Auckland city centre’s iconic giant Santa moves into retirement
Auckland city centre’s beloved giant Santa is retiring to a toy museum in Wānaka after officially hanging up his red coat earlier this year for the final time, following six decades of festive seasons in the city centre.
The 19-metre Santa Claus, who has graced the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets each Christmas in recent years, last week embarked on the 1,480km journey south to his new home at the National Transport & Toy Museum in Wānaka.
Previous owner, Heart of the City, says they are delighted that the iconic Santa is retiring to such a fitting new place where his 60-year legacy will live on.
“We know Santa is well-loved by many Aucklanders and Kiwis alike, and the decision to retire him last year was a difficult one," says Viv Beck, CEO of Heart of the City. “We said last year that we hoped to find a suitable home for him. We are very happy he can retire peacefully and still be enjoyed by Kiwis for hopefully many generations to come.”
Founded by the late Gerald Rhodes more than 50 years ago, the National Transport & Toy Museum is one of the largest private toy collections in the world. Gerald’s daughter Debbie and son Jason have carried on his vision and, as Santa’s proud new owners, are looking forward to sharing him with their visitors.
“We are so excited to be welcoming Auckland’s giant Santa to his permanent new home with us,” says Jason Rhodes. “He is truly a part of Auckland city centre’s history and my own, and we look forward to sharing his life story here in Wānaka and sharing him with locals and visitors.”
The National Transport & Toy Museum will be giving Santa some well-deserved TLC this Christmas, before he makes his debut appearance in his new home for Christmas 2021. Unlike his Auckland city centre location, he will be permanently on display at the National Transport & Toy Museum, giving people the opportunity to view him and enjoy a touch of Christmas spirit year-round.
“We intend to pay homage to Santa and will be developing a festive narrative that tells his story, it’s something we hope visitors will be able to relate to and enjoy. I recall visiting Auckland as a young boy with my family and seeing him on the old Farmers building, so it’s pretty special to be able to welcome him to his new home in Wānaka,” Jason adds.
From 1960, when Santa was installed on the Farmers building on Hobson Street, to his most recent years on Queen Street, Santa has been a joyous part of Auckland’s Christmas tradition.
Heart of the City made the difficult decision to retire him after much consideration; eventually deciding it was a fitting time as he was weary after 60 years of service and due for another refresh. Kiwis were invited to say their farewells to Santa over the Christmas 2019 period and remember fond memories over the years.
“As the guardians of Santa, it has been very important to us that we find the right home for him, and we believe that we’ve done just that,” says Ms Beck. “Santa has been an integral part of the city centre. Many people have contributed to his legacy, including those who had the original vision to create him all those years ago. We’d also like to acknowledge Mansons TLCM who have played an important role in keeping his legacy alive in recent years.”
Despite Santa’s departure, Christmas in the city centre is looking festive, with new decorations and plenty of entertainment underway.
New illuminated decorations by Angus Muir Design feature along Queen Street, along with new flag banners. From larger-than-life decorations adorning some streets to the Farmers Santa Parade, Smith & Caughey’s stunning Christmas windows and a new Christmas shop, a number of Christmas markets, and endless shopping options, there is something for everyone.
“Auckland’s city centre is the place to be in the lead up to and during Christmas 2020,” says Ms Beck.
“The city centre is buzzing with festive atmosphere, and we’re still underway with planning an extra special reveal for Christmas 2021. We hoped this would be sooner but COVID-19 interrupted delivery for this year.”
A packed schedule of festive events and displays will enhance the Christmas magic, including the Farmers Santa Parade, the Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery, and the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. Mid-December also marks the start of the America’s Cup celebrations in the city centre.
"Heart of the City is committed to celebrating the festive season in the city centre with vibrancy and colour. We encourage everyone to visit the city centre to celebrate the Christmas season after a year like no other.”
For the full schedule of Christmas events, visit the Heart of the City website