Wellington Scoop

Doing the right thing for Thorndon

by Lindsay Shelton
The survival of the little narrow streets and the old houses of Thorndon is a miracle. And at last the city council is doing the right thing for this lovely heritage area.



In the 1960s, 2000 people lost their homes when the new motorway cut its way through the centre of Thorndon. As Redmer Yska wrote in his book Wellington Biography of a City (Reed Publishing, 2006): “The motorway emerged from the rubble of Thorndon houses and their leafy surrounds.”

But not everything was destroyed. And now there’s a plan to create five heritage areas, to ensure that what remains of one of New Zealand’s oldest and most historic suburbs doesn’t face further destruction.

A study of Thorndon last year confirmed what most people already knew – that it has significant heritage values. The study led to the current planning review which the city council, with uncharacteristic modesty, describes as aiming to help manage Thorndon’s residential heritage while balancing property owners’ desire to adapt their homes to modern living.


The five Thorndon heritage areas would be:
o Tinakori Road North / Calgary Avenue and surrounding areas (bounded by Harriett Street, Grant Road, Cottleville Terrace and Tinakori Road)
o Tinakori Road South (bounded by Patanga Crescent, Tinakori Road and Harriett Road)
o Hobson Street and surrounding areas
o Portland Crescent
o Selwyn Terrace

This proposal is similar to heritage area planning which has been successful in older Auckland suburbs for more than ten years. Property owners would have to seek resource consent if they wanted to make changes such as adding a second storey, building a deck or an extension, removing an original chimney, adding a new window, or if they wanted to carry out demolition or partial-demolition. No consent would be needed for internal alterations or repairs and maintenance. The council is offering two other options, but neither sounds as effective as the first.



Starting on Sunday, the council will be highlighting the history of Thorndon, and its suggestions for the planning changes, in a display at 3/310 Tinakori Road. Weekend hours will be 11 to 3; weekdays: from midday till 2 and from 5 till 8pm. The display continues till May 3. Feedback from residents will be sought till the end of May.

The council accepts that the changes can’t be made without the support of Thorndon residents. But the locals are usually enthusiastic about preserving their area – they fought hard against the motorway, though they lost that battle. I expect them to support the council plan for heritage areas.

They’ve got a great heritage to protect. Survivors from the 19th Century include Tinakori Road landmarks such as Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace and Premier House, workmen’s cottages, the Thistle Inn (built on the foreshore in 1840, rebuilt in 1865, and still serving drinks today), as well as the magnificent 1865 Old St Paul’s which is my first call whenever I’m showing Wellington to visitors.

Wellington’s heritage buildings have become a real attraction for people from overseas. When I walked around Thorndon this week, tourists – mainly couples – were walking there too, admiring the old houses and consulting their guidebooks.


But local people are proud of Thorndon too. When the National Library last year offered a screening of Thorndon on Film – with clips from 1907 till 1972 – the screening was sold out. Repeated in February at the Film Archive, it again attracted a full house. Highlights included Sir Joseph Ward and his wife in the garden of Premier House in 1909, and a funeral cortege passing through Thorndon streets in 1912, not to mention 1921 calisthenics at the Wellington Girls College and a Mayor of Thorndon campaign in 1957.



  1. David, 22. April 2009, 12:59

    Fantastic pictures! I never knew that there were such quaint little alleyways in Thorndon.

  2. andy foster, 22. April 2009, 22:48

    Brilliant article Lindsay.

    We will look forward to Thorndon residents’ and other interested people’s thoughts on how to proceed. We really do want to hear what people think.

    Cr Andy Foster
    Transport and Urban Development Leader
    Wellington City Council

  3. Justinsmum, 23. April 2009, 6:43

    I just want to say that my husband and I have stayed on that little crooked street with the colorful quaint cottages (first picture in article)on our visits to NZ. It is such a unique and beautiful area. My son lives in Wellington. I hope Thorndon can maintain its historic beauty. Wellington has so many distinct areas. It’s a pleasure to visit your fair city. We shall return.

  4. mary mccallum, 23. April 2009, 23:48

    Great article and tribute, Lindsay. Thorndon has a strong history of writers and artists and this is shown in the residencies there now: Randell Cottage (for writers), Rita Angus Cottage (artists) and the Douglas Lilburn (composers)… hopefully the planning changes will help preserve these too.

  5. Lis Sowerbutts, 25. April 2009, 14:50

    Hey you almost made me homesick for Wellington! Lovely pictures and I agree Thorndon is delightful and unique. Lucky to get some good weather to take the pics though!

  6. judy siers, 26. April 2009, 19:45

    Thanks for this Lindsay. The story and photographs tug at the heart strings and remind Wellingtonians living away from home of what can be missed. Those wonderful walks in Thorndon – what a treat! My Millwood Gallery was one of the first renovations to a deteriorating retail shop. When we re-opened early in the 1980s we announced “fish and chips are off the menu – books are in.” Ah the memories.

  7. Jessica Closson, 27. April 2009, 10:25

    Bravo Lindsay on your insightful article and evocative photos.

    Might I suggest a followup highlighting Mt Victoria’s proposed heritage buildings? Residents there have been asking Council for years for an audit of our community, as we feel we are woefully under-represented on the Council’s heritage list. Let’s hope that after Thorndon’s heritage area District Plan Change, Mt Vic will next get some attention for its worthy homes.