Blessing to Celebrate Ōruaiti Reserve Upgrade

19 November 2012

A dawn blessing will take place this Wednesday (21 November) high above the entrance to Wellington Harbour to celebrate the completion of a new walkway and other improvements at Ōruaiti Reserve between Seatoun and Breaker Bay.

The nearly $400,000 upgrade, funded by the Plimmer Bequest, includes new 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 Ōruaiti Pā.

The 6am blessing by kaumatua Sam Jackson will take place at the pā site on the hilltop at the far end of the headland and be followed by songs and speeches at 7am at the Ludlam Street entrance to the reserve. Ōruaiti Reserve (formerly known as Point Dorset Recreation Reserve) is owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust and managed by Wellington City Council in partnership with the Trust.

The blessing will go ahead rain or shine, but if it's wet the speeches and songs will move to Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna (4 Falkirk Avenue).

Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust Chairman Mahara Okeroa says the landscaped waka feature is the centrepiece of the restoration, highlighting the importance of the pā, the area's rich heritage and stories, and its association with the explorer Kupe. 

"Ōruaiti Pā was a palisaded village - an important lookout post guarding the entrance to Te Whanganui ā Tara (Wellington Harbour)," he says. "As well as being a great coastal vantage point, it was possible to see the major Te Whetū Kairangi Pā above Worser Bay in one direction and the headland Pā of Rangatatau (Palmer Head) in the other."

The new walkway - Te Ara o Kupe - has fantastic views out to the Wellington Harbour entrance and Cook Strait, showing why the headland was so important as a strategic defence position to Māori and again during the first and second world wars. Tracks in the area used to bypass old military installations tucked away in the scrub, but the new tracks, stairs and signs make it easy to find and explore the old gun batteries, observation bunkers and other structures.

The former Fort Dorset military base, which was located below the headland where Seatoun School and adjacent houses are now, was established about 1910 and closed in the early 1990s.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says Ōruaiti Reserve is a popular recreational destination and ecologically significant in a number of ways, including being an important breeding ground for little blue penguins.  

"Wellington's coastal location is central to our sense of place, our recreation and to our unique marine and terrestrial biodiversity. The military heritage and cultural significance are outstanding and can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike," she says.

The Council's Environment Portfolio Leader, Councillor Helene Ritchie, says Ōruaiti Reserve is one of the few sites on the Wellington coast that is not constrained by roads or sea walls, which has helped native plant species like pīngao and thick-leaved māhoe survive here.

"As part of the upgrade, we've carried out some weed control work and made a start on a long-term planting and habitat restoration programme. We've also made some track changes and installed signs to help protect one of the south coast's few remaining sand dunes."

Local school children and other volunteers helped plant 3000 native plants at the reserve in June to mark Arbor Day and more than another 2000 have gone in since.

The Ōruaiti Reserve Management Plan, developed with the help of the community last year, includes more information on long-term restoration plans for the area.