Everything you need to know to get through the chaotic commute to to the Elton John concert in Tāmaki Mākaurau this weekend.
Fans heading to Elton John’s concerts at Mt Smart Stadium this weekend have been advised to drive or walk there by Auckland Transport (AT). In a Facebook post yesterday afternoon that included a little Yellow Brick Road reference for fans, AT wrote: “Heading to see Elton John? Plan your journey in advance and travel early if you can. Driving to the concert is recommended, but if you can’t there are public transport options included in your concert ticket.” Eyebrows were raised higher than the silver wig John wore to his 50th birthday party in 1997, prompting a lot of yellow bricks to be thrown back at the transport agency. Transport minister Michael Wood has described the advice as “pretty weird”.
Isn’t there a train station near Mt Smart?
Yes. One of the advantages of concerts at Mt Smart has always been that it’s a 10-15 minute walk from Penrose Station to the stadium and trains have been an effective way of getting thousands of people there and back. In a bid to promote public transport use and mode shift, AT has often worked in collaboration with music, festival and sports promoters to make taking public transport to events easy, including the cost of a train or bus ticket in the event ticket. The advice has changed of late. Billy Joel fans were told to make alternative transport arrangements for his concert at Eden Park in late November. Auckland’s rail network will be closed this Monday as well, meaning those attending Laneway at Western Springs can’t catch a train either.
What in the Honky Cat is going on???
The reason for this series of “sorry seems to be the hardest word” events is a major rail network upgrade. The $330 million upgrade will see sections of rail lines across Auckland temporarily closed over the coming years, so the rock foundations under the tracks can be removed and rebuilt. The majority of the work isn’t expected to be completed until the end of 2024. The Penrose train station, on the Southern line, will be closed on Friday and no trains will be running on Saturday.
How chaotic is this going to get?
Gates at Mt Smart will open at 5.30pm and the start time is 7.30pm sharp. The Rocket Man famously blasts off precisely on time and it’s recommended you be seated by 7pm. In response to media queries about the agency’s advice to drive to the concert, Auckland Transport has advised that there are 761 car parks in the vicinity – 255 free car parks will be available at two local businesses from 4pm on the day of the concerts and will be on a first-come, first-served basis. A further 506 free, non-time limited car parks are available on streets that are within a 2km walk from Mt Smart Stadium.
How will I get there?
First of all, give yourself plenty of time. More time than ever before. Strap on your electric boots and leave now if you’re going tonight. Heavy rain, possible thunderstorms and high winds are forecast in Auckland this weekend. Driving is an option as above. If you’re coming from the North Shore, there is a warning out that the Harbour Bridge may close if it gets too gusty so anticipate having to use the Western Ring Route on State Highways 16 and 18 and keep an eye on updates from Waka Kotahi. You can also walk but that very much depends on where you’re coming from and whether that’s even a possibility for you. Find a friend or distant acquaintance who lives even remotely close to the stadium and see if they have a driveway or lawn you can park on. There will also be buses. Travel on them is free for ticket-holders from 3.30pm. Again, give yourself the most time you’ve ever given to travelling to a concert if you can. Buses still have to traverse the clogged, wet hellscape of Auckland’s roading network. Full info on options and planning your nightmare journey are here.
OK… what should I listen to on this hellish journey?
We tried to find a way to end this piece on a high note. Luckily for you, Elton John has recorded 31 studio albums and written nearly 500 songs, so there is more than enough music to keep you distracted while you watch the distant sun go down on your chances to nab a drink and some merch before you find your seats. His Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, while traversing the greatest of his career, obviously can’t fit the whole back catalogue, so see this an opportunity to dust off some of his lesser-appreciated hits before you all bawl your eyes out to ‘Candle in the Wind’ in memory of the train. We trawled through his discography to find 10 of the most fitting Elton John songs to get you through:
1. ‘Skyline Pigeon’ (Empty Sky, 1969)
So this is a song about finding freedom and letting your soul soar blah blah blah, but the title also handily offers two possible transport methods to get to Elton John. The first is to travel by Nissan Skyline, but that will set you back $100,000 if you want a cool one. The second option is using a pigeon to fly to the concert, but according to research you’ll probably need about 600 pigeons per person. Albert Park have a healthy stack of pigeons, but you’ll have to factor in delays in getting into the city so the best time to start collecting pigeons was yesterday.
2. ‘Heavy Traffic’ (Reg Strikes Back, 1988)
This jaunty little ditty needs little explanation. “Cuz we’re rolling, in heavy traffic / Judy’s in the jump seat / And Jodie’s in the bucket / Billy likes to drive / And Jackie’s just high.” If you’re in a packed car or bus, why not assign each person a ‘Heavy Traffic’ persona for the long drive there and back? Aka tag yourself, je suis Jodie.
3. ‘Passengers’ (Breaking Hearts, 1984)
It feels like AT could not be stanning Elton harder than in their commitment to “deny the passenger who want to get on.” The taunting sing-song way Elton repeats “who want to get on (who want to get on)” truly feels like a personal attack on everyone in Tāmaki Mākaurau this weekend, and although he wrote it way back in 1984, you might feel he should apologise. But then he sings “company conductor / you need the salt of tears / falling on a ticket / that no-one’s used in years” and maybe he saw all of this coming four decades ago? I have chills.
4. ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’ (Songs From the West Coast, 2001)
On Friday night this is an anthem for Penrose Station, the closest train station to Mount Smart, that will be closed due to the Rail Network Rebuild. On Saturday night, when the entire train line is down, I don’t think putting this song on will be even a little bit funny and may even lead you to a spicy situation described in the following…
5. ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’ (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)
“It’s getting late, have you seen my mates? / Ma, tell me when the boys get here / It’s seven o’clock, and I wanna rock.” More prescient lyrics, especially when concert promoters are advising people are seated by 7pm for Elton’s extremely punctual 7.30pm start. Given that those trying to get to and from Elton using public transport will be “packed pretty tight”, we can only hope that crowds bring “none of your aggravation” to what will surely be a tense experience.
6. ‘Tiny Dancer’ (Madman Across the Water, 1971)
This is hardly a deep cut and it goes without saying that ‘Tiny Dancer’ should be on every Elton John playlist, regardless of whether you’re stuck in heavy traffic or not. But if Almost Famous taught us anything, this song can really, really lift a scratchy group mood on a long and tiring drive. Also a very fitting opportunity to “count the headlights on the highway” and see what number you come home with when you inevitably sit down to send an angry email to AT.
7. ‘Bennie and the Jets’ (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)
Bet you wish you had invested in those famed “electric boots” all those years ago, huh. We all laughed at the time. Look at us now. Manual boots.
8. ‘Let Me Be Your Car’ (Rare Masters, 1992)
First recorded by Elton John in 1973 and then released a year later by dock-rocker Rod Stewart, this one will hit home for those who choose to follow AT’s advice. “Stuck behind the wheel / Jekyll and Hyde going on inside / When I’m your automobile.” Based on later lyrics I think this song might be about shagging but I assure you that will be the last thing on your mind on this journey.
9. ‘I’m Still Standing’ (Too Low For Zero, 1983)
This classic hit goes out to everyone waiting in the queue for the bus at Britomart, famously departing only once every 10 minutes. Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid… you’re still standing after all this time. And for that, we salute you.
10. ‘Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to be a Long, Long Time)’ (Honky Château, 1972)
Quicker to get to Mars or quicker to get to Mt Smart? This weekend, we find out once and for all. Godspeed pinball wizards. Godspeed.