It’s one of the most high-profile, and marginal, electorates in the country, and is jam-packed with hospitality and retail businesses. So which Auckland Central haunts do the three front-runners like to frequent?
This story was originally published by Ensemble
What do your favourite things say about you? Where you buy your regular coffee? Where you go to celebrate good news? Where you choose to spend your money each day?
To some these things may seem trivial or frivolous, but we know that every dollar spent is a political statement. As AOC said so eloquently in August, the decisions we make each day about clothing, beauty and self-expression “are some of the most substantive decisions that we make and we make them every morning”.
So what better way to get to know the three main Auckland Central electoral candidates – Chlöe Swarbrick (Green Party), Emma Mellow (National Party) and Helen White (Labour Party) – than asking them where they spend their money and time? Their answers may surprise and enlighten you. They may even sway you. Policy is of course important – but the personal is political.
Why Auckland Central? With National’s Nikki Kaye stepping down, the electorate has been become one of the most marginal seats in the country. It’s also home to many of the flagship stores and studios that make up our local fashion industry – as well as small businesses in the retail and hospitality industries that have been hit particularly hard by Covid. So we think this seat is important.
And regardless of whether you’re voting in Auckland Central or not, please do check that you are enrolled to vote.
(Candidates’ answers are listed in alphabetical order)
Where do you live in Auckland Central?
Chlöe: Just off Karangahape Road. I’ve bounced around the area my whole life – from Vic Park, Symonds Street, Eden Terrace, Newton Rd – but am stoked to have landed in a spot 15-year-old me would think is pretty darned cool.
Emma: In an apartment in Eden Terrace with my fiancé Chris.
What makes Auckland Central so special?
Chlöe: The people. There’s so much innovation, creativity and collaboration. We make things happen here, regularly on the smell of an oily rag. That said, I’m sick of our people fighting for scraps and producing charitably, time and again, to barely make their own rent. That’s why I’m scrapping it out in politics.
Emma: Its diversity. From the unique communities on Waiheke Island and Aotea Great Barrier to the glistening Western Bays and the buzzing CBD. We’re lucky to live in an electorate with so much to offer.
Helen: There is so much. Its multiculturalism, being the heart of Pasifika, the beautiful Gulf. We are incredibly lucky to have a city that is so pretty. The volcanoes are almost all public parks and we have this incredible harbour with islands in it, some totally unspoiled. We have Waiheke and Great Barrier.
What are the biggest issues facing the electorate?
Chlöe: Housing – particularly cost and security for renters, and perhaps most obviously the bald face of poverty in homelessness. Transport – a third of Central Aucklanders, like me, don’t own a car. Any modern cities have developed ways to get around without that burden, and we are well overdue for a mobility revolution; walking, cycling, public transport and full blown accessibility. Our environment – beautiful and safe, clean and green shared spaces; air quality, particularly down Queen Street; protection of the Hauraki. Support for our arts and culture, our owner-operator holes in the wall; the vibrancy that pulls our community together.
Emma: The pandemic has hit Auckland Central hard. Business owners are worried about the risk of sudden lockdowns from new outbreaks. Albert Street remains a mess while many streets are missing the usual foot-traffic from office workers and tourists. University students and young people face much poorer job prospects than a few years ago. The ongoing tragedy of homelessness is something we simply have to do better on.
The first challenges we have to tackle is securing the border, growing the economy again and creating jobs. Auckland Central needs an MP who understands businesses and the struggles Aucklanders are facing. We need an MP who appreciates how hard you work, and how important it is to get New Zealand working again. National’s economic plan will grow jobs, encourage entrepreneurship and support workers and business.
We must unclog the congestion bottlenecks that are slowing our city down. National will invest $31 billion to expand our public transport with more for buses, trains and ferries across Auckland so we can connect with the islands and our neighbouring electorates. We’ll also build a second Waitemata harbour crossing. I’m really excited to see this transformational infrastructure in action.
Helen: Affordability – we need people of all walks of life to be able to live here.
Liveability – the city needs to be less polluted, have less cars and have much more public transport. It needs much more green space where there is high density housing.
Decent Work – this is a big underlying issue – we need much higher paid jobs. It has got really uneven and many jobs just don’t pay the bills.
Where will you be on election night?
Chlöe: With the team. This campaign has been a wild ride, and it’s only what it is because of our crew. We’ll be somewhere in the city, but it’s currently all up in the air with Covid-19.
Emma: At a bar [G&T in hand] with supporters, somewhere within the electorate – watch this space.
Helen: Hopefully at a very big party in Auckland Central.
Where do you get your morning coffee? (and what’s your coffee order)
Chlöe: Daily Daily. An oat milk flat white – or “oaty”, as Josh and Albert call it.
