28 February 2014

Auckland’s Sky Tower

Auckland skyline from North Head





















I remember quite well all the grumbling and groaning when it was announced that the Sky Tower would be built in central Auckland: ‘It will ruin the city skyline’, as if the skyline was something worth preserving; ‘It will be a huge concrete eyesore’, as if the skyscrapers built during the 1980s and 1990s weren’t themselves huge concrete eyesores; and ‘It will destroy the city’s heritage’, as if the developers hadn’t already done that when they indiscriminately tore down or preserved only the facades of many of Auckland’s heritage buildings.

From Westhaven marina and from St Stephen's church in Judges Bay
Twenty years later, the tower has become an icon, a major tourist attraction and the best way to locate yourself when out and about in the city and suburbs, as it is so tall it can be seen from far and wide.

Old and new - the tower of the old Auckland Art Gallery and the Sky Tower
If, like me, you enjoy weird and wacky facts and figures, here’s a bunch from the Sky Tower website 
The Sky Tower took 2 years and 8 months to build during which time the more than 1000 people (from several different companies) who helped build it are estimated to have eaten 545,000 pies and drunk 1.245 million cups of tea.

The main structure of the tower is a concrete shaft 12 metres in diameter, which is supported at the base by eight concrete legs. These legs are connected to the shaft by a concrete collar which is designed to spread the load.

A good reflection and a tasty meal?
The Sky Tower weighs 21 million kgs which is the equivalent of 6000 elephants, 30 million pavlovas (the pavlova is another New Zealand icon, though Australians claim to have invented it!), or 8,765,903 gumboots filled with concrete (men’s size 9 – not proven, but thereabouts).

At 328 metres tall (from the ground to the top of its mast), the Sky Tower is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere – it is approximately 23 metres taller than the Sydney Tower (we had to beat those Aussies!). On a worldwide scale, the Sky Tower is approximately the 25th tallest tower in the world – that list keeps changing as more towers and skyscrapers get built. The height of the Sky Tower would be the same as putting 37 buses end to end – who works out these things?

From Viaduct harbour

The tower provides amazing views from its three observation decks and its revolving restaurant. From the top deck, the Skydeck, which is immediately below the main communications antenna and 220 metres from the ground, you can see up to a distance of 82 kilometres on a clear day. On a not-so-clear day, the tower’s top is often shrouded in low cloud and mist, so visibility is practically zero.

From Albert Park and from the Domain

To get to those upper levels of the tower, there are 3 glass-fronted lifts which travel at approximately 5 metres per second so the ride only takes about 40 seconds. If you suffer from vertigo, you might want to face the doors – and when you get to the observation decks, you might also want to avoid walking on the areas of glass flooring that give a view directly down to the ground.

If being up so high causes you concern about your personal safety, you will be reassured to know that the tower has been designed to survive a magnitude 8 earthquake occurring 20 kilometres away and it can withstand wind in excess of 200 kilometres per hour. The tower will, in fact, sway up to one metre in extremely high winds – this is a good thing – better to sway than to bend and break!

From Rangitoto Island and from Mt Eden
As well as enjoying the viewing and eating entertainment, those who are brave enough can also walk around and / or jump off the tower. Walking around might not sound scary but the Skywalk is 192 metres from the ground, with no walls or windows to shield you and no handrails. Just two thin cables connect you to the building to prevent you from falling. 

Been there, done that? Then you can also try the Skyjump, leaping off the main observation deck, controlled by guide cables so you don’t collide with the tower during a wind gust. It’s certainly not my cup of tea but American singing superstar BeyoncĂ© proved she had nerves of steel, jumping not once but twice off the Skytower when she visited Auckland back in October 2013. 

The tower is admired by tourists
In the daytime, the Sky Tower is a beacon to aid the navigationally challenged and at night it lights up the skyline, in colours to promote causes – pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month, for example, and to celebrate events – red and green at Christmas time and blue for the birth of Prince George in July 2013. Love it or hate it, the Sky Tower is now synonymous with Auckland.