Life's a beach in Oriental Bay

Oriental Parade may be dubbed the Riviera of the south, and 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.

Looking east from Oriental Terrace, towards Point Jerningham. Photo by Mr Rowe circa 1895.
Looking east from Oriental Terrace circa 1895. Photo by Mr Rowe

The earliest recorded resident was pioneer George Duppa who erected a prefabricated house that he had brought out from England in the area below what is now Saint Gerard’s Monastery.

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

The area is referenced in an 1843 book called “Twelve Months in Wellington, Port Nicholson,” by Lieutenant John Wood:

"Mr. Duppa found cattle-dealing and pig-jobbing more profitable than waging war in cutting down the forest. His house, or ‘Castle Doleful,’ stands upon the beach, with less than two acres of land about it. Immediately behind the house rise steep hills, in front of the house lie rocks and the sea. This dreary-looking spot is dignified with the name of ‘Oriental Bay’"

Te Aro Baths in Oriental Bay, circa 1926. Photo by Sydney Charles.
Te Aro Baths in Oriental Bay circa 1926. Photo by Sydney Charles

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, with strict rules about segregated swimming: ladies daily from 9am to 2pm, and gentlemen daily before 9am and after 2pm.

American servicemen on Oriental Bay circa 1942.
American servicemen on Oriental Bay circa 1942

The Oriental Bay Tea Kiosk became the height of fashion in 1914 as recreational walking became a popular past-time. The Tea Kiosk added a private hotel to the building from 1917 to 1920, and was the Oriental Private Hotel from 1921 to the mid-1940s when it became a YWCA Hostel, then a Labour Department Hostel circa 1957, until it was demolished in 1981 and had a stint as the Park Royal and Hotel Raffael before being converted into apartments in 2004.

The first incarnation of the Band Rotunda made its appearance in Oriental Bay in 1919, but was moved to Central Park in Brooklyn in 1936 to allow for a sturdier building which could also accommodate bathers. Wellington was the first city in Australasia to have a Municipal Orchestra, which was set up in 1910 by the City Council “for the purpose of providing citizens with good, orchestral music at popular prices,” but there were also subsidised bands that played regularly at one of the five band rotundas around the city.

Freyberg Pool and the boat harbour circa 1960s. Photo by Duncan Winder.
Freyberg Pool and Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club circa 1960s

The Carter Fountain was gifted to the city in 1973 by local resident Hugh Carter who dedicated it to his parents. Unfortunately he drowned just days after it was installed.

Many urban legends surround the timings of the fountain but the truth is not quite as strange as the fiction with set hours of operation, and a wind sensor which shuts it down if the wind is at 10 knots or higher. Hours of operation are:

  • Monday to Thursday: 7.30am - 9am, Midday - 2pm, 4.30pm - 6pm, 7.30pm - 10.30pm
  • Friday: 7.30am - 9am, Midday - 2pm, 4.30pm - 6pm, 7.30pm - 11pm
  • Saturday & Sunday: 8.30am - 4.30pm, 7pm - 11pm

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. The Council project won numerous awards including The Supreme Award – New Zealand Institute of Landscape and Architects, and an INNOVATE NZ Gold Award.

Oriental Bay is now a bustling area with a population of 1,308 recorded in 2013, a popular destination for beach lovers and fitness fanatics, and the place to be for major events like the Sky Show – so it’s obviously a lot more appealing than when Mr George Duppa turned up on its fair shores!

Freyberg Pool mural

Up until 2017, the front of the Freyberg Pool and Fitness Centre featured a mural called 'Portal' by Victor Berezovsky.

'Portal' was painted in 2008 and celebrated the pool's 1960s Modern Movement design and architectural features, and paid homage to the decade. 

The mural also highlighted one of the building's unique features - the portal windows. Comprising of simple red, blue and ochre geometric shapes, the design suggested swimming lanes, swimmers and synchronised swimmers.

Image gallery

Images courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library and Francis Guerin. View scenes of Oriental Parade as they are today - and as they were then, in our gallery below.