Wellington Harbour

Wellington Harbour

Wellington Harbour is full of history, a great tourist and leisure venue, and still a major port. Not surprisingly it’s a great place to stroll around on a warm smmer Saturday – though not so good in the middle of a Wellington winter storm.

Our route and the text below roughly follows the Wellington Council’s published Maritime Trail

1 Shed 21 (1910)

The trail begins at this two-storey brick building, with a
mezzanine floor, located on Waterloo Quay wharf, opposite the
Waterloo Hotel (now a backpackers’ hostel).

The tallest of the Wellington Harbour Board’s (WHB) industrial
warehouses, Shed 21 was built in 1910 to store wool and was
designed by the WHB Chief Engineer, James Marchbanks. It
replaced the timber J Shed, built in 1880, which had burnt down
earlier that year. The apse-like extension at the northern end of
the building housed an ‘accumulator’, part of an hydraulic
mechanism. Accumulated water pressure was used to drive lifts
that moved goods between floors. Hydraulic power was once
the main source of power on the waterfront and was still used
for wool presses, cranes and other equipment until finally
superseded by electricity in the 1950s. The charm of Shed 21 lies
in the fine use of brickwork to embellish an otherwise plain
and functional building facade. Note in particular the circular
headed windows.

In the 1940s the big four-masted steel barque Pamir was
sometimes berthed off this shed. Built for German use in 1905
and under Finnish ownership from 1931, she was one of the last
of the great square-rigged sailing ships to make a commercial
voyage around Cape Horn. In July 1941 she was taken as a prize
of war while visiting Wellington, the Finns having joined Hitler’s
attack on the USSR in June. Eventually, under Finnish ownership
again, the ship was lost in the Atlantic, during a hurricane in
September 1957.

The skylighting and tall ceilings of Shed 21 and other sheds have
made them ideal for use for, among other things, exhibitions
and concerts. As early as 1911 an Industrial Exhibition was held in
Shed 21. In the late 1990s, while the future of the building was
uncertain, it was partly used for conservation work on the
remains of the Inconstant (see 12-Plimmer’s Ark) and as a car
park. The building was converted into apartments in 2002 and is
now known as Waterloo on Quay Apartments.

2 Site of former Shed 17 (Waterfront Police)

[Nothing remains now – the site is being redeveloped as a massive headquarters for PWC which they claim will be a magnificant public asset for the city. Yeah, right…]

Shed 17 once stood on the land to the south of Shed 21. It was the
headquarters of the Wharf Police from 1917 to 1983. There has
been a police presence on the waterfront since the late 1880s,
initially only in the form of a part-time constable. By then, crime,
including smuggling, common assault, theft and prostitution,
was already part of the waterfront’s social and industrial culture.

In 1917 the newly established Foreshore Police consisted of a
sergeant and six constables and they were paid a bonus by the
WHB to encourage their efforts. Apart from controlling general
criminal activity they were required to prevent sand removal,
enforce harbour bylaws, including those on gambling in public
areas, and protect WHB property, particularly during the
waterfront unrest of 1913 and 1951. Perhaps the Wharf Police’s
most important role was, and still is, the prevention of pilfering,
from both general wharf traffi c and special shipments, such as US
military supplies during World War II. Police numbers peaked in
the 1940s at around 23, led by a sub-inspector, but declined
thereafter as wharf activity itself did. Numbers of harbour
employees shrank from 2640 in 1968 to 300 in 1992.

Lady Elizabeth IV

The Wharf Police presence has included a police rescue launch
service since 1941. The current police launch, Lady Elizabeth IV, is berthed near the old Ferry Terminal (3 below), and run from an office in Shed 19. The first Lady Elizabeth was a private cabin cruiser converted for service in 1941. The second capsized near the
harbour entrance in 1986 with the loss of two police officers. The various police launches have made hundreds of rescues in and around Wellington Harbour.

3 Eastbourne Ferry Ticket Office

This two-storeyed, plain weatherboard building is important for its past history. It dates from about 1913 and its name is derived from a former owner, the Eastbourne Borough Council. The Council ran a ferry service, the first local authority in the country to do so, between Eastbourne and here, from 1913 until 1948. The service was originally begun in 1890 by shipping merchant James William, and initially only for day-excursions. It later became a fully-fledged ferry service. The ticket office became a familiar landmark to thousands of commuters. Improved roading along
the western side of the harbour bays ended the service. Ironically the proliferation of the motor car and the consequent traffic congestion saw the ferry service revived under new owners in the late 1980s.

4 Site of Wellington Custom House

Adjacent to the ticket office was the former Custom House, built in 1902 and demolished in 1969. With its Romanesque arches and cupola it was a prominent harbourside landmark at the beginning of Customhouse Quay, next to Shed 13. The landing of goods and mail by sea meant that along with the Post Office, Customs was the earliest state agency present on Wellington’s waterfront. Prior to 1902 it was housed in a wooden structure near Queen’s Wharf and in the new Chief Post Office (1884). Customs is considered the oldest of New Zealand’s government departments, having been established in 1840, the year the country became a British colony.

Note also some of the original (1921) set of iron gates, pillars and railings to the front of this site, marking the southern end of Waterloo Quay on your right.

5 Former Union Steam Ship Company Store

This building was the Union Steam Ship Company’s Wellington store, and was originally sited at Greta Point, Evans Bay. It was constructed in 1911 and was part of a large complex of buildings, including a workshop and laundry, constructed by the company between 1910 and 1911 and adjacent to the Patent Slip. By 1981 all but this building and the Patent Slip had been demolished. The former store was converted into a bar and restaurant – the Greta Point Tavern — and in 2003 it was moved in stages to this site. Little of the original structure remains except part of its exterior shell, but this is possibly the only remaining building in Wellington linked to New Zealand’s most successful shipping company. It has been converted to bars and restaurants.

