News | 17 August 2023
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Back in my day: Pōneke then and now

Our capital city is always changing! As the city embarks on its biggest transformation programme since the development of the Wellington waterfront more than 30 years ago, we’re looking back at some old pics of iconic spots in Pōneke to discover how they've developed over the years.

The Destructor with a frame that reads 'City Building'.

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The Destructor > Waitangi Park

Side by side images of the Destructor and Waitangi Park.
Image on left is a view of the Corporation Yard and chimney stacks of the Destructor, with dwellings on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria in the background. Circa 1890. Wellington City Council Archives, 00138-8602.

Back in 1890, the area known today as Waitangi Park had a very different purpose. It was home to Wellington City Council’s first refuse destructor. In its hey-day it burnt up to 20,000 tonnes of rubbish a year.

The first destructor was officially opened for use by the then Mayor, Samuel Brown, in 1888. Refuse was collected in horse drawn carts, which were taken up a ramp, tipped on a storage floor, then fed through a door into a furnace below.

The destructor operated for 30 years. By the late 1930s, the sewerage system had been extended to a size that meant the destructor could not generate enough steam to run its compressors.

The composition of house rubbish had also changed. Increasing use of electricity meant rubbish had less coal ash in it, thus coal had to be added to ensure a regular steam pressure.

Waitangi park with a tent set up and cars and boats in the foreground.

Now, the area has been transformed into Waitangi Park, named after the Waitangi Stream that once fed a more extensive wetland used for centuries by Māori for food-gathering, as a source of fresh water, and as a place to launch waka. 

It makes up 30 percent of the waterfront, and is a massive six-hectare urban park in the centre of the city, used and loved by Wellingtonians for recreation, events and more.

Midland Hotel > Midland Park

Side by side image of Midland Hotel and Midland Park.
Image on left taken by Kees van Kranen. WCC Libraries 50011-107 .

One of the most popular lunch spots in the central city, it’s hard to imagine that Midland Park wasn’t always a green space.

Up until the 1980s, it was known as the Midland Hotel.  

The building was designed by famous architect Henry Eli White, who was also the architect behind the iconic St James Theatre, which opened in 1912.

Originally, the hotel had five floors in 1915 and two additional floors were later added in 1923. 

Archive image of an urban park with people sitting on benches.
Midland Park and Astoria Café, which opened in 1996. WCC Libraries 50011 – 160.

It was sold to Wellington City Council in the 1970s, and was the first cab off the rank in small parks being created in the city centre. The park was designed by the Council’s in-house architect Ron Flook, and is reminiscent of American Plaza designs from the 1950s and 1960s. 

Oriental Bay > Oriental Bay beach

Side by side image of oriental bay when it was first started to oriental bay with a beach,
Image on left circa 1907. WCC Archives 00138-8600.

Oriental Parade is a hot spot when the sun comes out, but it wasn’t always that way – in fact it was just a one-man town during the early days of European settlement.

The area was originally called Duppa because of its sole resident, Mr Duppa, who later renamed it Oriental Bay after the ship The Oriental that he arrived in Wellington on.

The bay was so remote that it was also used for quarantine purposes – with patients tended to by a physician and nurse in a tent located on the beach.

There was also another undesirable element with the bay area used by the whalers for boiling whale blubber, which was reportedly an unpleasantly pungent smell.

Colonial settlement started to grow from the 1880s, although the area was primarily used for farming. But by the turn of the century the Te Aro Baths (which would later become the Freyberg Pool) had been installed. 

Digger on the beach moving sand.

In 2004, the Council shipped in 22,000 tonnes of sand from Golden Bay to enlarge the beach areas of Oriental Bay, and the Freyberg Beach grass area was developed with a modern playground introduced. 

Oriental Bay is now a popular destination for beach lovers and fitness fanatics – so it’s obviously a lot more appealing than when Mr George Duppa turned up on its fair shores!

Black writing on a yellow background that reads 'Positively Pōneke'.

Look out for other interesting articles as part of our City Building series or find out more about Positively Pōneke on our website.