Nelson's hidden shoreline


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This is a continuation of the Tracing the Tideway walk, following Nelson's 1840s shoreline. The route can be traced using the map and walk information [pdf].

Reclamation has played an important part in Nelson's history, greatly altering the shoreline of the 1840s. The busy port, impressive marina and expansive recreation areas, Neale, Rutherford and Trafalgar Parks, all sit upon progressive infill dating from the early European settlers who commenced work in 1842.

Saltwater Creek
Nelson's hidden shoreline walkNelson's hidden shoreline walk. Prepared for Nelson City Council. Click image to enlarge or download pdf

The map on the right shows the original shoreline in the 1840s and reveals the extent of reclamation in Nelson. There are now plaques embedded in the pavement at various points along this 1840s shoreline, for example at the junction of Halifax and Rutherford Streets, marking the spot where, in 1841, early settlers built a causeway across Saltwater Creek.  This bridge, which was built where the roundabout  is now situated, enabled easy access to the port in 1842. The deep channel, known as Saltwater creek, now travels underground south of Halifax Street.  To the north of Halifax St. it emerges to run alongside Haven Road and along the edge of Rutherford Park. Saltwater Creek is tidal and rises and falls dramatically in spring or king tides. The channel was deep enough to allow waka and flat-bottomed boats to travel under Saltwater Bridge into the fledgling city, when boats would tie up at Miltons Acre, before it became filled in to become Anzac Park.

Rapid reclamation took place on both sides of the causeway as soon as it was completed. Anzac Park was created on one side and Rutherford Park created on the other. Trafalgar Park sits east of Rutherford Park and the two areas are bisected by the Mahitahi/Maitai River

Rutherford Park

From the 1920s, over eight hectares of land have been reclaimed on either side of the Mahitahi/Maitai River. As this area grew, Rutherford Park came into use for early popular sports such as tennis, played here since 1949, and croquet which had, prior to this, been played on private property until public demand led to the provision of spaces for clubs. Rutherford Park was named in 1950, after Ernest Lord Rutherford, about the time that the reclamation of land from the tidal estuary was finally completed. This area of foreshore has been incrementally reclaimed using refuse and spoil from the city since the 1900s. Some of the land titles were purchased by the Council for this purpose, two of the land parcels were acquired from the ‘Māori Reserve' by the Public Works Act, and land along Saltwater Creek was purchased from the Department of Railways for use for recreation. A large parcel of land was also endowed to the city by Thomas Cawthron. It was vested in the Council under the Nelson Foreshore Reserves Act 1889 "for an estate of fee simple as an endowment for the benefit of Nelson City".

Along Rutherford Street

The small reserve area between Paru Paru Rd and the Mahitahi/Maitai River was the location of the Council's Works Depot during the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s [1]. This building was once leased out as the Refinery Art Gallery and sculpture garden, until this closed for earthquake strengthening in 2020. The heritage building was erected around 1932 as the factory of the Nelson Tobacco company. They used locally grown tobacco to create their popular cigarettes and pipe tobacco. A disastrous fire in 1948 resulted in Council acquiring the building and using it as a Works Depot, before the gallery was created in 2002.

The Croquet Club lawns [2] were the first part of Rutherford Park to be reclaimed.  A shipload of kapok is reputed to be buried on the site, after it caught fire on a voyage to New Zealand, early in the century. The lawns were established in the 1930s and became home to the combined Nelson and the Hinemoa Croquet Clubs, founded in 1905 and 1908 respectively. Early popular sports like croquet were often played on private property until public demand led to the provision of spaces for clubs. 

Along Haven Road

The land across the creek and above the road, Matangi Āwhio, [3] is very important for local iwi. Once a pā site, it gives a commanding view over the Haven, Harbour and Tasman Bay. It was also an important trading post as waka, and other boats could draw up on the original shoreline alongside what is now Auckland Point School and goods could be exchanged or purchased.  Argillite, found in the nearby hills, was prized by early Māori. Europeans and early Settlers came to a low concrete wall where local produce - vegetables, meat and fish was displayed and could be obtained.