The Union Steam Ship Company was begun in 1875 by a Dunedin ship owner, James Mills, who anticipated that rail would overwhelm short-distance shipping and decided to go into the long coastal freighter business. He ordered two big steamers, the Hawea and the Taupo for the Dunedin-Onehunga run. With British and Otago capital behind it, the Union Company took over its major rival, the New Zealand Steam Shipping Company, in 1876 and quickly grew to be the largest trans-Tasman shipping line. By 1914 it was bigger than the five biggest Australian shipping lines combined. Head office moved to Wellington and for much of the 20th century it was New Zealand’s largest private-sector employer. Its best-known service was the overnight Wellington-Lyttelton ‘steamer express’ service, which ended in 1976. It was re-acquired by New Zealand and Australian interests in 1971 and in 1983 it moved its head office to Auckland. In 1999 it sold its trans-Tasman shipping interests.

6 Sheds 11 and 13

These two structures are attractive examples of Edwardian industrial architecture. Built in 1904-05 and designed by William Ferguson, the WHB’s first Chief Engineer, their simple elegance, forms and proportions owe much to Dutch colonial architecture, displayed most obviously in the segmented Queen Anne arches.

Harbour Board Crest

Note the circular cartouches, with the WHB crest, under the eaves of both sheds’ walls. The buildings were originally capped with Marseilles tile roofs but these were replaced in 1938 with corrugated asbestos sheets. These were the first WHB structures with driven concrete piles and steel-reinforced concrete foundations; earlier WHB buildings used timber. In 1985 Shed 11 was converted into a temporary gallery space for the National Art Gallery.

7 Queens Wharf Offices/Shed 7
Queen’s Wharf Offices

Next door to Shed 11, and also hugging the road, is the distinctive curved facade of the WHB’s Wharf Offices/Shed 7. Built in 1896 as a large woolstore and wharf office, with an accumulator tower, stores and workshops, it now houses a number of apartments and, on the ground floor, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. The Academy has regular exhibitions and entry is free to the public.

Designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere in a late English Classical style, the building features considerable external ornamentation, unlike the Head Office building (see 9) designed six years earlier. The outstanding feature of this building is the decorated oriel window at the south-eastern corner. The building was substantially reinforced and much of its external decoration – pediments, cornices and three cupolas – removed, following an earthquake in 1942.

8 Iron grill gates and Memorial to Paddy the Wanderer
Paddy the Wanderer

On the Wharf Offices’ southern facade is a memorial, in the form of a plaque and drinking fountain, to a dog nicknamed Paddy the Wanderer. This dog took to wandering Wellington wharves after his young owner died of pneumonia in 1928. He was befriended by watersiders, seamen, taxi-drivers and many others, becoming a waterfront identity by his death in July 1939. Surplus stone and marble from a demolished London bridge used in the construction of a lookout on Mt Victoria, were also incorporated in the base of this memorial and that of a sundial further along the walk at Clyde Quay.

The ornamental gates that separate the wharf from Jervois Quay are fine specimens of late Victorian wrought ironwork, with their cast-iron spandrels and ornaments and matching cast-iron pillars. Made by the British firm of Baylis, Jones and Baylis, they were shipped out and erected in 1899, in time to mark the departure of the second New Zealand contingent to the Boer War. Prior to this the wharf was guarded with a small wooden stockade-like arrangement, with two sentry posts. More gates and enclosing railings – metallic grey and wrought-iron and this time made locally and more cheaply – were erected along Customhouse and Jervois Quays between 1901 and 1921. They provided security to other wharf buildings, especially during the unrest of 1913 (see below).

Most of the railings along Jervois Quay (south of the current Events Centre) and further north along most of Waterloo Quay, were taken down, along with the Jervois Quay Sheds, during the mid-1970s as part of further harbour reclamation and park development. These sheds were, in their day, a significant presence along this Quay, being similar in style to Sheds 11 and 13, although mostly timber.

9 Museum of Wellington (former Wellington Harbour Board Head Office and Bond Store)
Bond Store

Completed in 1892, this building is the architectural highlight of the central wharf area. In 1890 the WHB commissioned Frederick de Jersey Clere to design a head office and a bigger, more effective bond store, with concrete floors, to replace a wooden structure dating from the 1860s. The “Queen’s Bond” housed cargo, sometimes precious, on which Customs dues had not been paid. Enterprising thieves were known to bore through the wooden floor to steal goods and, especially, siphon liquor out of casks.

Designed in a restrained French Second Empire style the building is, unusually for a late-Victorian structure, quite without external decoration except for roof iron work and carved relief panels on the entrance. The other principal interest lies in the mansard roof with its pedimented dormer windows. Around each of the nine flagpoles on the roof is an iron railing, an imitation of sailing ships’ lookout posts. Inside some of the notable interior features that remain are a curved staircase and an ornate timber boardroom, installed in 1925/6.

Originally Harbour Board members were both elected and appointed. For many decades the interests of the Board were tied very closely to the demands of commerce. Men such as chairmen W.H. Levin, a prominent merchant, T.K. McDonald, auctioneer, MP and founder of the Gear Meat Company, Robert Fletcher, Chairman during the 1913 Maritime Strike, and Sir Charles Norwood, founder of Dominion Motors, were clearly concerned for the efficient operation of the port. Their counterparts in the administration included William Ferguson, James Marchbanks, and Harold Meachen, also a long-serving General Manager. From 1950 all Board members were elected by the region’s voters.

Since its completion the building has been much altered, initially as a result of the 1942 earthquake. Later, the inauguration of the Wellington Maritime Museum in 1972 and the conversion of the entire building into the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, completed in 1999, saw further changes. The museum was originally founded on a fi ne collection of maritime exhibits and archives, relating to the Wellington area, including the donation of a private museum built, round the tragic sinking of the interisland ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour in April 1968, with the loss of 51 lives. Today the museum’s focus has shifted to the city as a whole, but its maritime foundations are still very evident. Allow at least one hour for a visit.

