Reviewing one of Auckland’s top rated destinations – the Garbage Dump


How could a waste disposal site earn so many positive and thoughtful reviews online? Gabi Lardies investigates.

Nestled between National Road 16 and the mangrove-strewn Te Atatu Estuary, it’s one of Auckland’s top-rated destinations. It’s so good, in fact, that 254 people were forced to Google it, giving the place an average rating of 4.1 stars. Some of the reviews are long – lengthy paragraphs or even multiple stanzas, and many are accompanied by photos. They are passionate, inflexible or amazed. What is it about this dead-end light industrial area that elicits these emotions? A dump.

Officially the Waitākere Recycling and Waste Center, it’s a drive-thru complex where you can drop off just about anything you don’t want anymore: car bodies, green waste, white dishes, light bulbs, antifreeze and even animal carcasses – provided that they are packed and declared on arrival. There is also a shop, Tipping point, one last chance to save the treasure from the dump. On weekends, Aucklanders are so excited that cars line up along the narrow street. However, anyone who gets out of their car in jandals or crocs will be turned away. The board just doesn’t want to be held responsible for lost toes. Oh, and forget the asbestos – it’s not welcome here.

But why do people love this dump so much? Why does its rating rival Sky Tower (4.5), Auckland Art Gallery (4.5), Rangitoto (4.6) and Kelly Tarltons (4.3)? The Mermaid, an upscale downtown strip club, has a Google rating of just 3.4 stars. Obviously, that trash rat had to find out.

The exams prepared me for weighbridge and gate gate operators. “Friendly ladies at the weighbridge,” says the usual John W. Mark Baker, “Lovely ladies to greet you.” Today, she wears her long black braided hair and gives me a big smile. “At the store?” she asks. When I answer “Yes, at the shop!” I get a nudge and the barrier rises. I regret that everything happened so quickly, but there is already another car behind me.

Trash can (Image: Gabi Lardies)

A flock of seagulls flutter above the roof of the central hangar. Inside, an excavator compresses a pile of shit to take it to the dump. A Green Gorilla truck tips its dump body and the digger starts picking it up. I turn left, door five. This is the tipping point. It’s a mega cluster of inorganic waste collection. On their Facebook page, they claim that inflation does not exist here. Forget the cost of living crisis – all devices are half price.

There are great deals to be had, with prices that Aleah Lutau says are “next to nothing “. Outside there are car bumpers, piles of wood, windows, tiles, windsurf boards and a few ambulatory toilets. There are also mini electric cars for $20, and rows and rows of bikes that look better than mine if you replace the rusty chains, for $50. The staff, recognizable by their yellow high visibility, are grouped around the shed which keeps the furniture dry. They nail a new acquisition, a huge New Zealand flag.

Inside, there is a lady with a frangipani flower in her hair who distributes the stock in the shop. She pulls items from a shopping cart and places them in a suitable nook. There is a space for fancy glass objects and the kitchen area where the more ordinary glass objects go, as well as cups and boxes of fancy cutlery. At the bottom are the clothes, sorted by color on racks. One corner is stuffed with books, another with toys. There is a section called “the great outdoors” and an e-aisle. I can’t figure out what the things are for there. On the floor, a man sorts through a basket of remotes, apparently not having much luck. Fleetwood Mac floats out of an area filled with loudspeakers. The store is housed in a large corrugated shed, but it’s so full you can barely see the structure.

There’s something sickening about being surrounded by so much stuff. Of course, I am overstimulated by the colors, textures, sounds and the slight smell. But more than that, I’m uncomfortable. I sift through looking at stuff. I really don’t want it, although it’s mostly good and useful, just needs a scrub. I feel like WALL-E, like there’s a huge cleaning task to do, but I can’t compress or bale anything. I take a meat tenderizer. Guess I could use it to make snitches. I guess it would fit in a drawer. In the next pot of utensils, there are retro sausage tongs, which I think would be useful for reaching into the oven and flipping roasted vegetables.

I bring my two finds to the counter and ring the bell. Seeing my unambitious desires, the lady said to me, “Do you have a two-dollar coin? Or a dollar? But alas, there is nothing gold or silver in my wallet, only plastic. She pushes him away. Today, my treasures are free. “Do you like our shop ?” she must have noticed how long I stayed, pacing the aisles, looking in every corner and on every shelf. “This is the best store in Auckland, aye?”

Today though, most of the action is outdoors. There are three or four diggers running, trucks and forklifts turning dumpsters just about everywhere I look. A washing machine falls. Pedestrians are not allowed beyond the boundaries of the store, but to get out you have to drive all around. It’s like a garbage safari. In a desolate corner, the tires doze and lean on each other. A pile of cans peck against their yellow cage. Further along the course, endless pallets gather in a huge shed. A man sweeps leaves from his car trunk.

This is what one reviewer considered a “real hot spot.” It is described by another as a “total heap of extreme disorganized chaos”. Vincent Rousseau lived “A truly sublime waste experience, organized by talented and passionate professionals.” Unfortunately, “they won’t let you play with the front loader”. Still, the staff seem to have taken a lot of heart. “The Pākehā guy working today was a legend, he even offered him cigarettes because he was so awesome but he was a non-smoker so he refused,” says Paul Y. For me it was that frangipani, and that bright, quick smile.

According to research, my dump experience wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Mexican joint just up the road. Cielito LindoThe reviews beat even the junkyard – 4.7 stars out of 350 reviews. However, not all reviewers are aware of the neighborhood’s symbiosis. Vanida says “the location is a bit hidden and not as glamorous as expected”, and Peter De Lange says, “Don’t let the surroundings fool you.”

Cielito Lindo occupies the cinderblock ground floor of a two-storey building, the exterior of which is painted in pastels. My tacos, one napal because I was feeling brave, and the other sealed because yum, arrived quickly. Napals are not slimy. The cachet is tender and juicy. Both zing with fresh lime and splashes of chili flakes. I didn’t buy any hand sanitizer with me so whatever I touched at the dump is now touching my tacos. A truck passes. I sip my hibiscus drink. It’s the quintessential entertainment and dining experience in our largest, almost five-star city.

Gabi Lardies is a cadet in the Next Page Cadet Scheme, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.


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