Old Porirua Road – a window into Wellington’s colonial history
March 29, 2018
Creeping and twisting, the Old Porirua Road snakes its way up from the Kaiwharawhara basin, through the hills of Ngaio and on to Khandallah.
Barely wide enough for one vehicle, drivers proceed with trepidation, taking every opportunity to pause as they crawl up the serpentine pass.
Generally, the former bridle path is known for being notoriously tricky to navigate. However, the cultural and political history of Old Porirua Road can be traced back to the early colonisation of Wellington.
Prior to being surveyed by settlers, Old Porirua Road was a single track scaling the mountain range known then as “Te Wharau.” This was the first path out of Wellington to the Northern suburbs and on to Porirua. The track was commonly used by Maori, guiding them to the summit of Te Wharau where a taumata, or resting placed called Paerau lay.
From such a height, you can imagine the strategic vantage point Maori had of the Wellington harbour and the surrounding bush around them.
Shortly after 1840, the road began to be utilised by settlers who wanted to reach Wellington’s west coast. However, it was not until 1845 when Captain Edward Daniell, a member of the New Zealand Company (which was responsible for colonising Aotearoa), purchased a farm in what is now known as Ngaio.
While other settlers in the area were calling for the New Zealand Company to build roads to their properties, Captain Daniell organised labourers to construct a bridle path to his farm for £30.
The path was later extended continuing to Porirua.
After the New Zealand Company approved a settlement near Porirua conflict emerged as the new settlement was rejected by the Ngati Toa tribe, led by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata.
Construction faced constant disruption which led to the road shutting down until Governor George Grey decided to widen the road, allowing for settlements and stockades to be built which were protected by armed troops.
This put an end to skirmishes along the road enabling it to be continually improved.
The construction of the Ngaio Gorge road in 1909 saw a precipitous decline in use of the Old Porirua Road. The new, more direct and user-friendly road through the gorge left Old Porirua Road slightly redundant.
Today, Old Porirua Road is used by residents whose houses are nestled along the hill’s ridge.
Jak Wild fell in love with the area when he first saw it and purchased his home on Old Porirua Road 10 years ago. He described his first trip down the road as “magical”.
“I love driving down that road; it’s beautiful. Old Porirua is my favourite road in Wellington.”
Wild is also passionate about the local area and its history, regularly teaming up with enthusiastic workers to preserve the dense native bush.
“There’s a lot of certain weeds, like Tradescantia that come through on the encroachments around the road where it is taking over the natural bush. The bush encroaches on the house anyway but the weeds just strangle everything. It’s really hard to keep on top off. Quite a few locals are trying to work simultaneously to what we’re doing to get rid of those introduced weeds.”
He explained you can still find remnants of the road’s history along the walking tracks that connect the road to the Ngaio Gorge below.
“There’s very old residences in the bush, you can tell people once lived there.”
Kerry McNeil recently moved to Old Porirua Road a month ago with her husband from Arizona. Her house is tucked just below the road, sitting cosily among the native trees and shrubbery.
She said she was still getting used to the road but has fallen in love with the area.
“It’s off the beaten path. I am surprised it gets as much traffic as it does! I’m getting used to it; I’m not driving with my teeth clenched anymore when I drive down it.
“Arizona is very dry in comparison, you don’t get anything this green there. I love being surrounded by the bush. I really enjoy being surrounded by the tui and having them sing every day.”