10 Huddart Parker Building, 10-26 Jervois Quay

Just across the road to your left is the Huddart Parker Building, designed by Crichton, McKay and Haughton in the Chicago style. Built in 1924, it was named for a Melbourne-based shipping company that ran services between Australia and New Zealand and was once one of the main rivals of the Union Steam Ship Company. For much of the latter part of the 20th century it was the headquarters of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

11 Queens Wharf buildings – Sheds 1, 3, 5 and 6
Shed 5 – now an an expensive Fish Restaurant

On your left is Shed 5, built in 1887 to a design by William Ferguson. This is the last remaining wooden warehouse on the waterfront, the others having been cleared to make way for Frank Kitts Park. The building was converted in 1992 into a restaurant, bar and fishmarket.

Shed 3 – now a restaurant

Just along from Shed 5 is Shed 3, again built in 1887. A top storey was added early in the 20th century to house WHB tug and pilot staff. It was converted into the Dockside bar and restaurant in 1990. At the end of Queen’s Wharf is Shed 1, similar in size and age to Shed 6 and housing the offices of the Dominion Post Ferry and Helipro Ltd. Take the opportunity to walk around the outer tee and enjoy the views of the harbour and city.

12 ‘Plimmer’s Ark’

Directly opposite Shed 5 is the much larger Shed 6, built in 1959. Between Shed 6 and the Events Centre is a gallery displaying the conservation of the remains of ‘Plimmer’s Ark’. Formerly the barque Inconstant, it was grounded at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in 1849. The damage to the vessel was too great to repair and it was eventually sold to John Plimmer, an entrepreneur and businessman, who towed it to Clay Point, on the corner of Lambton Quay and Willis Street. Plimmer converted the hull, which sat partly in the water, into the basement of a warehouse and auction room.

By 1861 reclamation of the shoreline had swallowed up the ‘Ark’; it was finally demolished in 1883 to make way for the construction of the National Mutual Building, later part of the Bank of New Zealand complex. Remnants of the hull’s teak timbers were found when the site for the BNZ head office was excavated in 1899. Plimmer, by then a major figure in the city, was photographed among the excavated remains of the famous ‘Ark’. In 1997 the timbers were rediscovered during redevelopment of the BNZ buildings. The bow remains in the BNZ building (now the Old Bank Arcade) and on display.

Those parts that could be recovered were removed and are now on display and being conserved in this space alongside Shed 6. The opening hours for this display are the same as the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. Check the Museum for details. You can walk through the display to the other side of the building to continue the trail.

13 Frank Kitts Park – later reclamations
Frank Kitts Park

To your right is a park, named after Wellington’s longest-serving mayor (1956-74). It sits on land once partly occupied by a row of identical wharf sheds. Facing these sheds, on the other side of Jervois Quay, was a line of private warehouses, all close to their source of business – the wharf. All these buildings have now gone.

Frank Kitts Park was opened in 1976 and significantly extended in the late 1980s. A children’s playground is the first of a number of features here. The orange mast you see mounted on one terrace was recovered from the Wahine. The park wall facing the sea has a number of commemorative plaques fixed to it. At the end of the park is the lagoon and, to the right, a water sculpture, The Albatross, by Tanya Ashken. Further in the distance is the second and larger bridge over Jervois Quay linking the Civic Centre with the waterfront. Its timber sculpture of birds, whales and celestial motifs by Maori artist Para Matchitt was completed in 1993. These sculptures symbolise the arrival of Maori and European ancestors here and also, by extension, present day visitors’ arrival from the sea to city.

On the seaward side of the park and lagoon are large rocks (rip-rap), piled up against the seafront to protect the reclaimed land you are walking on. Completed in the mid-1970s, this was the last major reclamation in Wellington, and was to provide terminal space for the Union Steamship Company’s trans-Tasman and coastal roll-on/roll-off cargo ships. These ships and rows of stacked containers had gone by the late 1980s, as this whole south-eastern part of the harbour was earmarked for redevelopment by both Lambton Harbour Management and the Museum of New Zealand.

14 Star Boating Club
Star Boating Club

Founded in 1866, the Star Boating Club must surely be one of New Zealand’s oldest surviving sporting clubs. The club built these premises in 1885 to a design by William Chatfield. The building was originally sited further north along the waterfront, where Customhouse Quay is today. It was twice moved to make way for harbour reclamations or redevelopment. The first came just four years after it was built, when it was shifted along the waterfront to a site near the corner of Cable Street and Jervois Quay. It was later joined here by the Wellington Rowing Club building, Odlin’s Building and later still, in 1932, by the former Wellington Free Ambulance Building (see 17). Exactly 100 years after the first move, in 1989, it was moved again to its present site on the edge of this redesigned lagoon. This building is significant for its long association with the waterfront and, like its companion, is a notably rare central city timber building. It remains most appropriately sited here so close to the sea, but some distance from where it began life.

15 Wellington Rowing Club Building
Wellington Rowing Club

Yet another Clere design, this building was erected in 1894 as a base for the Wellington Naval Artillery Volunteers. The volunteers were formed in 1879, after a ‘Russian Scare’ in 1877-8, to enhance the city’s existing defence forces. This building was also designed to house two naval cutters used by a Wellington harbour defence contingent. It is not certain if they were ever used by the volunteers. The Wellington Rowing Club took the building over in 1931. The decorative use of timbers over the weatherboards, known as half-timbering, which gives the building an English Tudor appearance, once covered the building much more extensively. The combination of shed and squat octagonal tower heighten its overall nautical feel. The crenellated tower was built to provide a lookout for the volunteers.

The lagoon-side location of these two double-storeyed structures (with a common balcony railing) gives a pleasing view of them from both city and harbour. Both still serve as club buildings, while doubling as popular reception venues.

