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The Pacifica tower in central Auckland.
At The Pacifica, a neighbour riled residents for an entire month. (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

SocietyApril 13, 2023

Inside Auckland’s noisy luxury apartment spat: ‘It was 24/7… constant vibration’

The Pacifica tower in central Auckland.
At The Pacifica, a neighbour riled residents for an entire month. (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

When one irked resident took revenge on a neighbour, an entire building ended up hearing about it.

When Craig* first saw the plans for The Pacifica, he thought he couldn’t afford to live there. He and his wife had escaped suburban life in Papakura by moving into an old inner-city Auckland apartment block. They wanted to stop wasting their weekends doing gardening and house maintenance soundtracked by their neighbour’s music. “We decided that we wanted to spend more time doing things we actually enjoy and less time commuting,” says Craig.

The apartment they moved into around 2016 was inside a heritage building in Auckland’s CBD, making it hard to modify or renovate to current living standards. “We had a beautiful character apartment, which we loved, but we couldn’t get air conditioning installed,” says Craig. “It had paper thin windows, so it was noisy. The way the world’s going, air conditioning and climate control was essential for us at that point.” They started looking around for alternatives.

Nearby, on Commerce Street, a new apartment building called The Pacifica was being erected. The gleaming $300 million, 54-storey glass tower promised residents a life of luxury with all the extras: a lap pool, gym, steam room and sauna; a yoga room, theatre and barbecue terrace; as well as on-call building maintenance and a 24-hour concierge service. Best of all were the views. As the country’s tallest residential apartment tower, The Pacifica offered sweeping vistas of Auckland’s skyline, from Rangitoto and the Hauraki Gulf out to the Waitākere ranges.

It looked pricey. When Craig investigated, it was. “We thought it was out of our reach and unattainable,” he says. But then one would-be owner pulled out of their agreement. He and his wife negotiated to buy their apartment. “We bought off someone who bought off the plans. They either couldn’t settle or didn’t want to settle so we stepped in and took over the agreement,” says Craig. The pair couldn’t believe they’d managed to move into the two-bedroom apartment of their dreams. “We actually managed to make it happen.”

By March, they’d moved in. The Pacifica, with its “twisted” design inspired by pikorua (a Maori symbol indicating eternal friendship), offered them an idyllic version of inner-city living. They were walking distance to the best Auckland cafes and restaurants. A community formed among the building’s apartment-dwellers, with parties and barbecues, daily dog walking clubs and evening exercise groups. An Easter egg hunt for children on level seven became an annual tradition.

Every morning, Craig and his wife would wake to views like this:

A view of the sunset from an Auckland apartment block.
A view from The Pacifica apartments in downtown Auckland. (Photo: Supplied)

An app allows residents in the building’s 270 apartments to complain about any issues, and management moves quickly to sort problems out. For the first two years, as they waited out Covid and lockdowns while enjoying their magnificent views, Craig and his wife never had to contact them, because they never had any concerns. “We met great people in here and we enjoy it and everyone has been largely really friendly and gets on quite well,” he says.

Then the noise began.

It sounded like an irregular thump happening inside Craig’s bedroom wall. “It was 24/7… kind of like a pulsing constant vibration, like if you imagine almost like a phone or something vibrating in the wall… quite loud,” he says. “To me it sounded mechanical, like a pump or something just because of the rhythm to it.”

It started in January, on Friday the 13th. Craig knows this because he contacted building management immediately and still has the first of many emails exchanged about the issue. A maintenance manager was at his door within 20 minutes, trying to track down the source of the incessant banging. At first, everyone involved thought it might be a faulty air conditioning unit on one of the floors, with the sound travelling through several apartments.

But it kept going, through Friday, into Saturday, and then Sunday. Craig and his wife could drown it out with music or the sound of the TV during the day. At night, they struggled to drift off to sleep. The noise was too distracting. “It made sleeping definitely tricky at times,” he says. “Once you were asleep it was fine, but falling asleep was definitely harder.”

