Auckland's first permanent night market attracts 10,000 every Saturday night

No, this isn't Thailand, Taiwan or Malaysia. But it could be.

It's Saturday night at the market.

Thousands of people shuffle noisily down the crowded food lane, deciding which exotic delicacy they'll try tonight.

The intoxicating smells accompany the noise of grills sizzling and stallholders offering free samples.

Elsewhere, other stands offer endless varieties of cheap iPhone covers, jewellery and an array of imitation knock-off products, while a band in the corner offers free entertainment.

No, this isn't Thailand, Taiwan or Malaysia. But it could be.

It's the Pakuranga night market, held in the carpark below The Warehouse in the Westfield mall.

This hidden gem - or, not-so-hidden, judging by an estimated 10,000 people who pass through each Saturday night from 6 to midnight -  has been running for about 18 months, and organisers Paul and Victoria de Jonge have watched it go from strength to strength.

"We've gone from 120 stalls when we opened, to about 200 now," Mr de Jonge told NBR ONLINE.

"The food is definitely the big drawcard, and they are the ones who generally do very well.

"The other ones, some of them do ok, some of them struggle, but most of them keep coming back so they must be doing ok."

He reckons the markets offer a good chance for the stallholders, many of which are run by families, to bring in some extra cash.

"Where else can they make an extra $300-$500 a night, worst case scenario? Some of them are making $2000-$3000 a night."

The variety of stalls at the Pakuranga market is much the same as in any market: fresh fruit, hats, novelty t-shirts, cellphone accessories, even handmade wooden toys.

Selling techniques are enthusiastic if not direct - a handwritten sign next to some pot plants exclaims a rather specific command: "Put a plant next to your computer now!"

The children's toy tables also offer particular amusement, with numerous examples of muddled English.

The side of the box of one alphabet block game reads: "Interest/Creativity - grow in wisdom the sex."

But it's the food lane people really come for.

Here about 50 stands with the most eclectic range of food ranges from traditional Asian dishes to Hungarian breads, Spanish churro donuts (my favourite), or good ol' American waffles.

Walk around with your food and marvel at what other intriguing creations are on offer, or pull up a chair at a table and eat with complete strangers.

Which brings us to one of the great things about the atmosphere of the market - you really could be anywhere in the world.

The mix of people from such a vast range of cultures creates a cosmopolitan mish-mash which would rival any great international city.

"About 50% of the customers are locals, while the other half come from all over Auckland," says Mr de Jonge.

"We've got people from East Tamaki, Manurewa and Remuera. And they're all there just eating, sitting down at the same table.

"Where else would you get people from Manurewa and Remuera sitting at the same table eating dinner?

"It has become a social centre where people from all walks of life come and blend together."

Mr de Jonge says he and his wife set up the market after noticing many people in Auckland, particularly Asians, complained of having nothing to do at night time, especially on a weekend.

"You can go to a restaurant, a pub, or the movies, and that's about it. People get bored, so we'd been thinking for years about opening a night market."

He says they contacted Westfield and arranged a rental arrangement for the carpark.

"We have risked our house to do this. We took out all sorts of loans to secure the location."

But it worked, and a year later they set up another market at Westfield Glenfield on Sunday nights, which brings in similar numbers to the Pakuranga market.

Running the markets is a full time job for the de Jonge's, which Paul says is pretty demanding work.

"It keeps us flat out. We help the stallholders get their licenses, we constantly work with the council on behalf of the stallholders, and we're dealing with Westfield all the time."

He says the Pakuranga market was especially good for Westfield because the mall had suffered a big decline with the opening of other nearby shopping centres at Botany Downs and Sylvia Park.

"It was really struggling, but this is bringing in an extra 10,000 people a week.

"It's just a positive thing for everybody. The council love it, Westfield love it, the customers love it. People are making money."

In fact, it has been such a success that the concept may spread around the country.

"Westfield are keen on doing the same thing in Hamilton and Wellington, and we were looking at Christchurch, but a market in an underground carpark doesn't sound too appealing there at the moment."

Mr de Jonge says not only is the permanent night market concept unique in New Zealand, but people from other countries can't get enough of it.

"I've heard people from Singapore saying that it's better than back home because of the health requirements with food and hygiene.

"Not only have you got the same food they have in Singapore and other Asian countries, but we've got the New Zealand hygiene standards, so it's actually better than the real thing."

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