16 Statue of Kupe

This statue was originally sculptured in plaster by William Trethewey for the Centennial Exhibition of 1940. It was well known to Wellingtonians from the many years it spent in the Wellington Railway Station. It was later stored in the Winter Show Buildings in Newtown before former City Councillor Rex Nicholls led a fundraising campaign to have the statue cast in bronze. It was completed and installed in 2000. The statue depicts the great Maori explorer Kupe, the legendary explorer and discoverer of New Zealand/Aotearoa, his wife Hine Te Aparangi and Peka Hourangi in their canoe Matahoua. A number of places in Wellington were named by Kupe.

17 Former Wellington Free Ambulance Building

This structure was designed by William Turnbull and built in 1932. It represents a transition between Art Deco and the less decorative Moderne style, with its more severe aesthetic; there is a more restrained ‘streamlined’ approach to the design of the side walls and an absence of Art Deco-like decoration. Nevertheless the building is significant for having decoration on all four façades. Motifs common to Art Deco are found on the façade facing Cable Street. The Wellington Free Ambulance, the only free ambulance in New Zealand, was founded on funds raised by Sir Charles Norwood, businessman, philanthropist and Mayor of Wellington, 1925-27.

18 Odlin Building

This large five-storey brick building was built in 1907 on a late Te Aro reclamation, and it rests on extensive foundations of cast iron and iron bark piles. For much of its life it served as the head office and warehouse for the company which built it – C & A Odlin Timber and Hardware Co., established in 1903 by former rail clerk Charles Odlin. The company had timber yards here until 1924. Odlin’s went on to become one of the biggest timber merchants in the country before merging with building materials conglomerate Winstone in 1985. Odlin Building, once located right next to the water, is today the only privately-built wharf-related structure left standing on the waterfront. The Odlin Trust, established in 1952 by Charles Odlin and his wife Florence, makes annual bequests to the Wellington Free Ambulance Service. After the building sat unused for many years, refurbishment began in 2004, but with considerable changes to seaward facing façades, the roof and interior. Work was completed in 2005.

19 Shed 22

Shed 22 is the southernmost WHB warehouse — the ‘end of the necklace’. A functional design, erected in 1921, its special feature is the Romanesque arches above the windows, derived from a very influential American prototype — the Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store in Chicago (1886). The building was converted into a bar and brewery in 2002.

Taranaki Street Wharf Gates

Alongside Shed 22 are the railings and pillars of Taranaki Street Wharf Gates, erected in 1907 and in a style similar to others on the waterfront.

20 Circa Theatre
Circa Theatre

Just past the Taranaki Street gates is the Circa Theatre (1994). Its main elevation is the former front facade of the former Westport Coal Company building (1916), moved across from its original position on the opposite side of Cable Street. The Westport Coal Company was formed in 1885 and was once the country’s biggest coal supplier. Circa Theatre, an independent theatre company was founded in 1976.

21 Te Papa Tongarewa — Museum of New Zealand
Te Papa

Next to the theatre is the huge Te Papa Tongarewa or Museum of New Zealand. Designed by Jasmax and built at a cost of about $280 million, it was the biggest single building project in Wellington’s history. It replaced the previous National Museum and Art Gallery, which continues to occupy a prominent site on Mt Cook and is now the centre of Massey University’s Wellington campus.

22 Former Post and Telegraph Building, Herd Street

Dominating this area of the waterfront is this imposing six-storey structure. Designed by prominent Wellington architect Edmund Anscombe and built in 1939, the structure is a relatively restrained design except for a dynamic Moderne flourish on the intersection of its southern and western corners, repeated on the eastern end. The entrance foyer features some typical Art Deco chrome and plaster effects. Its western yard once housed stables and, much later, linesmen’s sheds while there were tennis courts on the roof until a sixth floor was added. The building is presently being converted into apartments and its façade and interior considerably altered.

23 Overseas Passenger Terminal

Designed by Morton, Calder, Fowler and Styles, this building remains a prominent waterfront landmark. This terminal was erected in 1964, but its role as an disembarkation point was quickly superceded by air traffic. For many years parts of the building were used as a reception centre and restaurants, and also by boatbuilders.

24 Clyde Quay Boat Harbour and Freyberg Pool

Just past the corner of Oriental Parade and Herd Street is the Clyde Quay Boat Harbour. First established in 1902, its eastern boundary was marked by one side of the saltwater Te Aro Swimming Baths. The fi rst baths, “securely protected from the visits of sea monsters”, were built in 1862 and were located about the middle of where Clyde Quay harbour is today. In typical late Victorian fashion, ladies could swim between 9am-2pm daily (with a red flag indicating their presence); men (blue fl ag) at other times. The baths were rebuilt in 1900. They were finally demolished in 1962 and replaced the following year by Freyberg Pool, named after former Governor-General and New Zealand Army Commander Lord Bernard Freyberg, who was a champion swimmer in his youth. This pool now forms the eastern side of the boat harbour.

The brightly painted boatsheds that line the boat harbour date from 1905-6, and more were added in 1922. During World War II the boat harbour served as a United States military depot. The military also constructed a number of buildings.

The only building you can see above the wall on the city side is the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club House. It was built in 1942 as a hospital for United States troops. It was used as a hostel for government interns after the war, before being taken over by the club in 1957. It was extensively renovated in 1987. The club itself dates from 1883 and moved to Clyde Quay soon after the boat harbour was completed. Its fi rst clubrooms were built in 1919 at the eastern end of the harbour and this building still stands.

25 Charlesworth Houses

Around the point and on the right hand side of the road is a row of houses, 186-200 Oriental Parade, most of which were built in 1906 to a similar design by architect Joshua Charlesworth, designer of Wellington Town Hall (1904). There were originally nine houses in this group, but one, no. 202, Charlesworth’s own house, has been demolished. No. 186, the only house built with a gable and extended wing facing the street, was completed in 1909. Today all but one of these houses, no. 194, has been considerably modified, but they retain their obvious physical relationship and are a highlight of any visit to Oriental Parade.

