It is the first park in Wellington to receive the award and follows a major upgrade completed in 2012. The $400,000 improvements, funded by the Plimmer Bequest, included landscaping, maps and signs at four entrances to the reserve, significant track improvements, information panels and a 17-metre long waka-like landscape feature marking the site of the former Oruaiti Pā.
The reserve is owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust and co-managed with Wellington City Council.
"This is a significant cultural site for Taranaki Whānui, Te Ātiawa, says Liz Mellish, Natural Resources Advisor to the Trust. Gaining the Green Flag is another symbol acknowledging the site as a Pou Tohutohu (significant marker) for the iwi and Wellington City."
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the reserve is extremely important both ecologically and historically, as it is a breeding ground for little blue penguins and preserves coastal native plant species along with one of the few remaining south coast sand dunes. It also contains the remains of old military installations.
“The headland was significant as a strategic defence position to Māori and again during the first and second world wars. New tracks, stairs and signage make it easy to find and explore the old gun batteries and observation bunkers. The new walkway – Te Ara o Kupe – has superb views out to the Wellington Harbour entrance and Cook Strait,” she says.
“Wellington’s coast is central to our sense of place, our recreation and to our unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity. The military heritage and cultural significance of Oruaiti are outstanding and can be enjoyed by residents and visitors all year round – just this week I saw dolphins, a little blue penguin and a gannet from the walkway.
“Wellington City Council landscape architects have made an excellent, robust and modern interpretation of indigenous cultural heritage that fits remarkably well with the wild natural elements of the site.”
The Council's Environment Portfolio Leader, Councillor Helene Ritchie, was delighted with the news of the award. "This is simply excellent. It is an example of the quality heritage, landscape, biodiversity, walkway work the City Council does and in a unique partnership with mana whenua."
Cr Ritchie says native plant species like pīngao and thick-leaved māhoe have been able to survive at Oruaiti Reserve because this section of the coast is not constrained by roads or seawalls. “Weed control work will ensure greater protection along with a long-term planting and habitat restoration programme that is under way."
Oruaiti Reserve is one of 23 parks in New Zealand and Australia to receive the award this year, including Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Kaitoke Regional Park, six Department of Conservation reserves, Hamilton Gardens and Auckland Council’s Ambury Regional Park and Long Bay Regional Park. In Australia the award went to Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens and Royal Park and Sydney’s historic Redfern Park.
The Green Flag Award was launched in England in 1996 to reward the best parks and green spaces and today is flown at over 1400 sites across the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. The criteria are assessed annually to ensure that parks maintain high standards. The award is administered in Australia and New Zealand by Parks Forum, representing park management organisations.