The Moller fountain [4], opposite Auckland Point School, was donated to the city by the widow of Bernard Henry Moller. The fountain is lit at night and the grassy surrounding area is an informal gallery at various times for sculptures created by the adjacent Auckland Point School.

The Trafalgar Centre and Trafalgar Park

The Trafalgar Centre [5] was built in the early 1970s after much lobbying of the Council and huge fundraising efforts by Jaycees and the public. The Events Centre was completed in time for the Centenary celebrations of New Zealand self-government in 1963. It was extensively renovated in 2009.  A number of popular iconic events for Nelson have been showcased here over the years, including World of Wearable Art shows, Ballroom Dance Competitions, Rockquest and inside a series of panels celebrate these "Legends of Trafalgar". 

Access to Akersten Street and Nelson's marina and port [7] is by a footbridge [6]. The award-winning bridge was constructed in 2019, replacing what was the 150th Nelson Anniversary footbridge built by the NZ Army with funding from the Nelson Civic trust - a sturdy structure which was donated to the Brook Waimārama sanctuary to create the Flagstaff crossing. Just before reaching the bridge, sitting below the QEII bridge, is the Taurapa sculpture and pakohe anchor stone, installed in 2019 and created by Maia Hegglun to represent migration of peoples, the courage of Māori ancestors and the connection of the people to Te Tauihu.

The marina caters for hundreds of boats, with five accessible boat ramps and five fishing piers. Port Nelson is located within Nelson Haven near the mouth of the Mahitahi/Maitai River. The potential to develop a sheltered port was a key factor in the establishment of the Nelson settlement. It is a busy and growing port occupying around 78 ha of largely reclaimed land, the main exports being forestry products and fruit.

Dance to the Music of time by Terry Stringer. Image courtesy Nelson City Council
Click image to enlarge

The shoreline trail is retraced back along the river to a footbridge crossing the Maitai and linking Rutherford Park with Trafalgar Park. From the bridge you can see the Elma Turner Library and in the foreground is a small park which marks an important early landing site for Māori [8].

Trafalgar Park [9] was purchased by the City Council in 1891, with the assistance of local benefactor Thomas Cawthron, to be used as a public recreation ground. The  Stadium was developed in the 1950s and other capital improvements followed, including an eastern grandstand and sunshine seats on the western embankment. In the 1980s a final reclamation along the Mahitahi/Maitai River bank gave the park its current shape. In 1996 the Trafalgar Park Pavilion, was built on the western side of the field, and arena floodlighting installed for night-time events, in 1997. Two new grandstands were built in 2008 on either side of the Trafalgar Park Pavilion [11] and further improvements allowed Nelson to host Rugby World Cup 2011 matches. In recent years the Park has also been used for music concerts and other entertainment.

The shoreline walk continues onto the state highway and the start of the Trafalgar walk/cycleway at the junction of State Highway 6 and Trafalgar St.  Across the road, Kinzett Terrace was once part of Trafalgar Park, having been reclaimed for use as a railway station which was never built. It was separated from the Park by the construction in 1987 of State Highway 6, which now forms its southern boundary.

Dance to the music of time

At the junction with Kinzett Terrace, an important gateway for the city, is a sculpture [10] by one of New Zealand's foremost artists, Terry Stringer.  The work is a 5.5-metre, bronze sculpture on a 2 metre base entitled  "Dance to the music of Time".  It reflects the four seasons and references the importance of horticulture, aquaculture and the wine industry to the development of Nelson. To the east Summer picks fruit, Autumn harvests grapes, west has a kete of fish, and a hidden profile of a child representing spring reminds us of the importance of our future generations. The sculpture is sensitive to the site, with the entire shape reminiscent of a large sea bird, while the natural green patination complements the landscape.

2012 (updated 2021)

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