26 Band Rotunda

Further along, on the left-hand side of the road, is the Band Rotunda. It was built in 1936 to replace an earlier rotunda, moved here in 1917 from its original location in front of the Town Hall. It was built on a rock promontory that can still be seen. The new rotunda was also a changing facility for swimmers. In 1981 the rotunda was enclosed and turned into a restaurant. A public viewing platform on the roof offers excellent views of the city.

Te Papa Tongarewa (National Museum)

Te Papa Tongarewa (meaning ‘the place where we keep our special stuff’) is New Zealand’s National Museum. Well, maybe. There’s still the shell of the old museum up by the National War Memorial, and Auckland’s Memorial Museum is undoubtedly a ‘real’ museum; but no-one has ever quite been certain what this $300M extravaganza is all about.

Even Prime Minister Helen Clark, coming into office as Prime Minister in 1999, said something along the lines of ‘look, stop arguing; we’ve built the place, now we’ve got make it work’. Others have described it variously as a theme park, a cultural fast-food outlet, and a monument to the short attention span. It’s also very dark, and it can be deafeningly noisy at times.

Currently (2017) there is even less than usual in Te Papa, so if you must go there, here’s how to do it:

take the lift to the 6th floor, wander through the not-really-a-Marae, then have a quick squint out onto the roof terrace (but feel annoyed that you can’t really enjoy it)

skip the 5th floor (being rebuilt)

take a quick look at the Maori and Pacific stuff on the 4th floor, but beyond being vaguely respectful don’t feel you have to work too hard at it

do Blood Earth Fire on the 3rd floor – it’s a little more interesting than it looks.

do the Gallipoli exhibition on the 2nd floor (and expect to feel appalled at the end of it).

skip through the gift shop on the 1st floor and then go home – or perhaps stop at Mac’s Brewbar next door, a very nice stop for a beer and/or a burger.

On your way out, wonder how they managed to put a building so big on the best waterfront in the world with almost no views out from the inside and just a sense of uhh? from the outside.

There used to be a National Gallery here with lovely paintings: admittedly mainly of ships with immigrants, and sheep farmers, and politicians – and all of them European – but at least they took account of what the European heritage is here. Nowadays all this stuff has been pushed out, apparently in favour of an idea that the European experience can be captured in the pop music of the 1960s and a lot of trashy consumer stuff. ‘Modern New Zealand’, I think, is the idea – and it plays strongly on the thriving Kiwi industry of movies, computer-generated imagery and the work of Weta Workshops; but at the end of the day this isn’t European heritage.

Maori and Pacific Island heritage is, by contrast, featured generously with boats, houses, other structures, and a lot of stories. Through a lot of this there’s a not-very-subtle message that as a European I am an oppressor who breaks treaties, destroys indigenous communities and thinks I am better than anyone else. If the rationale of Te Papa is (a) to counter the historical museum imbalance and honour non-European cultures, and (b) to suggest European history is so ordinary that it’s not worth considering, then it seems to succeed rather well.

Happily, and after a lot of public protest, we’re promised the National gallery will come back again in 2018: indeed they’re currently rebuilding the 5th floor to accommodate it. But I suspect we can be fairly sure it’ll still be interlaced with ‘video installations’ and such stuff.

After all that, I genuinely think the best way to do Te Papa is to sit down at home with a mug of tea and spend an hour looking at the website – where there’s an awful lot that isn’t on display at the museum, and is generally a lot better than you might expect.



Very popular is this one-tonne granite ball which, because it sits on a cushion of water, can be turned with just the touch of a finger.

I’ve never quite figured out all the Maori-dom at Te Papa. This may be the Marae (meeting-house); or it may a fanciful recreation of one used for concerts and shows, but I have an idea it’s not considered a ‘real’ one – it’s not the right materials, or colours, or hasn’t been ‘initiated’ in the right way, or just isn’t used for the right things. Or all this may be irrelevant…

think the idea is that you do indeed crawl in, or at least stoop low. After all, it’s all you really need; and it would also impart respect and an element of security.


Wellington Zoo

Zoos are a bit politically incorrect these days, but Wellington gets away with it: indeed the zoo here proclaims itself as a world leader in species regeneration and ecology. This seems a rather extravagant claim for a zoo with only about 10 big animals, but maybe that’s the point: they’ve sent them all back to the wild!

(Warning: not all the animals here are entirely real…)

Old Government Buildings

Not far from New Zealand’s Parliament is the largest wooden office building in the world. It started life as government offices and even housed the Cabinet Office, but nowadays it’s the Victoria University Law Faculty.

Despite appearances, the building is entirely wooden, which makes it a serious fire risk: in fact it operated a no-smoking rule from its very first day!

Inside there’s a wonderful maze of interconnecting staircases:

Happily they preserve the Cabinet Room: in fact they even put a sign up to stop students eating their lunches there…


Wellington Civic Square

Wellington tries hard to convince us it’s a big city, but it’s still really a bit ‘small town’. The geography doesn’t help: there just isn’t space here for big elegant boulevards and concourses. Flat land is scarce, and the civic buildings ended up on opposite sides of a street heaving with traffic.

As long ago as the 1940s someone suggested blocking the street and making a square, but the opportunity didn’t come along properly until the 1990s. By then the area had got tatty, the buildings were too small, and everything needed reconstructing anyway because it wasn’t earthquake-proof. So the town planners finally realised their grand design.

This is what they ended up with, and after a few iterations over the years (including a swathe of fake grass) it’s really rather pleasant.

On the right in this photo is the City Gallery, once a nice 1920s building but gutted now, and invariably a home of rather unconvincing ‘art’. You can see an example at Chairs at Wellington City Gallery.

On the left, and better favoured with sunshine, are the glorious Art Deco city offices:

What I’d call the ‘bottom’ end of the square opens out onto another horribly busy road, so the planners took the interesting course of springing a bridge off the square and providing a way over to the bay.

The name ‘City to Sea Bridge’, is a bit clumsy but is intended to remind us that somewhere out there is the sea: the Council now make strenuous efforts to convince us that Wellington’s many processions and festivals all ‘traditionally’ started in the square and then headed out over the route of the bridge.

