Wellington Scoop

Saving an 800-year-old tree

old rimu

by Helene Ritchie
Our little Fantl family gathered this week in Otari/Wilton Bush alongside a very tall female rimu, 800 years old, strong trunk, firm roots far into the ground, newly protected by a viewing platform for all to see. We were Michele, Dan, Ezra, Jonty, Ira, Carol – daughter-in-law, grandsons, son and nieces.

The children and a teacher from Otari School sang a waiata. Ira, a former pupil, recalled how he had led children from other schools through the bush, naming the trees and savouring the ether.

The 800-year-old tree, newly named Moko, stood tall, reaching to the sky, with just a few epiphytes clinging to her upper limbs.

Had it not been for my only uncle, Bob Fantl, she would have been felled long ago, chopped up, maybe carted to a new ‘tip’, chucked away, demolished. Instead, Bobby, Bauhaus modernist architect and a father of the environment movement, appealed to the Courts .

He had decided in the late seventies to oppose a road through Otari, to save the tree and thereby to save Otari. The Council had had other plans. They were to cut a swathe through Otari, to smash and destroy all in its way, to leave Otari a wrecked mess as the road carried on its merry way to a proposed new tip – Wharangi.

Bob won. He saved Otari/Wilton’s Bush, and he saved the tree.

He had come fresh from the huge 60s campaign which tried to stop the Thorndon motorway from desecrating the historic Bolton Street cemetery, splitting both Thorndon and Wellington people in vigorous debate.

Bob lived opposite in Wilton Road, daily walked the paths of Otari into his nineties, and had planted 3 trees there, one for each of his wife Claire, and children Judi and Peter. He breathed the air of the bush just 10 minutes from the CBD. He was a man of the mountains and the bush, ski trekking back country in the Southern Alps, exchanging trips and tips with Peter, my partner and our children, and habitually skiing down from the Ruapehu crater on Christmas Day.

Life for him had started differently, skiing and hiking in the forests of his mountain town of Reichenberg in Czechoslovakia before his mother, my grandmother, had sent 15 year old Bob away from the Nazis on a train to England, with other children most of whom were never to see their parents again.


The family is grateful for the effort and foresight of the Otari/Wilton Trust, today led by Phil Parnell, who have recognised Bob’s effort with the viewing platform and a plaque. We are grateful too for the Wellington City Council as kaitiaki of this taonga and of the uniqueness that Otari is.

Moko stands proud testimony to what mayor Foster described as gradually changing values with changing days. We wish her a long life.


  1. Dave B, 8. July 2021, 14:05

    Inspiring story Helene. We owe your Uncle Bob a debt of gratitude for what he achieved. I wonder if there were those at the time arguing that the city and its economy would suffer terribly if the road through Otari was not built.

  2. Michael P, 8. July 2021, 17:47

    Beautiful story, thank you. And yes, I am sure that there were plenty of people predicting the end of a prosperous city without that road, just as we hear the wails of protests, so predictably, from those who don’t want a pedestrianised central city.

  3. Ray Chung, 8. July 2021, 19:29

    Well done to Bob and thanks for this Helene!

  4. Chris Horne, 24. July 2021, 13:33

    Bob Fantl, Henry James and I appeared before the Planning Tribunal in support of our objection to WCC’s resource-consent application for the development of a landfill in the deeply-incised valley of North Makara Stream. This would have had to be accessed via a road WCC sought consent to build up through Otari-Wilton’s Bush. The Planning Tribunal accepted our submission and denied WCC the resource consent it sought. Bob Fantl was a great leader in this matter as in many other ways! Thank you Helene for your post.

  5. Helene Ritchie, 24. July 2021, 18:46

    Thanks Chris for all your effort over so many issues and years.
    The post I put on Facebook brought out very many people who knew Bob and the family well, or simply admired what he had done in this instance. Have you seen the Town Belt opinion piece I have written above? You were very involved with protecting that too.

  6. Concerned Wellingtonian, 25. July 2021, 8:43

    It is good to be reminded by Chris Horne that WCC had no hesitation in trying to wreck Otari-Wilton’s Bush. Why don’t councillors try harder to stop this sort of thing? The latest examples are Shelly Bay* and Frank Kitts Park where councillors have actually voted to destroy our precious open spaces.
    *Or should that be spelt “Shelley Bay”? WCC use both spellings in their Public Notice in yesterday’s DomPost.