My final route exploring ways home to Karori took me up Aro Valley. Aro Valley has featured heavily in the long-running and ongoing debates about improving access to Karori. As early as 1857, residents of Te Aro petitioned the council to provide a road via Aro Valley to Karori. At the time, farm produce and firewood from Karori had to travel to Te Aro where many of the early settlers lived, down what is now Glenmore Street and along Lambton Quay – a long and winding route, which they claimed added to the cost. There was even talk of providing a cable-tram from Aro Valley to Karori. Nothing was done however until Karori cemetery opened in 1891. While the requests of the living had been ignored, the road from Aro Valley to Karori seems to have been built eventually for the dead. Completed in 1893, it was originally called Cemetery Road, but renamed Raroa Road, once houses were built along it, presumably to improve their saleability.
The most controversial proposal for improving access to Karori via Aro Valley came much later. The Amercian company De Leuw, Cather and Co produced a report in 1963 looking at solutions for the growing traffic problems in Wellington. The report recommended a motorway through the city, which was eventually built, but it also recommended a ‘north-west connector’ road from Aro Valley through to Karori. I’ve marked the proposed route of the north west connector as a dashed line on this map.
I start my walk up Aro Street, at the foot of the Aro Valley. The day is overcast and oddly humid for Wellington, and I’m feeling sweaty and grumpy after a circuitous walk to get here, which seems to have involved an inordinate amount of time waiting at pedestrian crossings, thanks to the efforts of De Leuw, Cather and Co and others, slicing SH1 through this part of town. However I’m cheered up by a sign for the School of Divine Energy Medicine on Willis Street that offers ‘ascension classes’, amongst other things. And I’d thought that was just for Jesus.
Aro Street feels tranquil after SH1, but of course, if De Leuw, Cather and Co had had their way, there would have been another motorway charging up the valley. No less than one-eighth of the houses in the valley would have been demolished to make way for the north west connector. In the early 1970s, the council went a step further and decided to comprehensively redevelop the valley with multi-storey flats. Aro Valley residents mounted a vigorous community campaign and were successful in persuading the council to abandon the north west connector road and eventually to drop the redevelopment of the valley.
The residents of Karori, on the other hand, or at least the Karori Progressive Association, seemed to have been firmly in favour of the proposals, which would have cut down journey time from the CBD to Karori to a mere three to four minutes. Did the Karori and Aro Valley residents ever come face-to-face on the issue, I wonder – the suburbanites vs. the hippies?
The north west connector involved a tunnel from Aro Valley through to Waiapu Road, near where Zealandia is now. It would have then gone on to Ngaio along the route of Curtis Street. Not content with that, the council had plans to continue the motorway through Ohariu Valley to link up with SH1 in the vicinity of Tawa. It was confidently predicted that there could be 40,000 people living in Ohariu Valley by ‘the turn of the century’. However, this motorway extension was not going to be built until an ‘underground railway’ had been built in the CBD. Presumably there would have been a gigantic car park at the end of the motorway, so that residents of the megalopolis that Wellington was to become could hop out of their cars and travel around the CBD on the Wellington metro.
It’s not long after ANZAC day and at the Mitchelltown war memorial at the end of Holloway Road, there are cardboard ‘wreaths’ from a real estate agent sign with poppies drawn on them. There’s no sign of the usual poppy wreaths. I wonder why not, and who made the cardboard wreaths. Would the war dead of Mitchelltown have otherwise been forgotten after all?
I’m interested in exploring a route for a tunnel that was proposed before De Leuw, Cather and Co.’s report. Back in 1928, a number of improvements to transport corridors in the city were proposed, including the Bowen Street extension which I wrote about here, and a new Kelburn Viaduct, which I wrote about here. Another proposal was for a road tunnel from Norway Street in Aro Valley through to Glenmore Street just before the Karori tunnel.
I turn into Entrance Street which leads into Norway Street. This area used to be known as Taitville, after Henry Tait who first subdivided the land. Henry’s son, Robert, was an architect and designed several of the houses in the area. Both father and son were originally from Shetland. Entrance Street was the ‘entrance’ to Taitville. Norway Street goes steeply up a high-sided and rather gloomy valley. Birds hop around in the bushes, and I stop to watch a fantail dancing around a tattered chinese lantern hanging in a tree.
The wooden villas of Taitville, are testament to the ability and ingenuity of Robert Tait and other early settlers to build houses on impossibly steep hillsides at a time when Wellington’s development was limited by the difficulty of accessing flatter areas. In fact, following a zig-zag path at the end of Norway Street onto Raroa Road, all I can see are houses perched on steep slopes, along Fairview Crescent, and looking over to Northland. It’s starting to make me feel dizzy, so I take some steps down to Glenmore Street. The steps come out on the horseshoe bend just after the Kelburn viaduct, which is around where it was proposed that the tunnel came out.
The plans for the Norway Street tunnel were dropped, but seem to have been revived in the 1950s, when it was proposed that a further tunnel would then run parallel to the existing Karori tunnel, coming out on Waiapu Road like the later north-west connector tunnel.
I want to continue along Raroa Road, so I go back up the steps, and follow it over the top of the tunnel. I’ve driven along here many times, and it only occurred to me fairly recently that I was driving over the tunnel – you can’t tell unless you’re on foot and happen to look down the bank of bush to the the road below. This is the point where all the main routes to Karori converge – spaghetti-like, but nowhere near as much spaghetti as the planners of the 1950s and 1960s would have liked.
Debates about improving access to Karori carried on after the plans for the north west connector road were dropped, with the Karori Progressive Assocation continuing to suggest new routes for tunnels and roads (including through a drained Karori Reservoir) none of which have been taken up. Karori residents have been complaining about access more or less since European settlement, yet the route to Karori has not in fact been significantly improved since the Bowen Street extension in the 1930s. I’ve just got back from a trip to Queensland where multi-lane roads lined with strip malls and big box retail have been built with abandon yet it seems to take forever to get anywhere. I’m glad that there was never enough money or consensus to blast a motorway through the hills here. And that on the other side of the hills, Ohariu Valley is still awaiting its 40,000 residents.
Karori Historical Society (2011) Karori and its people
Redmer Yska (2006) Wellington: biography of a city
David McGill and Grant Tilly (2012) The Compleat Cityscapes
F L Irvine-Smith (1948) The streets of my city
Newspaper cuttings from files of Karori Historical Society, Karori library