The bridge is decorated with various strange artworks and emblems on poles by Maori artist Paretene Matchitt. They have the merit at least of not having been blown down over the years; indeed Wikipedia suggests they’ve made the bridge a tourist attraction… for very bored tourists, perhaps. You can read about them in the Sculpture Trail handout.

Elswhere in the Square a playful touch creeps in. Nikau Palm decoration hides the pillars that hold the buildings up…

…and a few are even allowed to stand on their own…

The planners also squeezed in a new City Library, which wiggles around into the remaining space at the back of the square. They even managed to include a water feature, though it’s hard to see why we need this one.

Inside, the sense of mild unease continues: the overwhelming experience is escalators, event spaces, restaurants, and noise. I’ve not yet really made it through to the books.

Bolton Street Cemetery

You might think an old cemetery should be a place of peace and tranquility, but land is scarce in Wellington and if anything looks a bit derelict it tends to get redeveloped. Bolton Street Cemetery has always suffered from being too close to the town centre, but its biggest shock was in the 1960s when the urban motorway smashed through the grottier bits of Thorndon and split it cemetery into two halves.

These days we all bewail the ‘destruction’ of the cemetery, but like many inner-London graveyards it had long been in a sorry state: it’s probably tidier now than it ever was in the 20th century. A preservation society keeps it up to scratch, and it offers a pleasant afternoon’s tour round the rich and famous (and dead) of Wellington.

The cemetery actually closed in 1892, having become over-full and insanitary; but it has huge historic interest because many outstanding people from early Wellington society are buried there. It’s particularly ineresting the way many memorials record where people were born, or when (and how) they arrived in New Zealand, or what their professions were (Captain of the Fire Brigade, Sailmaker, Doctor, etc etc.)

With that as an introduction, we can now start the tour at the top of the hill and wander all the way down to the bottom…


1 Richard John SEDDON 1845–1906

Seddon was Prime Minister from 1893 and died in office. He arrived from England via Australia in 1866, working as a storekeeper and a gold miner. His government made many social reforms including giving women the vote in 1893 – New Zealand being the first country in the world to do so. Wellington’s first time-keeping observatory was relocated to make way for his tomb.

2 Henry Edmund HOLLAND 1868–1933

Originally Australian (that would explain the bare bottom), Harry was a printer by trade who became leader of the New Zealand Labour Party from 1918–1933. He died while attending King Mahuta’s funeral. He wanted to be buried on a windswept cliff and at that time his tomb would have had unobstructed views over Wellington City (and the city of him, presumably.) The very striking sculpture of idealised figures was carved from Carrara marble by Richard Gross who also designed the sculptures on the Wellington Cenotaph.

Decency prevents me revealing the other side of the main figure, but here is some more nudity around the base…

3 William FLYGER died 1861

Rather a nice figure of Liberty, though looking rather troubled – perhaps because she lost her right arm when she was relocated for the motorway.



4 HORT LAWN Jewish Cemetery

The lawn is the part of the Jewish Cemetery that was still vacant when the combined cemetery was closed in 1892.

5 Lipman LEVY died 1880

In addition to importing boots, Lipman was one of the earliest members of the Wellington Philosophical Society. He was also involved in Wellington’s gold rush of the 1860s, opening a mine at south Makara. Lipman Street and Levy Street on Mt Victoria mark the site of his large house and garden.

6 Benjamin Aaron SELIG

When Selig was appointed Reader and Shohet (ritual slaughterer for kosher meat) in 1862, the Jewish community numbered fewer than 50 – not enough for him to make a living, so he took up watchmaking which soon crowded out the religious duties.


The view includes colonial houses that were built around the same time as the cemetery.


A brick outline is all that is left of the home of the Public Cemetery’s sexton.

9 MACDONALD family

This is one of only two angel statues in the cemetery and was erected for the three children the MacDonalds lost to scarlet fever within one month. Frances was prominent in the Women’s Social and Political League in the 1890s. They lived in Inverlochy House and Somerled House.



10 James SMITH died 1902

Many Wellingtonians will recall the large department store first known as Te Aro House and later as James Smiths. The store closed in 1993 after 126 years of trading.




This magnificent marble cross is the second biggest monument in the cemetery. Thomas Waters arrived in 1841 with a prefabricated store from Sydney, which was erected on Lambton Beach.

12 Christian Julius TOXWARD died 1891

A Danish architect, Toxward designed many imposing Wellington buildings but few remain. After the 1848 earthquake damaged brick buildings, Toxward designed wooden buildings that looked like stone. A nearby example is 22 The Terrace at the foot of Bolton Street. Other work includes the former St Mary’s Church in Hill Street and extensions to Old St Paul’s.


13 Robert and Hannah HANNAH

Robert was an Irishman who came to New Zealand in 1864, aged 18. He set up a footwear business in Hokitika during the goldrush and later moved to Wellington, opening a chain of shoe stores through the North Island. The couple had eight children and lived in Antrim House in Boulcott Street.



Woodward Street was named after Jonas, who was the first trustee of the Public Trust Office, an unpaid pastor, trustee of the Public Cemetery, a businessman and an educationalist. His plain memorial contrasts with the adjacent elegant carving on the Doull headstone.



15 Samuel Duncan PARNELL 1810–1890

Parnell is credited with creating the eight-hour working day. Arriving from England in 1840 where working days were far longer, he caused a stir when, contracted by a fellow passenger to build a store, he insisted that his days should be eight hours work, eight hours sleep and eight hours relaxation. Other carpenters supported his demands and the eight-hour day was born.


16 Gwendoline Burnell BEAUCHAMP died 1891

Gwendoline was the baby sister of New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield. The family grew up in Karori and Thorndon, and had a beach house in Days Bay. The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace museum, in nearby Tinakori Road, is open to the public.

17 DUFF family

Five Duff children died tragically of diphtheria within 11 days. Note the recent memorials for well-known City Councillor Stewart Duff, who died in 1981, and his wife.




