In 1931 the town of Napier was flattened by an earthquake, killing 258 people. When the town rebuilt (to much stricter building codes), the obvious style to use was 1930s concrete and Art Deco – with its emphasis on surface decoration it was fashionable, cheap and relatively safe.

As a result the town has a fantastic collection of buildings from the period, ranking second only to South Beach in Florida as an Art Deco city. They run a great programme of events to celebrate it all – look at the Art Deco Napier website for more.


Stonehenge Aotearoa

Stonehenge Aotearoa is an entirely serious attempt to teach astronomy and celestial timekeeping: it also explains some early Maori myth about the heavens, though in general it makes a point of debunking astrology. But best of all is Richard, the enthusistic astronomer who does the guided tour (his wife says he ‘looks like he’s measuring fish…’)

Here’s a link to the official Stonehenge Aotearoa website.

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.

100 Victoria Embankment

I’ve cycled past this wonderful building many times and wondered what was there. Open House weekend 2008 provided the answer, after a fashion: it’s the headquarters of Unilever, makers of hundreds of household products including soap powder, washing up liquid, dishwasher tablets etc. And I guess they also do vast amounts of other stuff in the global chemicals industry, judging by their corporate structure (see below).

Slightly disappointingly, it turns out the classical front of the building is just a facade: behind it everything’s been reconstructed as a modern block. It’s certainly stunning…but it’s nevertheless still the usual atrium, glass lifts, corporate furniture, hot-desking and all the rest. Still, get over that and it’s a joy…and not everywhere has a garden on the roof!

100 Victoria Embankment

The traditional Entrance Hall

Behind this, it’s all modern corporate…

…yawn, yawn…nothing is actually made here…

On the roof there’s a brilliant garden…

…which produces unexpected views of St Paul’s

…the rest of the views are, of course, terrific


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!