St Paul Street Gallery sits on the ridge known as Rangipuke that runs down to Rerenga-ora-iti (later Point Britomart), once the site of the pā called Tangihanga Pukeā. The name Rerenga-ora-iti can be translated as ‘the leap of the survivors’. It commemorates the capture of that pā by Kawharu of Kaipara and the beginning of Ngāti Whātua occupation in the region in the seventeeth century.
Ngāti Whātua held mana whenua into colonial times, and in 1840 made available 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of what is now central Auckland to the Crown for cash and goods worth £341. Six months later, 44 acres (17 hectares) were sold by the Crown at public auction for £24,275. The rest was mostly sold by 1842 for a total of over £72,000.
Before European arrival, two other pā were sited here: Te Reuroa near the present High Court, and Te Horotiu in the north-western corner of Albert Park. All had ready access to the natural spring Te Wai Ariki (‘chiefly waters’) located in what are now the grounds of The University of Auckland Faculty of Law.
In the waterways from which Te Wai Ariki springs lived the taniwha Horotiu, after whom the stream that ran down present-day Queen Street and flowed into the bay Horotiu (later Commercial Bay) was named. It is recalled in the name of the Auckland University of Technology marae: Ngā Wai o Horotiu. In 1840, settlers renamed Wai Horotiu the Ligar Canal, after the engineer C. W. Ligar. It was commonly known as Ligar’s Folly for its inability to tame the flow from Auckland’s seasonal rains. Later, it became a sewer canal, and finally disappeared from view altogether. Its waters and taniwha now move under the streets of the CBD.