News | 29 July 2021
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Karori Cemetery still drop dead gorgeous at 130

Karori Cemetery is New Zealand's second largest burial ground, is the final resting place for over 83,000 people, and is still drop dead gorgeous as it turns 130 years old next month.

Image of graves at Karori Cemetery

The Wellington City Council owned cemetery was established in 1891 to replace the then overcrowded Bolton Street Cemetery, and by 1965 it too reached capacity, with Makara Cemetery becoming the city’s new main cemetery.

To honour the anniversary, there is a biography of the first ten interments on the Friends of Karori Cemetery Facebook page, and there’ll be a number of tours for the public on Sunday 1 August.

Since 2013, local resident and historian Barbara Mulligan has been giving guided tours of the cemetery and says there is always high demand for the monthly events – and special one-off events like the Suffrage Day tour.

“Karori Cemetery is a repository of so much history and heritage, it’s full of stories and lives lived, there’s also the natural beauty of the place with the birds, trees, peace and quiet – yet it’s packed full of intrigue and fascination.

“There are six Prime Ministers there, a lot of Mayors, artists, musicians, nation builders, the executed, and the murdered, and at least 720 of those who succumbed to influenza in Wellington in 1918 were buried at Karori Cemetery.

“We also do a tour about Heroines and Housewives, as they’re sometimes overlooked. It’s often harder to find the stories of women when we do our research – but they’re equally interesting and relevant.”

A new-born called Freddie Fish was the first burial at the site, and to honour the memory of all the children at the cemetery, tour funds will go to a local children’s charity.

“At a sad time 130 years ago we hope the parents of Freddie would have had whānau and community support. As kindness and community support is still important in 2021, the Friends of Karori Cemetery will donate any tour funds received on Sunday 1 August to Bellyful Karori,” adds Barbara.

The only plots available now at Karori Cemetery are pre-purchased ash or family plots, and children's plots.

Sunday 1 August tours (weather permitting):

  • Off the Beaten Track 10.30am ($10pp and 1.5 hours long)
  • Intro to Karori Cemetery 11.30am (free and 45 mins long)
  • Movers and Shakers of Early Wellington 1.30pm ($10pp and 1.5 hours long)

Each tour will depart from the Shelter at the centre of Karori Cemetery. There will also be a free children’s paper-based activity between 11 -2pm, and assistance with grave finding. To book for a tour please email

Karori Cemetery facts and figures:

  • 1890 – Karori wins the ballot for the site of a much needed and new cemetery for Wellington. McKenzie Brothers agree in principle to accept the Council’s offer for their land. The Council raises loan of £7500 for the new cemetery.
  • 1891 – Karori Cemetery was established to replace the already full Bolton Street Cemetery.
  • 3 August 1891 – first interment was a month-old baby named Frederick William Fish.
  • February 1892 – first regular burials take place and Sexton E.A Nash is appointed.
  • 1909 – Karori Cemetery Crematorium was the first Crematorium in New Zealand and is the oldest in Australasia. The Crematorium was designed by John Sydney Swan and the cremator was coke-fired. It carries out about 450 cremations a year.
  • The Small Chapel at Karori Cemetery was designed by William Hobbard. The chapel has six world class stained windows. Five were designed and built in the An Tur Gloine (Tower of Glass) factory in Dublin and were made over a 25 year period.
  • 1918 – the Services Section of Karori Cemetery was established to honour those who have served in Wars. Wellington City Council was the first in New Zealand to establish a Services Section.
  • Karori Cemetery has over 86,635 interments.
  • Karori Crematorium has provided over 75,305 cremations since its first operation.
  • The Wellington City Council/Karori Cemetery signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Friends of Karori on the 15 June 2020.
  • Karori is an archaeological site, significant for its heritage and ecological value.
  • Karori has 24 distinctive vaults.
  • Karori Cemetery has two self-guided trails, The Warriors Walk and the SS Penguin Shipwreck with brochures available online.
  • For casket interments at Karori, plots are hand dug and can take approximately two days depending on depth.
  • Wellington City Council has a field team of six staff who look after Karori and Makara Cemetery.