News | 17 January 2022

Street Smart: When is a street not a street?

How is it that some streets don't physically exist, and what exactly is a ghost street?
You'll find all the answers and more in our latest edition of Street Smart.

A woman walks up a steep zig zag path on the side of a hill in Rongotai.
Tirangi Road in 1991. Wellington City Libraries, 50014-335-199. Photograph by Derek Smith.

One feature of our city which has long confused couriers and taxi drivers are named ‘streets’ which don’t actually exist as a physical road.  

These tend to be in the older parts of the city and were often formed in the late 19th Century by land owners who had acquired individual one-acre blocks that had never been subdivided after they had been surveyed and created by the New Zealand Company in 1840.  

Their speculative dream was to create a road, subdivide the land into smaller plots which could then be sold off for a tidy profit or used for property development. 

However, the main reason these land blocks had been left untouched for so long was the topography on which they were sited; steeply sloping sections which might have been suitable for creating a bullock track were never going to work for modern vehicular traffic. 

Concrete stairs and white handrails sit beside houses, with a sign that reads

The net result was that while the names of these streets were submitted and accepted by the City Council, they never became ‘roads’ as we normally think of them but remain today as simple pathways and rows of steps. 

Vogel Street, McIntyre Avenue and Kennedy Street (all off Hawker Street in Mt Victoria) are all examples of these.

Another is Brosnahan Terrace in Aro Valley. Originally created as a proposed link between Holloway Road and Mt Pleasant Road at a time when hundreds of people lived in the area (then known as Mitchelltown), the street sign for the Brosnahan Terrace leads only to a simple path without any houses surrounded by regenerating native bush.  

And what exactly are ghost streets?

A similar curiosity is a number of ‘ghost’ streets which are scattered throughout the inner city.  

These once contained houses and were parts of thriving communities but were acquired for road widening purposes or the construction of the motorway and knowledge of them gradually disappeared.  

While they are no longer part of our urban streetscape, the legal ‘parcels’ which once formed these streets often remain to this day as the cost of legally amalgamating the land titles was deemed to be an unnecessary expense.  

These ghost streets can now be identified using the Council’s publicly available GIS system.

A black and white photo of Whittaker Street in 1969 where a row of small wooden houses stand and a few old motorcars are parked.
Whittaker Street in 1969 shortly before houses were demolished for the construction of the motorway. Wellington City Libraries, 50006-483

One example is Whittaker Street (pictured above) which was a short no-exit street off the top of Ghuznee Street. Originally called George Street, it was established as a private street by a property developer in the 19th Century and later renamed (and incorrectly spelt) in honour of the first NZ Attorney General and later Prime Minister, Sir Frederick Whitaker.  

The street was taken over by the City Council and made 'public' in 1924. It consisted of about a dozen small houses, several workshops and a number of horse stables (later garages).  

In its later years, it became a popular student flatting area because of its close location to Victoria University. All the properties were compulsorily acquired and demolished by the Government in the early 1970s for the construction of the Wellington Urban Motorway. 

While no sign of the street remains today, most of the original land titles including that of the street itself remain in place. 

A green background with a white ball on legs walking with

Wellington City Council looks after more than 700km of streets across the capital, and each one has its own unique story. Check out Our Wellington and our social media channels for more articles, videos and interesting snippets.