Wellington City Libraries

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The Wellington Waterfront

Few issues have had a higher profile in the minds of many Wellingtonians than the development of the Wellington waterfront. For over a century, much of what we now consider to be open public space was locked away from the average citizen with a line of stern buildings and wrought iron gates. These marked the boundary line between land controlled by the Wellington Harbour Board and Wellington City Council. Inside the gates, cranes shifted mountains of freight and heavy trucks and machinery moved continuously. It was a dirty and dangerous place and for much of it, access was tightly restricted. The Harbour Board's rule was law - even City Council bylaws did not apply on the waterfront.

However from the early 1980s things began to change. Most commercial shipping was now using the container wharf at Aotea Quay, so there was far less activity and heavy machinery operating around the inner harbour wharves. The development of Frank Kitts Park brought a splash of green to the otherwise grey concrete and asphalt wharfs. The excitement of waterfront motor racing began in 1985 and the first dragon boat festival was held in the late 1980s. People began to realise that an important and exciting public space was sitting on the city's doorstep which until then had been largely ignored. Then in 1989 as part of a national process of local body amalgamations, the Wellington Harbour Board merged into the Wellington City Council and for the first time since 1880, the City had direct control over how the Wellington waterfront was going to develop.

The establishment of Lambton Harbour Management (later renamed Wellington Waterfront Ltd) at around this time saw the creation of a council-owned organisation which was dedicated to day-to-day management of the waterfront, as well as overseeing future developments and trying to find a balance between commercial and recreational activity. Though often controversial, Lambton Harbour Management & Wellington Waterfront Ltd had a huge role in opening up the waterfront to the citizens of Wellington. In 2014 the company was dissolved into the Wellington City Council with a number of business units now maintaining the area and planning for its future.

As an area still under continual development, the Wellington waterfront offers a fascinating example of urban planning and renewal in progress.

The library has a number of resources which can be found in the Central Library to help you research the past history, the present and future developments of the waterfront in greater detail. Some of the books may also be available in branch libraries. You can check the library's online catalogue for location details of these books and their availability.

Wellington Recollect

Search for heritage photos, maps and related ephemera reflecting the Capital's past on our Wellington City Recollect . Below are just a few items of the items you can find relating to Wellington's waterfront.

From Digital NZ

Central Library closure — collection availability

Unfortunately much of our heritage collection is currently not available through our online catalogue — because of the closure of the Central Library, much of this collection is in storage. We hope to make it available again soon, but in the meantime, we suggest visiting the National Library of New Zealand in Thorndon (Corner Molesworth & Aitken St) to access these book titles and newspaper resources.


Online databases

Check out our collection of online databases. You'll need to log in with your library card number and surname to search these databases, so have your library card handy.

Useful websites

WCC — Wellington waterfront

Heritage Links (Local History)