Historic hot spots

The city’s most popular gardens and beaches haven’t always existed in such a tranquil state. It took a lot of manpower to transform them into the date-worthy destinations they are today.

The site of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden in development.
View of earthworks underway for the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, 1950.

Valentine’s Day is a day that divides opinions. Singles left out of the festivities criticise the commercialism, while madly-in-love couples become giddy with excitement thinking about what surprises their partner may have up their sleeve.

A story of the very first Valentine

The origin of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery due to the uncertainty over which of three Christians saints named Valentine the day is named after. The most popular theory concerns a priest who angered the Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. The story goes that Claudius II had forbidden marriage for young men because he believed bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies for these soldiers, but upon discovery was sentenced to death. His final letters were allegedly signed “From your Valentine” – a phrase now used by secret admirers around the world.

Wellington waterfront when it was an industrial zone.
Wellington waterfront in 1935.

Where in Wellington is best for a romantic outing?

Walking along the waterfront is today part of a couple’s ideal day out thanks to the picturesque scenery, cafes and bars along the way, and numerous benches suitable for admiring the view (and your date). It was a different story in 1935, however, when the waterfront was mainly used as a seaport. Its industrial vibe made it a place to avoid rather than stroll with a partner.

If there was ever an appropriate time and place to stop and smell the roses, it would be on Valentine’s Day at the Lady Norwood Rose Garden at the Wellington Botanic Garden. These gardens haven’t always been the colourful, sweet-scented oasis we visit today. In this photo from 1950 you can see an empty, dug-up field of dirt being prepared for the eventual landscaping and planting.

Oriental Bay Beach before the white sand.
View looking north along the waterfront at Oriental Bay in Wellington, circa 1891.

How about a day at the beach?

A lunch date at Oriental Bay Beach makes for a perfectly splendid occasion today but not so much for those in years gone by. The bay never used to have much of a beach, and the area was a bit of a non-event with only gravel road access and few buildings dotted along the seaside.

A string trio perform on Valentine's Day.
A string trio performs at Valentine's Day celebrations in 1995.

Not just for couples - Wellington’s puts on a Valentine’s Day for everyone!

Valentine’s Day evening in 1995 was a marvellous affair where everyone could enjoy the festivities. On show at the waterfront was an Absolutely Positively Wellington air balloon, a trio of string musicians and a spontaneous recital of the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. For the romantics, a selection of flowers was on sale and local bars served Valentine’s Day themed drinks and nibbles.

00558:1:2: 9A, 12A (Valentine’s Night)
00558:1:3: 10A, 13A

Alexander Turnbull Library:
Wellington waterfront, Shed 35, arrival of the All Blacks. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-032548-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22826241

Earthworks for Lady Norwood Rose Garden, Wellington Botanic Gardens, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 114/123/13-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22685770

Oriental Bay, Wellington. Wright, Henry Charles Clarke, 1844-1936 :Negatives. Ref: 1/1-020596-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22783729