The Auckland Town Hall opened in 1912.
It’s sat near the top of Queen Street for over a century, an elegant and familiar part of the background to city life, but few Aucklanders have had a proper look at this building that they actually own. Now you can, if you’re quick, on one of the hour-long tours that are being offered around the performance part of the Town Hall, both public and backstage.
Beginning by the grand staircase, you’ll learn about the competition to design it, the winner receiving the staggering sum of £400, equating to $72,000 today. It was a Melbourne father and son partnership who succeeded with their Edwardian Baroque design, which took just two years to build, opening on December 14, 1911.
The tour takes you into the Concert Chamber and Great Hall, to view them from all angles, and have features pointed out that audiences usually miss. You’ll learn why capacity has reduced over the years (hint: bigger audience members) and be shocked to discover that – despite Kate Sheppard being honoured with a bust above the staircase – women’s toilets were not included in the original construction.
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Because why wouldn’t you want to stand where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have stood? And the Queen, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton? As well as many, many performers from around the world, and, of course, thousands of graduands trailing across the stage to receive their precious piece of paper. Plus, you get to go behind the scenes, literally under the stage, to view the secret and functional side of performances. Finally, you’ll enjoy a hot drink and a sweet treat.
Don’t be shy if you know your way around a keyboard: you’ll be offered the opportunity to play the huge German-built Klais organ, so seize it for a literal blast through its 4000 pipes. And if that’s your real passion, look out for the Organ Trust’s four annual free organ concerts, followed by free tours which will get you right up close with the organ, and give you another chance to play it.
ON THE WAY/NEARBY
You’re close to the Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, which is always worth a visit as it’s free, and has beautifully displayed exhibitions. Resuming January 18, you can attend Friday evening drawing sessions there too, also free, with materials supplied. Albert Park is just outside, with manicured nature to enjoy, and scattered artworks to admire. And, of course, Queen Street and High Street are right there too, for shopping and refreshment.
Tickets cost $35 each, recommended 14 years and over. Be aware that there are a lot of stairs to negotiate, some of them narrow and steep. Tours are limited to 18 people.
BEST TIME TO GO
Soon. The tours are popular and selling out fast. There are places left only on the last three currently scheduled, on Sundays 17 and 24 January – although more tours may be listed to meet demand. Check the website aucklandlive.co.nz.