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Te Aro Pā – Māori pā site opens in Wellington

Te Aro Pā – Māori pāsite opens in Wellington

Wellingtonians can now get a rare glimpse into the city’s past right in the middle of town following the opening of the Te Aro Pā visitors’ centre in lower Taranaki Street this morning. The centre contains the preserved foundations of two ponga buildings – or whare ponga – dating from the 1840s from the Māori settlement of Te Aro Pā.

The centre opened in the early hours of this morning with over 200 people attending the ceremony. Kaumatua Sam Jackson, supported by iwi from Wellington and Taranaki, undertook the cultural rituals required to re-awaken the site and the ceremony was followed by breakfast at the Town Hall and speeches from dignitaries including Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Hon Mahara Okeroa, Sir Paul Reeves and Mayor Kerry Prendergast.

Wellington City Council’s Arts and Culture Portfolio Leader, Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer, says Te Aro Pā is unique. “It’s the only 1840s Māori site found in the city and contains the only known whare ponga to have survived from that period. What makes this site even more amazing is that it’s right in the heart of downtown Wellington.”

The remains from Te Aro Pā were uncovered during construction of a new apartment building and the visitors’ centre has opened on the ground floor to display the whare ponga remains. The public can visit the site free of charge, seven days a week from 9am-5pm, and interpretive signage explains the history of the site and how it has been preserved.

Construction work on the building was halted in November 2005 when the remains of Te Aro Pā, occupied between the 1820s and 1880s, were uncovered. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust, developer Washington Ltd, the City Council and the Wellington Tenths Trust – which administers Māori land around the city – then considered options for preserving the structures.

Wellington Tenths Trust CEO Liz Mellish says this is a great example of organisations with very different interests all working together to find a solution that worked for everyone.

“Having a site like this on one of Wellington’s busiest downtown streets is a fantastic asset for the city – Wellingtonians and visitors can see a little of what life was like for people of the Taranaki iwi who settled in this spot as far back as 1820,” she says.


Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer, mob 027 272 1713

Rachel Lynch, Council Communications, mob 021 227 8335

Liz Mellish, CEO Wellington Tenths Trust, mob 027 440 3989

Rick McGovern-Wilson, Senior Archaeologist, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, mob 021 814 734


• The whare ponga may have been used for storage or sleeping and it is clear that they were part of the village complex or kainga known as Te Aro Pa. The only other known examples of preserved whare ponga are from the 1880s so this 1840s find is very significant.

• The New Zealand Historic Places Trust provided technical expertise and services for the preservation work on the site remains.

• The site doesn’t just contain artefacts from Te Aro Pā. There are three layers relating to different time periods during the history of the site.

• The most recent or top-most level contains the remains of a 1908 building and its associated stables and cart shed, which were recently demolished to make way for the new apartment complex.

• The second layer shows drains from a building or buildings pre-dating the 1908 building and also features postholes and rubbish pits.

• The remains from Te Aro Pā make up the third level and lie on beach gravel, on the old beachfront. In 1840, the pa was occupied predominantly by people from Taranaki iwi including Ngati Ruanui, who settled here in 1837. Ngati Mutunga established the settlement in 1824 and relinquished it when they left for the Chatham Islands in 1837.

• The glass-encased display showing the two whare ponga and interpretation panels will open to the public on Saturday 11 October. A third whare ponga is enclosed in a private room. Wellington City Council will arrange CCTV and Walkwise monitoring of the site to ensure its safety.

• This is an excellent example of the developer, local Maori, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the City Council working together. Eventually they found a way to redevelop the apartment complex to accommodate the site – instead of digging a two-storey basement, the site gained another three floors in height. The cost of the building went up $4 million but the developer now had extra floors to offset the costs. The developer, Washington Ltd, could no longer drive massive piles into the ground as originally planned, as this would damage the fragile ponga structures. So they came up with an innovative solution - the building now floats on a 700mm thick, 1500 tonne slab of concrete with ground anchors in each corner.

• A significant amount of funding was provided by the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Funding administered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. This fund was set up to assist private land owners to preserve nationally significant sites, such as Te Aro Pā.

• The Te Aro Pā site was registered as a Category I Historic Place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust earlier this year, recognising its national significance.

• Te Aro Pā offers information about the initial contact period between Maori and Pakeha and documents the transformation of Wellington from a series of Maori settlements to our Capital City. The site also illustrates how downtown Wellington has changed over the last 150 years, with the 1855 earthquake and subsequent reclamation work erasing the original swamp and flax marshes of Te Aro Pā.


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