Emma: My day-job is on Albert Street in the city so my go-to is Guerilla Espresso on Swanson Street. Chris and his team are fantastic and do a great decaf long black for me. Now I’m campaigning from our home in Eden Terrace, I’m enjoying The Sandwich Club on New North Road.
Helen: From Reuben at Vulcan Lane Bagels – he makes all his customers feel really good, including myself, we end up chatting to each other… oh yeah and he serves really good coffee.
The restaurant you’ve been going to for years?
Chlöe: Ima Cuisine.
Emma: Coco’s Cantina. We love the vibe and the food is always great.
Helen: Ima – with the wonderful Yael, Avagail and Chimmi – they make me feel like I’m in one of those movies where they go to their local Italian in New York and everyone is family or knows each other. There is always a bowl of soup and everything has been made with love. Best cake in Auckland. I have just known them so long and they are so welcoming.
Favourite restaurant to visit with friends?
Chlöe: Sri Pinang. It’s my mate Ross and I’s go-to.
Emma: Blue Breeze Inn in Ponsonby. Their roast pork belly buns are divine and their dishes are great for sharing. We’ve also started going as a group to Gochu, a new modern Korean restaurant and bar in Commercial Bay.
Helen: Galbraiths, The Bistro. This is my mum’s favourite so it is where we all go on birthdays. They are really nice to my parents. It is a very important part of the neighbourhood.
For something fancy?
Chlöe: Amano. I don’t know if it’s just a weird quirk of mine, but having owned a hospo business, I’m very sensitive to sound in restaurants and cafes – Amano has the most luxe noise control through spatial design. There’s no snooping on another table’s convo. And, of course, that pasta.
Emma: [My fiancé] Chris and I treat ourselves to a dinner at Azabu for special occasions. I love the tuna tostadas and Chris thinks they do the best dumplings around.
Helen: Hello Beasty – I just found it and it is so good. I love the sharing that is expected. The food is totally delicious.
Best “cheap eat”?
Chlöe: Look, I eat at Uncle Man’s so much that I think I should probably buy that bright blue “Uncle Man’s Fans” shirt the staff wear.
Helen: Indochine Kitchen. This was hard to choose because I have so many cheap eats I love. This one is really generous and has very fresh flavours.
Where do you go for takeaways when you can’t be bothered cooking?
Emma: We love dumplings. Top Café Dumplings in Cross St in the city is our go-to.
Helen: Barilla Dumpling – my kids are committed to dumplings.
Brunch on a Sunday: where are you going?
Chlöe: Williams. That crew will always look after you, and the kai is peak.
Helen: Bambina, Amano. The food at both these places is lovely but again, it’s the way people treat their customers that really makes these places my favourite. My father is quite deaf and the staff always listen.
You’re celebrating: where to?
Chlöe: Conch. We love a cosy spot.
Helen: Culprit. OK I admit I haven’t been; I just really want to go.
Chlöe: Peach Pit. On every week’s agenda.
Emma: Annabel’s Wine Bar in Ponsonby. They do a great spritz and over lockdown started coffee too.
Helen: Le Chef. This is next to my work and I have many happy memories of lunches with my work friends.
Favourite place for a gig?
Chlöe: The closure of King’s Arms is actually what first got me into politics, so I can’t go past a wee mention of that which has gone before. I also used to work at Neck of the Woods, so have to give a shout-out to that beaut team and space. For intimate gigs, it’s easily Whammy; for larger, you absolutely cannot beat the Auckland Town Hall.
Emma: I’ll be honest and admit that I had a GREAT time seeing Katy Perry at Spark Arena.
Helen: CJC Creative Jazz Club is incredibly good value for money – I have seen some amazing musicians and its members are really devoted.
Best annual event?
Chlöe: Comedy Fest. I adore stand-up, and bouncing around Basement, The Classic, Q Theatre and Toto’s underground to catch some laughs brings me so much joy.
Emma: Auckland Pride Festival. It’s a fantastic celebration of our diversity. In professional life I’ve worked on the sponsorship side of the event, which was very rewarding.
Helen: The Lantern Festival – just pretty, pretty, pretty.
Best event you’ve ever attended in Auckland Central?
Chlöe: Laneway, Silo Park 2016. Goldlink, Grimes, The Internet, Vince Staples… Oh, the memories.
Emma: A lot of good memories! It feels like a lifetime ago, but I’ll never forget being a teenager and going to see Justin Timberlake at the then Vector Arena. He’d just released singles like ‘Sexy Back’ and ‘Ayo Technology’. We were 17 and it felt like the best night ever.
Helen: As I say, I just love the Lantern Festival and I loved it most when it was in Albert Park – I think I miss crowds all squashed together in a world before Covid.