By Monday, the noise had gone. That was that, Craig thought. But the following Friday, it returned. Maintenance kept in contact and continued trying to track it down. “They bought in specialists to try and … work it out,” he says. In the meantime, Craig shifted the pair’s bed into their spare room in an attempt to escape the noise.

It kept happening, sometimes constantly, other times off and on, mostly on weekends. Craig wasn’t the only resident affected, but he didn’t know how many others could hear it. As far as he knows, there’s no community Facebook or WhatsApp group connecting residents in The Pacifica. His elevator pass restricts him to just a few levels. “Obviously, it wasn’t fun,” he says.

Finally, the noise was traced to one apartment. After a full month of suffering through the disruptive hammering, he received a notification from the building’s management: “The humming noise has now been eliminated by management. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding in regard to this issue. We hope this brings your routine back to normal operation.”

That’s when the story made headlines. NZ Herald, then Stuff, reported on the noise affecting multiple apartments. “It just about sent 25 residents insane because it took a month for it to be located,” one of Craig’s neighbours told the Herald. The noise was tracked to an imported electronic device called a ceiling vibrator, or “thumper,” which “causes a low vibrating-type hum at about 35-40 cycles per minute at about 80hz”. The Spinoff found one for sale in Singapore for $95 (NZ$115) plus postage.

It was then that it dawned on Craig: the noise was being made deliberately. A photo supplied to the Herald shows the circular device balanced on top of a pole, then on top of a pile of books, angled into the corner of a window frame. When turned on, the noise travelled through the building’s framework, affecting every resident above that level.

A ceiling vibrator, colour green.
A ceiling vibrator, or ‘thumper’. (Screengrab: YouTube)

It was the first time Craig had ever seen such a device. “I had no clue they existed. It kind of shocked me that they did because it just seems so short-sighted,” he says. “I find it really strange … I’m assuming they were trying to frustrate or annoy a specific neighbour. I don’t think people necessarily realise that in an interconnected building like this, your actions could impact a lot more people than you think.”

He doesn’t understand why the resident using it didn’t approach the building’s management, just like he did. “We have [them] for that sort of reason, right?”

Craig doesn’t know what, if any, repercussions the noisy neighbour faced, or if they still live there. When he approached management, he was told they “just want to move on” from the issue. But the noise is now permanently etched into his memory. “I know what it sounds like now. So if I hear that noise, I know exactly what it is, and what’s causing that.”

So does everyone else living there, meaning no one can use it without being immediately caught. (Like other news stories, The Pacifica’s management didn’t respond to The Spinoff’s request for comment. They may have bigger concerns, with the Herald recently reporting “floods, blockages and defects” were affecting the high rise block.)

A spat between residents is a story as old as time, a topic Neighbours at War spun into seven seasons of riveting prime time TV content. Minor aggravations and irritations grow and build, playing out in suburbs across Aotearoa constantly. We spar over fence lines, barking dogs, loud exhausts, early morning lawn mowing and noisy parties.

There’s the house in West Auckland that noise control refused to visit after 89 complaints, or the Napier woman who threw eggs and flour bombs in a spat about a henhouse that reached court. Like Craig did when he and his wife lived in Papakura, many just move once they’ve had enough.

Birthday cake covered in chocolate and macarons.
The birthday cake served at The Pacifica’s second birthday party. (Photo: Supplied)

For Craig, it’s something he’d rather hadn’t happened, an incident he’d really rather forget. Recently, a birthday party was held on level seven for The Pacifica to celebrate its second birthday. Champagne was popped and cake covered in raspberry and chocolate macarons was served. Craig and his wife were among the 150 guests, but no one spoke about the neighbour, his agitator and the month many of them spent struggling to get to sleep.

In this luxury Auckland apartment tower, it seems everyone just wants to move on and return to enjoying their views.

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

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