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 summer Saturday – though not so good in the middle of a Wellington winter storm.
The route and the text below roughly follow Wellington Council’s published Maritime Trail, though I’ve added som comments of my own.
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main source of power on the waterfront and was still used for wool presses, cranes and other equipment until finally superseded by electricity in the 1950s.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 below) and as a car park. The building was converted into apartments in 2002 and is now known as Waterloo Quay Apartments.
Opposite Shed 21 is the much-loved Art Deco Waterloo Hotel, now a Backpackers’ hostel.
2 Site of former Shed 17 (Waterfront Police)
Nothing remains of Shed 17 now – the site has been redeveloped as a massive headquarters for PWC. Interestingly in the planning application for this building it was touted as a ‘magnificent public asset for the city’: in the event, this appears to mean the ground floor houses a couple of expensive restaurants and a dry cleaners. There’s no suggestion that, for instance, there could be a public space on the roof…
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 Wellington Harbour Board (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 traffic 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 then declined along with wharf activity itself. Numbers of harbour employees shrank from 2640 in 1968 to 300 in 1992.
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
The role of Police headquarters has now passed to the former Eastbourne Ferry Terminal. As reported above, the new PWC Headquarters looms ominously over this little building – but for the moment it survives.
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 first 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 first 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.