18 Rev. Robert WARD

Ward was the first Primitive Methodist missionary to cross the equator, arriving here from England in 1844. He worked in Taranaki, Auckland and Wellington. The former Ward Memorial Methodist Church in Northland, Wellington, was named after him. Either cross the footbridge to the Lower Trail or first take the circular Gully Trail by following Lyon Path down to the gully.

19 Henry BLUNDELL 1814–1878

A printer from Dublin, Blundell founded Wellington’s first daily newspaper, the Evening Post, in 1865. The Blundell family was associated with the paper for a century. Its name lives on in the successor newspaper, the Capital’s Dominion Post.

20 John PLIMMER 1812–1905

Plimmer was an energetic businessman, known particularly for “Plimmer’s Ark”, the wreck of the Inconstant which he used as a wharf and warehouse on Lambton foreshore. He was sometimes called “the father of Wellington” because of the many buildings he constructed and his powerful lobbying for land reclamation, railways and improved harbour facilities.


21 Henry TUCKER died 1873 and Edwin STAFFORD died 1885

This elegant Masonic memorial was erected for Tucker, captain of the trading barque Camille, by his long-term employer Stafford. When Stafford died, he too was buried here. The solid stone memorial was made in Newcastle, New South Wales. A Doric column (left) is topped with a terrestrial globe; an Ionic column (right) has a celestial globe.


This area was bequeathed to the city in 2003 by Morva Williams, a conservationist.

23 Te Ropiha MOTUROA died 1874

A chief of Te Ati Awa’s Pipitea Pa, he had been a warrior but converted to Christianity. He sided with the Government over a number of contentious issues and accompanied Governor George Grey to Taranaki in 1847. As you cross over the motorway you can see on the eastern side a grassed area that had been allocated for an on–ramp. It now incorporates memorial tree plantings for eminent environmentalists.

24 Daniel DOUGHERTY 1804–1857

Daniel and Sarah came to New Zealand in a whaling ship in 1838. After a brief return to Canada and England, they settled in a whaling station at Port Underwood in 1842. Sarah nursed the men injured during the Wairau Incident of 1843. In 1849 Daniel and his pregnant wife crossed Cook Strait in an open whaleboat to take up the post of harbour pilot in Wellington. Later their home was destroyed by the 1855 earthquake.

25 William Barnard RHODES died 1878

Rhodes, the oldest of four brothers who came to New Zealand, became a wealthy merchant, property owner and sheep farmer and a Member of Parliament from 1853 onwards. His tombstone, the largest in the cemetery, reflects the fact he was probably New Zealand’s richest individual at the time of his death. His grandson, William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, was awarded a Victoria Cross in World War I.

26 James Edward FITZGERALD 1818–1896

Superintendent of antiquities at the British Museum before emigrating in 1850, he became involved in New Zealand politics while editor and owner of The Press, and became superintendent of Canterbury Province. As MP for Lyttelton, he argued for Maori representation and became Minister of Native Affairs. Alongside, note the memorial erected by the Star Boating Club. This was the first New Zealand rowing club, started by whalers in 1866.

27 Rira PORUTU died 1866

The flat stone slab marks the grave of the chief of Pipitea Pa, a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi and uncle of the prophet Te Whiti.


28 Henry Middleton BLACKBURN

A young soldier killed by Te Rangihaeata’s kinsfolk in a skirmish at Horokiri, near Paremata, in 1846. Of the funeral a friend wrote, “The melancholy notes of the fife really went to one’s heart. It was bitter to think that these savages had cut off such an amiable promising young man in the pride of youth.”

29 WALLACE family

Five Wallace children died of scarlet fever in May 1865 and the sixth died three months later. Scarlet fever was then the most common cause of children’s deaths, causing blood poisoning and circulatory failure.



30 Ellen TAYLOR 1826–1851

Ellen ran a shop in Wellington with her cousin Mary (later a noted English feminist and a friend of novelist Charlotte Brontë). Ellen’s cousin Waring Taylor (Mary’s brother) was a businessman who has a street named after him.

31 Col. William, Edward Gibbon, Daniel and Selina WAKEFIELD

Edward Gibbon Wakefield created the New Zealand Company and assisted by his brothers founded settlements throughout the colony in the 1840s, including Wellington in 1840. Visit the chapel for a detailed history of the Wakefield family and to see William Wakefield’s original headstone. As you cross the grass to number 32, look for the faint line of bricks marking the boundary between the Church of England Cemetery and the Public Cemetery.

32 YIP Ah Chung (Ah Jeung)

Three of the Chinese graves in the cemetery are believed to be those of seamen who became ill and died in Wellington. Each has a Chinese inscription naming his home village. Mr Yip’s headstone reads: “Doak Gon village, Ling district, grave of Mr Ah Chung Yip, died in February 1889, aged 51”. The Evening Post (19 February 1889) gave no information about Mr Yip, but reported that his funeral procession with 10 carriages of mourners (probably his crew mates) attracted “large numbers of spectators” to the cemetery.

33 Alexander Horsburgh TURNBULL 1868–1918

Turnbull, born in Wellington, left his library of 55,000 books and other items to the nation, and his collection became the Alexander Turnbull Library, now part of the National Library of New Zealand. This is a relocated tombstone as the Turnbull family is now interred in the burial vault.


34 Thomas Wilmore McKENZIE 1827–1911

A printer and founding partner of the Independent newspaper in 1845, McKenzie later managed The New Zealand Times, established by Julius Vogel in 1874. At 13 Thomas unwittingly breached a tapu over a Maori house under construction. Chief Porutu would have killed him had his wife not thrown a cloak over the boy to prevent it.

35 Charles Decimus BARRAUD 1822–1897

Barraud arrived in Wellington in 1849 and set up a successful pharmacy, later forming the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. He went on to become a respected artist (watercolours and oils), highly regarded for his landscapes, and instrumental in founding the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.


