“It commands a charming and picturesque view of the North Shore, Rangitoto, Motutapu and Brown’s Island. The beach is so attractive that it cannot fail to be resorted to as a fashionable watering-place. The soil is partly volcanic and is a warm rich loam which, for orchards and floriculture, leaves little to be desired.”
from the New Zealand Herald, 25 July 1882
“The people of St Heliers are friendly and will really get behind a good cause,” says Rev Pauline Stewart of St Heliers Centre, who’s been a resident of the area for 12 years. “The hospice is a good example. Resident groups are active in the area, more so than other areas of Auckland. All types of people want their village to be successful and anything down at the bay gets the support of all ages. We love being involved.”
One such business to benefit from such support is the St Heliers Café and Bistro, which first opened its doors four years ago.“The St Heliers community really embraced us from day one and have turned it into their daily meeting place,” says Dan Wards, Hipgroup operations manager for the area, which incorporates the eaterie. “Customers that in the early days sat alone, now join tables with new friends which they have met through visiting the café. Some of them now even holiday together! Local businesses also use our space for quick meetings, or if they’re lucky, a long lunch on a Friday. Our customers love that we offer all-day dining and use fresh seasonal ingredients — not to mention our housemade gelato!”
The “hundreds of friendly faces” Dan encounters daily, he adds, makes St Heliers his second home.
“The community here is well-established and many of the people have been here for a long time,” says Pauline. “They know the history and that of their family names. There is a real sense of neighbourliness. People remember you.”
St Heliers is home to around 5,000 people, with its original Maori name, Whanga Nui, meaning ‘large bay’. Europeans who first settled in the mid-19th century referred to it as Goodfellow’s Beach and Glen Orchard, and in 2010 the Glen Orchard homestead was recognised as a significant cultural site by the New Zealand Historic Trust. During the 1880s the region was renamed St Heliers due to its similarity to the beautiful capital of Jersey.
Pauline says people are understandably very protective of their heritage. “I’m always thinking of ways we could make it more of a destination, but some want to keep it quiet and beautiful,” she says. With the generosity of spirit can come a reluctance for change, so, she believes greater immigration and the influx of younger residents in recent years has injected some energy and new ideas to contribute to the continuation of the “village character”.
“It’s our community,” she continues, “and it’s a very beautiful and privileged part of the world.”
“It’s extremely family focussed, one of the best places in Auckland to raise a family,” says Dan. “Many don’t realise just how beautiful the beach is. I can sit there for ten minutes and feel like I’m on holidays anywhere in the world.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces