Surrounded by a scent everyday, the nose almost becomes immune to it. Through prolonged exposure, a smell begins to encompass you and your own smells melt into the the environs too.
When our noses encounter somewhere new, it becomes part of the fabric of the locales' identity. A new house doesn't feel like it's truly yours while it still smells like the previous occupants, and being introduced to the scent of a new lover's home can be just as revelatory as scrolling through their Google search history. A decade after you started university, the smell of new carpet in a freshly renovated hotel room can flood you with memories of moving into the halls of residence.
Road by Karangahape, the new scent which claims to bottle the olfactory landscape of Tāmaki Makaurau's Karangahape Road, distills all the aromas of the eclectic stretch, the positive notes and the more downtrodden notes too. There's wet pavement, dancefloor armpit, green heat and preloved garment musk.
The release had us thinking: what smells encapsulate a trip down Aotearoa's other well-known thoroughfares?
Because scent and memory is so personal, we asked a handful of creative noses to tell us: What would a perfume inspired by your choice of iconic Aotearoa street would smell like?
Mt Eden Road
According to Annabel Hawkins
Mount Eden Road smells like my fraught romantic history, which is equal parts horny and disappointing. It smells like the jasmine Boomers have been growing along their fence lines since they bought the place in the 70s for $12,000. So in that way, I guess it smells like capital gains. It smells like sweat and Monster energy drinks from the CRL, which will be built in time for me to be old and say things like, ‘I remember when we couldn’t even catch a train anywhere! We had to drive! How embarrassing!’
It’s exhaust fumes and that mist magic that descends from the maunga each morning and night — the air that makes us locals feel alive and part of something bigger than the smell of our Mitchum deodorant sweat in our work shirts at the end of a long day.
It smells like the bakery’s custard squares, our un-dehumidified rooms, a hangover, a burnout. It's the scent of all the women I’ve been walking down this road, all the places I’d hoped it'd take me, and everywhere it's eventually led me to. I've never felt physically connected with a sense of home but thinking about it now and in light of everything, perhaps this might just be it.
According to Saraid de Silva
The streets leading up to Wellington’s Mount Victoria smell like damp rooms and onions frying in butter, wind-whipped lip gloss and the bunch of freesias I wrap in a plastic bag and carry past the park, past the dairy, up to my Gran’s house, where I still dream she is waiting.
According to Constance 'Connie' McDonald
The Octagon is Dunedin’s central hub. Al fresco dining lines two of its eight sides; crispy locusts (yes, the insects) are served hot, after a quick pan fry, at Vault 21. Wafts of Reading Cinemas’ yellow popcorn make their way out, confidently, onto the street.
Following your nose down the alleyway to the manned public bathrooms, that distinct pink soap (at every government-funded basin) takes centrestage. It is generously described as ‘rose scented’. After dark; warm, purring engines of waiting taxis, and whatever the Tuesday deep fried deal at Night n’ Day is that month, both burn their midnight oil. Castrol and canola.
In my teens, I donned Impulse body spray liberally ‘pchit’-ed over a tight Supré dress there, while waiting for ‘the boys’ to come back with a $2 bottle of Countdown-brand dishwashing liquid. This was poured into the water feature, in the centre of the Octagon, producing an unmanageable mound of lemon-scented bubbles. It felt like an excitingly creative (and kissable!) feat at the time.
According to Zoe Walker Ahwa
The main artery of the Waitakere Ranges connects Swanson with Titirangi, via endless acres of ngāhere bush and kilometres of winding roads. Scenic Drive is woody, fresh, with top notes of moss and mud that go on and on and on. All that vegetation can engulf or embolden, depending on how you’re feeling that day.
It smells ‘green’, of both the native and illegal variety. It's rain on asphalt and fresh tarseal baking in the sun; smoky burnouts and controlled fires at dusk. Underlying heart notes of agapanthus and that pest, wild ginger, combine with a surprise hit of Renga Renga Lily, clematis, all those beautiful Waitakere blooms. If you're lucky, divine mānuka-kānuka scrub. It has the sharp sting of cutty grass, and a whiff of horse poo; at the Swanson end at least, where we used to ride our bikes back and forth as cars sped past dangerously.
The base notes get deeper, and darker, as you venture further in. Hints of decay: dead possums, rotting wood and leaves, and the terrifying childhood memory of my dad talking about gangs “walking people into the bush”. - Zoe Walker Ahwa
According to Megan Dunn
Scent of arthritic pigeon wing, with strong accents of galloping water straight from the Bucket Fountain. Cuba Street is brassy, it hits you like the song of a busker in the late afternoon, and clings to you like a damp blanket, asking for spare change. It smells like chocolate too. “Why chocolate?” I ask my 8-year-old daughter. “Because chocolate smells good,” she says. Even though The Chocolate Factory is not on Cuba Street, but around the corner in the Old Hannah’s Building, next to Goldings. Then point: Cuba Street isn’t out of the way. In the crook of your neck, it gives off the timeless vibes of the Pacific, as though the nose of the perfume is still the bow of the settler ship Cuba sailing into port in 1840.
Cuba Street is a conflicted fragrance created to sharpen your stride, unhinge your mind and increase your appetite for knife throwers and unicycles. Especially in the context of a paved mall. On your wrists it carries the occasional undertones of dog fur – spare any change? – and even the hint of rabbit, from those two bunnies that guy occasionally brings into Cuba Street on the weekend, and me and my daughter take turns stroking them. This is an emotional support perfume for those who need it. Cuba Street has top notes of sunlight and a base of optimism. When you wear it, you’ll feel as on to it as a Wellington barista. Unless you are a barista. Then you will just feel like yourself.
Merchandised with panache in the window of Hunters and Collectors, and available for koha from Unichem Cuba Mall, with all methadone prescriptions.
Warning: it might smell like piss. But only sometimes.