The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

13 Apr 2018

The Lantern Festival: how do you get to huge events in Auckland?

I went to the lantern festival, which happens now every year in the Auckland Domain.

Promotional image from ATEED.
I’ll leave taking pictures over there to proper photographers.

Getting to any event of any signficance is a pain in the ass, as it invariably attracts thousands of people trying to drive and park their car in that same spot. With this one, we’re talking about 100,000’s, so forewarned is forearmed. Do not proceed without planning ahead.

(This does not apply if you’re walking in from your apartment nearby. In that case, please spare a thought for those caught in traffic.)

So, the plan. These are our 3 basic options:

  1. Just drive to the Domain and hope for the best. I’m managing my expectations for this one.

  2. Take the bus. A convenient option, but low service frequencies in the weekend and late in the evening may mean long waits. And there is such thing as the last bus.

  3. Park’n’ride in the nearby CBD. It sounds daft, but the CBD is well-equipped to handle thousands of people arriving by car and parking there. And at least Britomart should be well-connected to the Domain.

I settled on trying option 1, and if that doesn’t look right, fall back to option 3. So drive to the Wellesley Street off-ramp, do some reconaissance, and turn back to the CBD if it doesn’t look right.

The driving part

Well, that was interesting. Although not very surprising.

It all was easy enough until we reached the back of the queue on Grafton Road, towards Khyber Pass road. The left lane wasn’t moving at all. Turns out all the streets behind Park Road were closed. Which was probably a big relief for the people living there. Where all those cars eventually went I’ll never know.

It very much did not look right.

There’s always the option of parking on one of the many lots owned by Wilson Parking. The event pricing tariff was $25 for the evening. Which you can of course only see after you already parked and walked up to the ticket machine. Still, that’s not a bad deal for parking right next to a big event. However with that big pile of traffic on Grafton Road I wanted to be a bit further from the Domain.

Back to the city then, I ended up parking in the parking building on Sturdee Street. That’s quite close to where North Shore buses drop you off, so now we can also figure out in what shape public transport is in the city centre.

The bus part

There’s 3 ways to get to the Domain from Britomart:

All in all, for a major transport hub there’s not a lot of wayfinding to be seen around Britomart, and every time I catch a bus over there, it turns into a game of GPS hunting. If that smartphone battery runs out, you’re in big trouble.

The walking part

Grafton Bridge was closed for all buses, and it was obvious why — there was simply no room with all the people walking to the festival. Another good decision from the traffic management.

On the other hand, they dropped the ball miserably on Park Road. The footpath was way too narrow for the crowds of people walking there. Since most traffic was banned on Park Road, the obvious better plan was to move those fences 3 m sideways to what is usually the centre line.

The festival

Lots of lanterns! And food stalls, which unfortunately were totally overwhelmed by the crowds.

Going back

Sigh. They should really move that fence next year.

As expected there were still buses to Britomart on Symonds Street. In retrospect maybe we should have walked to the top of Queen Street to catch a red link bus. This line has much better connections to North Shore buses than any of the lines on Symonds Street. But I don’t know how crowded that line was.

The conclusion

Overall the plan worked out as expected. Without the stupid detour to Wellesley Street it would have been not too slow either. And Sturdee Street is well away from the festival, so you’re very unlikely to run into surprises there.

The bus journey from Britomart and back, although it worked, did not inspire a lot of confidence. It will work well as long as only a few dozen people try to catch that same bus. With that festival attracting many tens of thousands of visitors, that seems a bit precarious.

For taking the bus all the way, your mileage may vary: On Saturday the line to Birkdale goes every 30 minutes until midnight, which is tolerable. On Sunday however, the last bus leaves 15 minutes after the fireworks start. That’s not a good thing to find out the hard way. (The same was true for the trains on Sunday, and even Saturday there was some flak on social networks about crowding at Grafton station.) With such a crowded event in a decent-sized city, the fact that PT may leave you outright stranded is a very unwelcome surprise.

When driving it’s all about where to park: too close and you’ll get stuck in congestion. Too far and you’ll spend a lot of time getting to the destination *1. Maybe I could have parked under Aetoa Square or in the Victoria Street car park. Those are close enough to just walk, but as a consequence they may fill up.

So probably I’ll stick to some variant of option #3 next time.


(*1) 

As a side note, back when the festival was on Albert Park, parking in the nearby Victoria Street building was the obviously boneheaded idea. No hope of getting out any time soon after those fireworks ended.

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