It’s visible from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and western city beaches, hard to miss the pinky pink colour, and memories of pink sugar bags. Here’s the Chelsea sugar factory, where barges bring raw sugar and a factory creates New Zealand’s sugar stocks.
And now there’s a lot to do at the historic Chelsea site, in Birkenhead, one of Auckland’s northern spots. Fun for all the family, including the pooch…
They call themselves the home of kiwi baking, and aim to inspire a love of all things baking. And they sure succeed at that. Wander in to the (pretty) new visitor experience centre at New Zealand Sugar’s Chelsea Bay, it opened more than a year ago now. And you’ll find a beautiful sugar café, factory tours, and an interactive baking zone. A real sense of our baking here.
A history of sugar
The New Zealand Sugar Company is one of New Zealand’s biggest companies, and Chelsea Sugar one of our best known brands. There’s a long history of sugar here.
We’re told that, back when New Zealand was first being settled by Europeans, the government offered money to set up the country’s first sugar factory, so we could stop importing sugar from Australia. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Australia took up the challenge, and partnered with the Victorian Sugar Company to form the New Zealand Sugar Company.
Back in the 1880s the Chelsea Sugar Factory was built using one million bricks, hand made out of clay excavated from the site. Two dams were built across Duck Creek, and two wharves 64 metres in length. And there was the deep water of the Waitemata Harbour, allowing boats right to the factory door, the perfect spot for a sugar factory. Then, once open, the factory took the name Chelsea, the London hometown of the first customs officer.
Much later, the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened (60 years ago this year) and made things a lot simpler for Chelsea. Before the bridge, nearly all the sugar had to be shipped across the harbour. And so special note was taken, when the bridge was designed, for Chelsea’s ships to fit underneath. The importance of sugar, from way back.
To learn and taste
Now you can learn all this history and process, on a Chelsea sugar factory tour. Find out how sugar is made, how raw sugar makes its way, from the boats through the factory, to become the finished bags of sugar we buy. And, of course, there’s some tasting to be done too.
There’s a delicious aptly-named cafe, with traditional kiwi baking and more, from some very skilled cafe operators - and an interactive zone with more about baking. There’s what looks like a very fun playground, to run off that sugar. And the Chelsea Heritage Park is an impressive space, with a tremendous view of Auckland City, the Waitemata Harbour, and the big bridge.
And yes, the heritage park’s that kind of place, you can bring your pooch - dogs (on leash) are welcome, there’s plenty of fencing and shade available around the Chelsea site. Perfect for a north-of-the-bridge, slightly-out-of-town outing, for a sugar fix, quite the kiwi treat really.
To the makeshift kitchen
Back at base, and inspired a Chelsea sugar visit... there’s a rhubarb and brown sugar idea. We’ve tried raw rhubarb - dipped into sugar, to mellow the tartness just a bit. Try it after dinner: it's really good on a cheeseboard.
Your road trip companion…
To find more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and food producers, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments to check out on your next New Zealand trip, including the delicious cafe at Chelsea Bay, download The FoodPath NZ’s guide (for mobile) here.