Devonport: A Shore Sensation

Lisa Jansen discovers the hidden secrets and the charming sights, food and scenery of Auckland’s historic seaside village of Devonport.

Whether you’re a history buff, or you’re a fan of good food and beautiful views, Auckland’s seaside village of Devonport offers it all – and more. Located at the southernmost tip of the North Shore, opposite Auckland’s CBD, Devonport is a popular place to live and visit.

Few other parts of Auckland are as rich in history as Devonport. Long before European settlers built the charming villas and rough military bunkers and tunnels that Devonport is now famous for, Māori valued the area for its quality soil to grow kūmara and large tidal beaches to collect seafood. However, Devonport as we know it today is very much the result of European influences that started in the mid-1800s – but the area wasn’t always known as Devonport.

 

A Town Called Flagstaff

In 1840 locals raised a flagstaff at the top of Mt Victoria/Takarunga – the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore – and the town became known as Flagstaff. Just 28 years later, the town was renamed, and it has been known as Devonport ever since. However, there are still some leftovers from the Flagstaff days. The actual Flagstaff pole can be found in Windsor Reserve by the Ferry Terminal, there is a Flagstaff Gallery, and The Devonport Flagstaff is the name of the popular community newspaper.

The Ferries And Navy Arrive

While Devonport has a long, vivid history spanning hundreds of years, the 1800s were particularly significant in shaping the village as it is today. In 1841, the Navy started operating from the Naval Base in Devonport. Over the coming decades, naval facilities grew steadily, and in 1888 the New Zealand Navy opened the largest drydock in the Southern Hemisphere, the Calliope Dock, in Devonport. With the Navy came local employment opportunities as well as customers for stores and eateries.

In 1881, the Devonport Steam Ferry Company connected Devonport to central Auckland, establishing what remains the city’s busiest ferry route even today. Without the harbour bridge (which wasn’t completed until 1959), car ferries to Devonport became the main route north. The Navy and the ferry continue to be a big part of what Devonport is about today. On weekdays, commuters from all over the east coast of the North Shore flock to Devonport to catch the ferry into town. The Navy base not only continues to be one of the biggest employers in the area, but the Navy ships that are often docked west of Devonport village have also become a fixture in the scenery. However, there is much more to see in Devonport than ferries and Navy ships.

 

Explore On Foot Or Wheels

There are lots of ways to explore Devonport. With all the significant sights fairly close together, everyone with an average level of fitness can easily get around on foot. However, most sights are also accessible by car. For those who are after something a little bit different, a Segway tour with Magic Broomstick Tours might be the way to go for you. Segways are a fun experience and allow you to roll up to all the sights – including those you can’t reach by car these days, like the summit of Mt Victoria.

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Mt. Victoria / Takarunga To Cheltenham

Regardless of how you get around, there is lots to see. Start by having a look around the charming village centre. There are several shops and galleries, as well as cafés and restaurants if you need to refuel before continuing exploring. Next, make your way up to Mt Victoria/Takarunga, which is only a short walk from the town. At the top, you can take in stunning views over Auckland City and the Waitemata Harbour. On a clear day, you can see Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel from here.


Note, however, that the summit of Mt Victoria – like most of Auckland’s volcanoes – is not accessible by private car. On your way down, head east and stop in at the Devonport Museum on Vauxhall Road to learn more about the local history (open 2pm – 4pm on weekends and 10am – 12noon Tuesday to Thursday). From here, keep heading east towards Cheltenham Beach, the longest and most popular beach in the area. This is a great place to go for a dip in the ocean or to have a picnic. Bring your own food or grab something from the cafes on the corner of Vauxhall Rd and Tainui Rd. Those exploring on foot should head for the stairs at the southern end of Cheltenham Beach and walk up to North Head. If you’re on wheels, you can access North Head from Takarunga Road.

North Head And The Navy Museum

North Head is where you find the famous military bunkers, disappearing guns and tunnels. Many visitors assume that they were built during the World Wars; however, they are even older. The tunnels and bunkers were built in the 1880s to protect Auckland from a feared Russian invasion. Exploring the maze-like tunnels is great fun for young and old – and a bit scary sometimes. Make sure you bring a torch. When you make your way down from North Head, keep north and stop in at the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum at the eastern end of King Edward Parade. Permanent exhibitions showcase the story of the Navy’s contribution to the development of New Zealand’s identity through the lens of the Navy’s values – Courage / Tū Kaha, Commitment / Tū Tika, Comradeship / Tū Tira and Integrity / Tū Maia.

Food, Charm, Shops and Chocolates

The village centre of Devonport is famous for four things: charming buildings, quality shops and galleries, good food and chocolate. Go for a stroll along Victoria Road, venture down some of the side streets and alleyways, pop into a couple of shops or admire the art on display at any of the galleries. Chocolate lovers won’t want to miss stopping by the famous Devonport Chocolates on Wynyard Street. The boutique factory makes the finest treats, including special editions, mouth-watering award-winners and fun family favourites.

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Meanwhile, Corelli’s Café offers excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, as well as great coffee, in a relaxed atmosphere and at reasonable prices.Vondel is another popular option, offering well-thought-out, great-tasting food on both sides of the dietary coin – for vegans, meat lovers and everybody in between. Vic Road Kitchen serves fresh and seasonal New Zealand produce in a rustic Mediterranean style. Devon on Wharf and Fish Kitchen, in the ferry terminal, offer great food with even better views over the harbour. There are many more options along Victoria Road and the side street. Go for a wander, and you will surely find something that tickles your fancy.

Did You Know?

Devonport has an impressive – and somewhat quirky – list of firsts!
• Devonport was the first place in New Zealand where women cast their votes after winning the right to vote in 1893.
• In 1977, Devonport became the first neighbourhood in NZ to offer roadside recycling collection.
• Devonport was the first suburb on the North Shore to get electricity when the power station was built in 1914.
• In 1981, Devonport was the first neighbourhood in New Zealand to vote to become nuclear-free.
• The first asphalt footpath laid in NZ was put down from the Esplanade Hotel to Clarence Street in Devonport on 12 February 1883.

Where To Park

• The closest overnight parking options for RVers are the POP at Bayswater Marina (self-contained vehicles only) and the Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. From Takapuna, you can take the bus to Devonport. Both Bayswater and Takapuna are also within easy cycling distance.
• For those coming from the CBD, the ferry is the best and most fun way to travel to and from Devonport.
• If you drive to Devonport, be aware that parking can be tricky due to commuters during the week and visitors on the weekends. Your best bet would be to drive along King Edward Parade or on one of the side streets. For those with bigger rigs, parking around Cheltenham Beach might be the better option as many of the streets in Devonport village are very narrow.

Learn More About Devonport’s Sights

• Visitor information: devonport.co.nz
• Segway tours: magicbroomsticktours.co.nz
• Devonport Museum: devonportmuseum.org.nz
• Torpedo Bay Navy Museum: navymuseum.co.nz
• Eat & drink: devonport.co.nz/explore/ eat-drink
• Galleries and art shops: devonportdirectory.co.nz/galleries

Got More Time?

If you have an extra day while in the area, consider taking the ferry to Rangitoto and walking up Auckland’s largest and youngest volcano. On a nice day, the views from the top over Auckland and the Waitemata Harbour are spectacular.

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