music and garden workshops. So sweet.
When I put up my first Facebook post about Mt Albert, it reached more than 10,000 people, all madly commenting on how much they love living here, and welcoming me to the ’hood. Also, it has the train line running through it (it’s electric, so produces very little noise), which always makes me think I’m living in a quaint English village.
I’ve come to love simple pleasures, like waiting for the train to pass so I can go on
my way; walking to my local, Bar Martin, for a Negroni and knowing more and more people there each time; leaning over my balcony to see if the Saturday farmers’ market has started across the road from me. Imagine having a wee farmers’ market across the road from you!
It’s in front of Mexican restaurant Taco Loco, so you can go loco and have a taco at the same time.
Right next to that is the delicious Wild Wheat bread shop, and right next to that is the very stylish Good Thing – a shop full of gifts, clothing and homeware with a Scandinavian preponderance.
Mt Albert is Jacinda Ardern’s electorate, which just shows what good taste she has.
I live in Ockham’s Modal building, distinguished by its unusual triangular shape (it looks like the Flatiron in New York) and funky black exterior.
Its eco-friendly design includes a huge communal lounge and terrace on the roof, two electric Cityhop cars for residents’ use and lots of bicycle parks. We even have a living green wall in the foyer.
There’s a huge amount of development going on in Mt Albert – everywhere you look, low-rise apartment buildings like mine are going up. The view from my apartment is sensational. I watch the sun set every evening, and when I’m bored I go up to the sky lounge and rearrange the furniture because you’re not allowed to. Incidental acts of resistance. I’ve always been attracted to them. The first time a boy wolf-whistled at me and asked me to raise my skirt to show a bit more, I smartly gave him the international two-finger resistance signal and suggested he raise his consciousness instead.
I grew up in Epsom and have almost always lived in inner-city suburbs. I thought I’d have to have grief counselling if I left Ponsonby. I thought I’d starve to death if I left Grey Lynn. I thought there were no birds singing anywhere but in leafy Herne Bay. Who knew that Mt Albert had all these things? The place is riddled with parks (lots of tiny, cute ones, each growing their own sorts of flowers and plants), bush walks and serotonin-inducing walkways.
My favourite one at the moment is the Te Auaunga/Oakley Creek Walkway – I start it at Owairaka Park and walk left or right, depending on what I want to experience.
If you walk to the right, you come across all sorts of fantastic bridges and sculptures. My act of resistance on these paths is to get in the way of as many cyclists as possible.
If they ring their bells, it just makes me go cross-eyed.
At the beginning of Owairaka Avenue is Chinoiserie, which serves Taiwanese street food. It’s cheap, mad, fun, fashionable, pumping and only open in the evenings, and I’m in love with the poofy bao – pillowy steamed milk buns stuffed with braised pork belly or fried squid, spicy pulled beef or chicken karaage. The staff here are fantastic and funny.
Any walk that ends up at Dear Jane café on Martin Avenue might be seen as counterproductive, but I long ago discovered that if I know there’s a croissant at the end of a walk, I feel fitter and more sanctimonious. Dear Jane has fantastic homemade almond croissants that they serve covered in flowers – how can that be wrong? This stylish, airy café, owned by Chloe Huo and Fang Bai, serves both New Zealand and Korean food and does it really well. It’s full of locals having meetings, young parents watching fluffies go up their toddlers’ noses and grandparents eating sticky pork-belly bowls with chopsticks.
For ages, the shop next to Dear Jane was papered up with an “opening soon” sign on the door. Finally, after a time of wonder, the charming Ruben Maurice really did open Bar Martin, and approximately 3000 very thirsty people turned up to the small but perfectly formed bar.
With tables out the front and a garden out the back, my friends and I always sit right in the middle, next to the bar, so we don’t miss anything.
Ruben has a great wine and beer list and will make any cocktail you ask for, and, guess what? The bar food’s really, really good – homemade rillettes, little meatballs in tangy tomato sauce, smoked Baltic sardines with grilled nut bread from Wild Wheat, coppa with pistachios and warmed olives, affogato...
It’s one of those real neighbourhood bars with locals, kids, arty types and creative professionals, and like the rest of Mt Albert, everyone’s convivial and relaxed.
As if that isn’t enough, my friends Anna and Rachael Lynch own the precious, fragrant Little Flower Shop on New North Road. The flowers are so fresh and beautiful that I rarely feel the need for acts of resistance.
My apartment is full of their blooms all the time, bringing sweetness and light to my life.
Mt Albert has been a revelation to me and I get the most revelations while I’m sitting at Bar Martin trying whatever swish concoction Ruben has seen fit to rock me with.
THINGS TO DO
- Good Thing
- Mt Albert Market
- Te Auaunga/Oakley Creek Walkway
- The Little Flower Shop
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
- Bar Martin
- Dear Jane
- Taco Loco
- Wild Wheat