St John The Evangelist Church at Hira


The Anglican Church of St John at Hira, formerly known as Happy Valley,1 sits on an acre of land donated by Mr. Hugh Martin. The site for St John’s was the choice of Bishop Suter who liked the position on the corner of Cable Bay road and the road to Whangamoa.  The church was designed by Mr. R. Black and built by Mr. John Scott. Now restored, the church celebrated 125 years of service in 2013.

Painting of St John's church Hira. Artist Katie SansonSt John's church Hira. Artist Katie Sanson
Click image to enlarge

Mr. Hugh Martin arrived in Nelson in 1844 aged 44. In Early tide to Wakapuaka he is described as a gentleman farmer who owned property in Stoke and Happy Valley.  He initially worked as an agent for absentee Wairau landowner George Freeman. At various times he farmed pigs and traded timber, and must have done well enough to donate the site for the building of St Johns.

Church with the chimney a landmark

Over the years this church with the chimney has become a landmark. It was one of three churches in the Suburban North cure, a 20 mile strip of land stretching north from Nelson on the way to the Rai Valley. The others were at Atawhai and Wakapuaka, where there was a strong Māori congregation.  A wooden building with an iron roof, St John’s claim to fame lies in the fact that it is the only church left in Nelson to have retained its fireplace, which heated the small vestry where the minister could stay the night.  As the outlying churches were generally served by men tutoring at the Bishopdale Theological College, the warmth could have been very welcome.

One of many churches in Nelson and Marlborough

The Nelson landscape was already dotted with churches from a range of denominations when the Hira church was dedicated on 27 December 1888 by Bishop Suter.  Two hundred took part in the service.  Cable Bay/ Rotokura was well populated at the time and the church was well supported.  In 2013 St John the Evangelist Church at Hira celebrated 125 years. While attendance at services is relatively small these days, the community in and around Hira have generously supported the care and maintenance of this charming little building.

St John's church Hira. Photographer unknownSt John's church Hira. Photographer unknown
Click image to enlarge

After nearly 100 years of service a project to restore the church to its original condition was started in the early 1980s.  Local families the Stratfords from Gentle Annie and the Stuarts of Rotokura/Cable Bay donated timber. Rotten studs, window sills and the entire north wall were replaced. Parishioners organised fundraising, and donations of materials. A captain of a container ship, who created stained glass objects as a hobby, donated two circular stained glass windows to replace damaged ones under the eaves.  A window preserved from the first St Andrew’s church, which had been demolished after a fire in 1939, was fitted into the porch wall.

A detailed description of the interior and a sketch of the donated windows can be found in Nelson’s Historic Country Churches by Annette Wells, and a drawing of the church with reference to the chimney is on page 53 of Nelson Observed by Christoper Vine.

2014 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Newport, J. (1973, April) Wakapuaka. Nelson Historical Society Journal,  2(6), p.20 [the name changed c.1912 due to the Post Offices' policy of using original Māori names for new offices. Reportedly the site of an ancient lake, the name may be a contraction of a longer original Māori name, meaning 'the kissing of the waters'] 

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  • I love that little church.
    It reminds me of my Sunday School days from about 6-8 in Nuhaka at a little church very like St John's.I still feel blessed to have my early Sunday School days there. I stop at St John's when I visit Cable Bay and look in the fridge! Books i take for neighbourhood children who need English support - immigrants, low income families. Thank you very much. One day soon i hope to come to 9am service. Sophie

    Posted by Sophie Glendorran, 26/07/2023 2:46am (1 year ago)

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Further sources - St John The Evangelist Church at Hira




  • Church’s Open Weekend (2008, May 13) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 7. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre.
  • Denton, Ralph T. (1982) Tewkesbury. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1 (2). Retrieved September 22, 2014, from The New Zealand Electronic Text Collection.
  • Fair takes Hira church to the people (2013 April 15) Nelson Evening Mail. 4 Retrieved September 2, 2014, from Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre.
  • Hindmarsh G. (2005, August 1) Laud Nelson. Heritage New Zealand Issue 98, p34-38. Retrieved September 8, 2014, from Australia/New Zealand Reference Centre
  • Moore, Chris. Historic Church Rescued (1984, November 10) Nelson Evening Mail, p10. [Microfilm, NCC Libraries.]

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