36 Charles and Jessica PHARAZYN

Charles died aged 101, having arrived in 1841. After running a store at Pipitea Point, he was a run-holder in Palliser Bay, and then returned to business and politics in Wellington. Jessica, his second wife, wrote several popular songs, set to music by Irish musician Michael Balfe (composer of the popular opera The Bohemian Girl).


John was the baby son of Sir James Fergusson, Governor of New Zealand 1873–74, and his second wife. John died shortly after birth in 1873 and the little relocated coffin-shaped tombstone is simply marked with his first name and date. Sir James was the first of three Fergussons to occupy the vice-regal position.


Beneath the Early Settlers Memorial Lawn outlined in bricks, is the vault for the bodies (about 3700) reinterred during motorway construction. A list of names is located in the chapel [47].


This may be the oldest memorial in the cemetery, probably erected in 1841. Several details on the tombstone are incorrect, including possibly the spelling of his name. Pearce, with eight others, drowned when his boat capsized in a storm off Petone Beach on 25 August 1840. Ironically, Pearce had emigrated for the good of his health and had written letters for publication in London extolling the virtues of the area for settlement.

40 Louisa JOHNSON

Louisa (a widow) and her five children were killed in a fire in 1877, which swept through three houses, stables and a hotel kitchen. Fire was a serious threat in the wooden settlement. Fire brigades were efficient, but this time a water blockage let them down.


41 Dr John DORSET died 1856

Dorset, a successful army captain, was appointed Colonial Surgeon and arrived in Wellington with Colonel Wakefield on the Tory in 1839. Prominent in colonial affairs, he owned several central city properties. Point Dorset, Seatoun, was named after him. This is one of 28 wooden grave markers still surviving.


42 Kate MAIR (nee Sprerrey) died 1893

Kate was a well-known artist famous for her portraits of prominent leaders such as Harry Atkinson, George Grey and John Ballance. Her husband was the official Maori interpreter for Parliament. Only 31 when she died, Kate is buried beside her father, John Sprerrey, property tax commissioner. The unusual headstone is marble and shaped like a rock. Lower Trail starts here Lower Trail


This tree is believed to have been planted by Bishop Selwyn, New Zealand’s first Anglican Bishop, perhaps as early as 1842. To the north is the grave of Archdeacon FANCOURT, first vicar of St Mary’s Church in Karori.

44 John BALMER

This bandsman of the 65th Regiment, a keen ocean swimmer, died in the jaws of a 4-metre shark in Lambton Harbour on Wellington Anniversary Day 1852.

Recently someone has decorated the memorial with little blue sharks…it’s not clear whether they mean this respectfully or as a kind of sick joke.

45 Andrew Hagerty GILLESPIE

Father and son died in a revenge attack by tenants of Te Rangihaeata, after the burning of what they thought were derelict Maori huts on their newly acquired land in Hutt Valley. Te Rauparaha, anxious to clear his own followers of blame, told Governor George Grey where to find the murderers, although they were never captured.


46 Anglican Cemetery SEXTON’S COTTAGE

Built in 1857 by Charles Mills and soldiers of the 65th Regiment, this is one of the two oldest houses in Wellington. Now an artist-inresidence cottage, it is not usually open to the public.


This is a replica of the original mortuary chapel, which was designed by Frederick Thatcher and built in 1866 using some materials from the first St Paul’s Church of 1844. Now an information centre, it contains historical displays and a register of burials. Open every day, 10am–4pm.

Lastly here are a couple of memorials that aren’t on the tour but whose names leapt out at me. I’ve never known the name Athelinda, and I’ve never known a Tonks; but I guess if you have a strange name you may as well make the most of it!

Round the Bays

Give that Wellington sits on the flooded crater of an old volcano, it’s not surprising that every bit of coastline gets labelled as a bay of some sort. Some bays have houses, some are quieter, some are almost completely deserted. They’re all different and I haven’t found one yet that fails to delight – so here is a collection of these gorgeous hidey-holes.

Makara Beach is a remote spot to the north of Wellington, a favourite when I want to escape from the city.



Tapataranga feels almost as remote but is easier to reach from Wellington.




Island Bay is, well, just Island Bay. Perhaps the busiest of the outer beaches with a developed community, it’s nevertheless very pleasant.



Lyall Bay is just round the corner from Island Bay but is less busy and more remote. On a rainy blustery day you go to Lyall bay for the wild sea and then Island Bay for a warm coffee.


Oriental Bay is on the inner rim of the crater and is one of the nicer parts of Wellington City with a tree-lined promenade, bandstand, cafe culture and sunshine; everything you could want, in fact, if you can afford it.

Eastbourne lies opposite Wellington on the inside of the crater. Although a bit of a commuter place, it’s actually quite remote nd beyond the town itself the bay just trails off to Pencarrow Lighthouse and the way to the big old Tasman Sea. Again it’s a nice spot if you just want to escape.

And lastly a photo of the main Wellington Bay again – the main crater itself – on a grey rainy day, just to show it’s not always sunny!







Lady Norwood Rose Garden

At the sheltered bottom end of Wellington’s Botanic Garden is the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, a beautiful celebration of all kinds of rose. Sadly the Wellington weather never seems very kind to roses: as soon as they bloom, the wind and rain knock all their petals off, and most of the year the garden looks more green-and-brown than rose coloured. But I guess that’s roses for you…

Street Art

Wellington has a love of putting odd things out on public display. Sometimes they’re a bit tacky, but often they’re quite interesting and rather fun – it seems to suit their view of themselves as a young nation trying out new ideas all the time.

The Sky Ball on Civic Square isn’t there any more – in fact they seem to have tried to de-clutter Civic Square, which is probably a good thing. On the other hand it might just have blown down one day…

The Troll also isn’t there any more. Shouldn’t every city have a troll in its main square? Though I guess he was left over from Lord of the Rings.

Happily the fake Nikau Palms are still around:

Again, the Signriter advert has disappeared…

but happily there are a few anarchist yarn-bombers around…