Chlöe: That’s a very hard question, so I’m just going to go with where I’ve probably spent the most of my time, combing shelves over the years. Without a doubt, that’s Unity Books on High Street.
Emma: I am a big fan of Juliette Hogan. She recently made my engagement party outfit: a golden sequinned skirt and silk top which I adored. Every season there’s something beautiful and her prints are iconic.
Favourite spot for NZ fashion?
Chlöe: Sending my love to Ingrid Starnes, whose Ponsonby Rd store (RIP) and workroom has made all of my parliamentary suits. Locally made streetwear is easily my boy Jordan’s, at Checks on Pitt Street.
Emma: Ponsonby Road is fantastic for New Zealand fashion. You’ll find all the top names and some independent boutiques too.
Helen: Ponsonby and Britomart.
Favourite vintage store?
Chlöe: Search and Destroy has been a staple in my life since its heyday in St Kevin’s Arcade, 10 odd years ago, through to Cross Street Market and now on Ponsonby Rd. There’s always treasure.
Emma: Tatty’s in Ponsonby.
Where do you go when you’re after local art or design?
Chlöe: I’m a regular in my mates’ studios (read: bedrooms and garages), putting in dibs on work before it gets to shows. We’re so fortunate to have a huge number of local galleries in a stone’s throw, and I’m stoked to have had a go at holding a space for our community of artists in Mt Eden just before I was elected. Nowadays, you’ll regularly find me at the new Mercury Plaza on Cross Street, Endemic World on Ponsonby Rd and Monster Valley on Karangahape.
Emma: Simon James Store on Upper Queen St. Beautiful, functional design.
Where do you go to ‘indulge’?
Chlöe: Coco’s Cantina. Pasta and bubbles.
Emma: The Facialist in City Works Depot. Ashleigh and her team are so good at what they do. You walk away feeling relaxed and glowing.
Helen: Mai Day Spa on Ponsonby Road. This spa pays living wage and is really, really good.
Your regular dairy?
Emma: Uptown Mini Mart on the corner of Rendall Place and New North Road. Fulfils the core requirements of a dairy: walking distance from home and an excellent selection of ice cream.
Emma: New World Freemans Bay or Countdown Dominion Road.
Nature in the city: where’s your favourite spot?
Chlöe: On the city side? Myers Park. Given I walk most places, I do my best to ensure there’s a stroll through that serenity every other day. The cool thing about Auckland Central though is that we also get to call Waiheke and Aotea Great Barrier part of the neighbourhood. Now there’s some dang good exploration to be had.
Emma: The Hauraki Gulf! I recently got given a stand-up paddleboard for my 30th birthday, so can’t wait to be out paddling in the harbour.
Helen: The gulf, the mountains, where I walk my dachshund.
Your favourite Auckland Central building?
Chlöe: I adore St Kevin’s Arcade. It’s been a focal point for a lot of the local discussions about gentrification and the changing scene, but it’s also still such a community vibe that brings all together and dramatically changes scene dependent on the time of day. I love it.
Emma: It doesn’t have a lot of history yet, but I think the Commercial Bay development is fantastic for Auckland. Precinct Properties did a really great job and the shopping and dining precinct is world class.
Helen: The Civic – it is truly magical.
An Auckland Central icon that must be protected?
Chlöe: St James Theatre. Without the requisite investment, we’re going to lose it.
Emma: Waiheke Island and the Gulf. Only 0.3% of the Gulf is currently protected – there’s a lot more we can do to progress this.
Helen: The St James – where really good people are trying every trick in the book to save it and The Strand, which I worry no one is. The Strand is a really important historic building. It could be a wonderful place if it was restored.
An Auckland icon gone before its time?
Chlöe: Rakinos. RIP.
Emma: The St James Theatre on Queen St. Built in 1928, it closed in 2007 after a fire. I recently had a tour and saw parts of its former glory.
Helen: His Majesty’s – the loss of this was terrible, all the more reason to treasure The Strand.
Best Auckland Central “secret”?
Chlöe: I don’t know if it’s really a secret, but I remember it blowing my mind as a kid and occupying my imagination for a while. At the top of Western Park, you’ll find the John Radford sculptures – those buildings sunken into the ground. There’s small little peep-holes along the facade which give you a little look into an abstract world.
Emma: Basque Park in Eden Terrace. Hidden between New North Road and Newton Road is a bowl-shaped park. We live close by and love spending time in it, particularly during summer.
Helen: The glow worms in the domain by the stream.
Anywhere else you’d like to add – or give a shout out to?
Chlöe: The people who make up our community. Everything that’s special about Auckland Central was built by folks who went out on a limb and found support in those around them. When we come together to make things happen, we really make it happen.
Emma: I’d like to acknowledge the amazing charitable work by many organisations in the electorate. The Auckland City Mission does an incredible job helping many people in desperate need.
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