Story: Wellington places

Page 13. Porirua

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Porirua

2013 population: 51,717

A planned city

After the Second World War, the government acted on an urgent need for new housing. As the site for a new city, Porirua was ideal. It had plenty of cheap land and was already linked to Wellington by rail, and a new motorway to the area was about to be built.

From village to city

Work began in 1960 on reshaping the landscape. The village of Porirua (dating from the 1860s) disappeared, the Kenepuru Stream was straightened and more than 770,000 cubic metres of rock and soil were dumped at the head of the Porirua Harbour. By 1966, the new city centre was finished. The total cost was £1 million.

East of the motorway the suburbs of Cannons Creek and Porirua East grew out of rolling farmland. More than 2,700 state houses were built.

Māori history

The new city obscured much of Porirua’s history. The earliest human habitation dates back to 1450 AD. A succession of tribes lived around the twin inlets of Porirua Harbour. The name Porirua, a corruption of Pari-rua, means ‘the tide sweeping up both reaches’.

The Ngāi Tara people were succeeded by Ngāti Kahungunu, then Ngāti Ira who, in turn, were displaced in the 1820s by Ngāti Toa.

Māori–European conflict

In 1846, tension between Ngāti Toa and European settlers culminated in several skirmishes. The fighting was inconclusive, but Ngāti Toa’s foremost chiefs were removed – Te Rauparaha was arrested, and Te Rangihaeata retreated to the Manawatū.

In 1865 the first coach service, Cobb & Co., linked Wellington with Porirua and places further north.

Porirua hospital

Porirua remained isolated enough to become the new site (in 1877) of Wellington’s ‘lunatic asylum’.

By 1910, Porirua Mental Hospital had 738 patients. In 1942, earthquakes damaged the main building, a massive Victorian brick structure, which was demolished soon afterwards. New villa-style accommodation provided better conditions for patients.

Rebuilding the city centre

During the early 1990s, the Porirua city centre was rebuilt at a cost of $50 million. Its centrepiece, a giant new shopping mall, has revitalised Porirua.

Takapūwāhia

The Māori village of Takapūwāhia is near the head of Porirua Harbour. In the 1840s, the provincial government laid out a number of new inland villages to entice Māori from dilapidated coastal villages. A survey in 1850 recorded 252 residents at Takapūwāhia.

The price of progress

Traditionally, residents of Takapūwāhia relied on seafood from the nearby harbour. In the late 1940s the prized seafood bed was destroyed by land reclamation, in spite of Ngāti Toa protests. When Porirua city was built in the 1960s, more land was reclaimed. Again, the tribe’s requests for compensation were ignored.

Takapūwāhia became a Wesleyan mission, and after a visit by Mormon missionaries in 1887, it attracted Mormon adherents. Eventually Porirua became the main Mormon centre in the region.

In 1889 Takapūwāhia became the main Ngāti Toa marae, which it remains today. The first meeting house, Toa Rangatira, was built in 1901 and has since been replaced.

Takapūwāhia is not as visible as it once was, with housing now surrounding the village.

Tītahi Bay

The legendary Polynesian navigator Kupe landed at Komanga Point, 3 kilometres west of Tītahi Bay, leaving an anchor stone which today can be seen at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Later arrivals built on both headlands at Tītahi Bay, as well as at Komanga Point.

The first European residents were whalers operating from Korohiwa, between Tītahi Bay and Komanga Point.

Tee off from Tītahi

Tītahi Bay is known as the family home of Michael Campbell, New Zealand’s top golfer. In 2005 he won the US Open, and the richest prize in golf, the £1,000,000 HSBC World Match Play Championship. He joined the bay’s golf club at the age of 10, and learnt to play on the local course.

Once the Wellington–Manawatū railway reached Porirua, Tītahi Bay became a popular seaside resort. It grew slowly until the end of the Second World War. A massive state housing programme then transformed the bay into a modern suburb.

How to cite this page:

Chris Maclean, 'Wellington places - Porirua', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/wellington-places/page-13 (accessed 19 November 2017)

Story by Chris Maclean, published 9 Jul 2007, updated 1 Mar 2016