Highbury History Walk

Enjoy a leisurely walk through the history of the Highbury area of Birkenhead.

Highbury History Walk

Auckland, Auckland 0622, New Zealand

Created By: Auckland Council

Tour Information

Birkenhead is the third oldest suburb on the North Shore. It was established in the early 1860s to support a small population of rural farmers and commuters to Auckland across the Waitematā. The name was chosen in 1863 by Samuel Cochrane, a real estate agent and broker, after his hometown of Birkenhead near Liverpool in England. With the opening of the New Zealand Sugar Company’s refinery at Chelsea in 1884, the population boomed as workers and their families settled north and east of the plant.

The history of the area is much older, though. Māori first arrived around 700 years ago and built several pā—fortified settlements—along the coastline. These were mostly seasonal or periodic settlements, but larger fortifications at Kauri Point to the west and Ōnewa to the east suggest a sustained presence. Te Kawerau controlled these pā until the Musket Wars in the 1820s, when most of the Māori left. Small groups returned in the 1830s but there was no concerted effort to re-establish large-scale settlements on the North Shore.

For the next twenty years, the area that became Birkenhead sat largely unoccupied. Kauri timber cutters and gum diggers roved the area looking for quick fortunes but left as soon as they had made their profit or given up. Meanwhile, property speculators bought up massive sections of land as investments but did very little with it except lease lots to short-term tenants. The first permanent residents settled on Birkenhead Point in the mid-1850s, where they planted orchards and fruits and raised cattle and sheep. Over the following thirty years, the population of the settlement grew gradually.

Birkenhead was included in the Parish of Takapuna from 1843 and became part of the North Shore Highway Board in 1867. Residents formed their own Birkenhead Road Board in 1882, followed in 1888 by the establishment of the Borough of Birkenhead, which transferred to the residents most municipal authority over the territory west of Birkenhead Avenue and Little Shoal Bay. Ninety years later, on 15 March 1978, the City of Birkenhead was established as the second city on the North Shore. It was amalgamated into North Shore City in 1989, which merged into the Auckland supercity in 2010.

Terrain: Concrete sidewalks and gravel trails with a steep descent to Chelsea Bay and a steep climb up to Rugby Road

Starting Point: Birkenhead Library and Civic Centre (204 Hinemoa Street)

Parking: Free parking is available at the Rawene Road Carpark and at Highbury Shopping Centre

Disclaimer: This walk is along public roads and includes historical facts about the buildings and the area. Most of the sites are private businesses or homes. Please respect the environment and do not trespass on private property. Neither Auckland Council nor private property owners accept responsibility for any loss, damage, or injury to you or your property arising from use of this tour.

Copyright 2022 Auckland Council. Auckland Council holds all copyrights associated with this tour. You may not copy or reproduce the content of this tour without permission from Auckland Council. Auckland Council has taken every care to ensure that the information contained in this tour is accurate, but accepts no responsibility arising from, or in connection with, your use of this tour and the information contained in it.

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

When the Borough of Birkenhead was formed in 1888, it needed a place to build its council chambers. Although the Highbury area was still poorly developed, the presence of nearby churches and its location at the meeting place of the roads to... Read more
The small Nell Fisher Reserve across from the entrance to Birkenhead Library began as the Birkenhead Civic Reserve. Designed by Frank Finch, it was built partially to serve as a gathering place for local events, and partially as a war memor... Read more
The two buildings directly across Hinemoa Street from the Birkenhead Library are some of the oldest in the suburb. The building on the right was Samuel Roberts’ General Provider. Roberts originally built his store near the Birkenhead Whar... Read more
The original heart of Birkenhead was near the southern end of Hinemoa Street, originally known as the Great North Road and later Hauraki Road, where ferries docked from Auckland. At the top of the ridge, where the road to Northcote broke of... Read more
Frederick Morris was an English settler who arrived in New Zealand in 1908 with his wife and two children. He lived initially in Mount Roskill but subsequently moved to Mount Eden, where he served on the borough council for seven years. In ... Read more
The oldest church in Birkenhead, the Zion Hill Methodist Church was designed by William F. Hammond and built by Charles Johnson on land donated by Mr Creamer in 1880. Its location at the intersection of the road to Northcote and Hauraki Roa... Read more
The suburb of Birkenhead would have developed very differently if not for the vision and abilities of William Francis Hammond. Hammond was an architect of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a surveyor who migrated from London to ... Read more
Highbury as a commercial centre did not take off immediately. One of its first successful promoters was a member of the Birkenhead Borough Council, William Henry Payne, who anticipated the future importance of the area to the Birkenhead com... Read more
Seven years after William H. Payne opened the first commercial building at Highbury in 1927, he opened another across Mokoia Road from it. This structure was a simple art deco-style single-storey building with five step-down shops and a sus... Read more
The opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge in 1959 led to the slow decline of Highbury as a commercial centre on the North Shore. As more people moved into the surrounding suburbs of Glenfield, Northcote, Hillcrest, and Kauri Park, they sto... Read more
In its earliest years, Birkenhead had no public school for its children. Younger pupils had to travel to Northcote, Birkdale, or across the harbour to receive a primary education. Eventually, parents successfully petitioned for a side-schoo... Read more
Several homes along Huka Road and Rawene Road were once private cottages occupied by New Zealand Sugar Company refinery workers. When the refinery first opened in 1884, sixty tents were arranged on the hills above the factory for workers. O... Read more
For most of its history, the Chelsea Estate Heritage Park was part of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s property and was used for a wide assortment of functions as needed. The area immediately around the refinery was levelled and four... Read more
As an incentive to attract skilled workers who needed to be on call overnight, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company built four specialist cottages along Colonial Road. These two-storey structures were erected between 1908 and 1910 using bric... Read more
This sculpture was crafted by Bill Hayes and unveiled in September 2008, shortly after the opening of the Chelsea Estate Heritage Park. The artwork repurposes a ship’s grab (mechanical jaws) that was once used to transfer sugar from the m... Read more
Once, sugar workers’ cottages ran straight up the hillside toward Huka Road. When the worker village was disbanded in 1905, several of the homes were moved elsewhere, such as along Rawene Road. Number 44 is the oldest and least modified c... Read more
Chelsea Bay has been an industrial port since the 1880s so has never thrived as a beach destination. Yet the tiny Chelsea Bay Beach at the end of Telephone Road still allows visitors a taste of beach life. The George Giles Walkway along the... Read more
Ravenhill was W. F. Hammond’s original private residence. It covered nearly 1.5 sq km on the west side of Hauraki Road (Hinemoa Street) at Rugby Road. The large property required much maintenance. While Hammond went away to Auckland every... Read more
The stretch of Hinemoa Street from Rugby Road to Mariposa Crescent includes many buildings that were once home to businesses before the suburb’s commercial centre shifted to Highbury. The large two-storey commercial building at 100 Hinemo... Read more
The Anglican history of Birkenhead began slowly. Birkenhead was originally under the mandate of the vicar of Devonport, who oversaw all the Anglicans on the North Shore and as far north as the Mahurangi River. Yet Anglican workers at the Co... Read more
The youngest of the first-generation churches of Birkenhead is St Andrews Presbyterian Church across the street from All Saints Anglican Church. Throughout the 1800s, local Presbyterians had to travel to Northcote to attend services of thei... Read more


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