"Whoever said money can't buy happiness," opined Bo Derek, "simply didn't know where to shop." It's unlikely the American actress ever visited Porirua City Centre, but she would have been hard-pressed to name anything she couldn't find in this shopaholic's nirvana. Not only is there a large mall, but a mega-sized mega-centre, all the big chain stores, independent shops, three supermarkets, and more. Making life even easier are 3000 free car parks, regular trains and buses.
First, imagine an outdoor shopping strip where household-name stores stretch over 12 hectares. That's North City MegaCentre: the Wellington region's largest shopping complex, a bastion of big-ticket items and a magnet for shoppers from Porirua and further afield. If you're after electronics or appliances, for instance, you're got a full house to choose between: Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming, Smiths City and Dick Smith Electronics. Also competing for attention are three outdoors/sports shops, two baby-supplies stores, Big Save Furniture, Beds R Us, Number One Shoes, Spotlight (home interiors), Guthrie Bowron (paint), Postie Plus (clothing), The Warehouse (just about everything) and a Postshop. The list goes on. And on.
But the first stop for fashion fiends is North City Shopping Centre on the city centre's southern flank. One of the lower North Island's biggest malls, it's home to 90 national and international retail outlets. Twenty-one clothing stores and fashion boutiques, from Max to Millers, Shoe Connection to Suzanne Grae, stock everything from corporate wear and casual clothes to cocktail dresses. To complete the look, there are six shoe stores, three jewellers, an accessories shop, a Strand Bags outlet and the department stores-with-everything: Farmers and Kmart.
A bustling little world-within-a-world, the mall is at its liveliest at lunchtimes, after work and on weekends. Hairdressers are retouching roots, beauty technicians filing nails, Chinese-massage therapists releasing tight muscles, pharmacists dispensing prescriptions. There are magazines to browse at Whitcoulls and Paper Plus, trips to be scheduled at Flight Centre, vitamins to stock up on at Health 2000. The hungry head to the food court of 16 food-and-beverage outlets offering everything from sushi, pita pockets, kebabs, curries and Chinese to fast food, and of course, coffee.
The flat whites and soy lattes at the city centre's cafes rival Wellington's. Cafe Kaizen at Pataka Museum + Art, which overlooks a relaxing Japanese garden, and the classy Peppermill Delicatessen are especially popular spots for lunch and weekend brunch. As for dinner, the array of excellent ethnic restaurants includes Chinese, Thai and Indian plus a Denny's Restaurant.
Back out on the street, you'll find a mix of independent shops (Northern Music Works, the fabulous Pete's Emporium), chain stores (Resene, Subway sandwiches), and services (banks, Citizens' Advice Bureau).
For general groceries, there's the choice of a Countdown, Pak'N'Save and New World.
But the city centre's not all about shopping - it's about fun, too. There's the five-screen movie complex Reading Cinemas, Pirates Cove mini-golf course, several playgrounds and a skate park for teens.
Located within the central business district is Te Rauparaha Arena
and the Arena Aquatic Centre
. It has everything water babies young and old could want: four heated pools (lane, wave/leisure, toddlers and spas), a hydroslide, a "lazy river" (a river-shaped pool with a gentle current), sauna, steam rooms, "aquarobics", aqua-jogging, diving and Dash Swim School lessons. This state-of-the-art sports and events centre is the pride of Porirua. Netball fans cheer on national and regional indoor-sports teams at matches here, including national netball team the Silver Ferns and regional netballers The Central Pulse who call Te Rauparaha Arena home. Locals don't just come to watch but to get active too. Over 10,000 kids take part in the Porirua junior sports leagues held at the Arena - including basketball, netball, indoor soccer and flag football. Other Arena facilities include two gymnasiums, a dance studio plus the Arena Fitness Centre. Big events like home shows, competitions and festivals are staged here, too.
Also within the central business district is the award-winning Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures
. Pataka means, "a storage place for precious things" in te reo Maori, but it's much more than that. An ever-changing exhibition programme displays the best of Maori, Pacific, national and international contemporary art - and showcases heritage and social history -in five galleries. Many of these exhibitions go on to tour nationally and internationally.
The art isn't all indoors, either. On Parumoana Street, 10 stainless-steel spheres have wrap-around text quoting early settlers' and visitors' impressions of Porirua. At the upgraded Porirua Railway Station, 50 photographic panels celebrate Porirua's natural beauty, values and artistic talent, while painted murals give people awaiting trains, something colourful and funny - like a man and his papers being blown away by the wind - to look at.
The whole of Porirua's city centre is undergoing a makeover and is the focus development over the next ten years.