Rongotai Rd's troubled history

TALIA CARLISLE
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014
Rongotai Rd
AMY JACKMAN/FAIRFAX NZ

NOW: Rongotai Rd, 2014, looking east from Crawford st.

Rongotai Rd old
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY
THEN: Rongotai Rd, in 1956, running towards Kilbirnie and Crawford Rd. This was before the airport was completed. Reclamation of Evans Bay was under way, but Cobham Drive had not been built.

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Drunk attacks, fires and robberies seem a regular occurrence along Rongotai Rd's one-kilometre stretch.

One of the strangest robberies would be a haul of women's clothing found in a teenage boy's possession in 2005. It included 13 bras, 25 tops and a pair of shoes.

Sergeant Vaughan Mead said at the time that he believed the clothing had been stolen.

"For all I know he may have [legitimate] reasons for having all this - maybe he likes wearing women's underpants - but it's highly unlikely," Mead said.

Not one, but two lifelike latex foetus have been found in Wellington, fooling police and causing heartache for the people who found them. The second was found in Rongotai Rd in 2000.

Several road accidents have occurred along the road, which runs roughly parallel to Cobham Drive, from Kilbirnie Fire Station through the Kilbirnie town centre to Crawford Rd.

One accident was caused by a man who drove his car up a one- way street and crashed into a bus at the junction of Rongotai Rd and Troy St.

The Corner Bar and Cafe in Rongotai Rd was robbed in 2011. The same bar had been robbed in 2006, when a knife-wielding man wearing a Crocodile Dundee hat burst in demanding the takings.

Fires have plagued the street.

In 1998, fire ripped through a dairy products storage building in Rongotai Rd, blowing the roof of the building off and showering onlookers with sparks.

Sir Peter Jackson's Rongotai Rd warehouse and Portsmouth Miniatures Studio has suffered from several fires.

The biggest fire took place at Kiwi Self Storage in April.

It cost Radioactive DJ Brenden Robertson his musical instruments and record collection. Cinematographer Alex Funke lost two Oscars, won for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Baftas.

Photographer Stephen A'Court lost expensive gear and prized portraits of Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers and Circa Theatre thespians he shot on film.

Photos from another photographer, Thomas Shanahan, were also lost. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra trombonist, who died in 2004, had pictures captured during the 1981 Springbok tour, and a visit to the capital by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

In 1998, police investigated a spate of broken windows in the eastern suburbs, including a dairy in Rongotai Rd. It appeared a .22 rifle or ball bearings had been fired through them.

The street has also had many violent attacks.

A teacher aid, who had abstained from alcohol for five years, drunk too much on Christmas Eve in 2000 and gouged the eye of a policeman when stopped for drink-driving shortly after midnight.

A Wellington taxi driver was hospitalised after he was stabbed in the chest and abdomen by a man he had picked up near the intersection of Bay Rd and Rongotai Rd in 2011.

Wellington resident Benjamin Norton thought it was his lucky day when he found a full bottle of wine on the roadside of Rongotai Rd in 2008.

The 21-year-old needed 20 stitches in his forehead, ear and neck after another man yelled, "That's mine," and smashed the bottle over his head.

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The Rongotai and Lyall Bay area was originally known to settlers as "The Isthmus" for its bleak, barren stretch of land, regarded as utterly useless for any purpose. Its shifting sandhills were not checked until preparations were made to build the Great Centennial Exhibition buildings in 1939.

Rongotai Road was named Seatoun Rd until the 1950s and ran from the beginning of Kilbirnie Cres to what is now the eastern side of Cobham Dr.

The road followed the former shoreline of Evans Bay until reclamation work began as part of Wellington Airport's development.

Before 1910 there was a horse drinking trough and stables at the Kilbirnie Cres and Seatoun Rd intersection.

In about 1910, this became the site of the first Kilbirnie Post Office.

In the early years of the 20th century, Kilbirnie Corps' Salvation Army Brass Band used to play regularly on the Seatoun Rd esplanade, sometimes to the annoyance of locals.

At the eastern end of Seatoun Rd, facing Evans Bay, a large coal-fired power station supplied Wellington's electricity in the early part of last century.

This eventually fell into disuse, as alternative electricity supplies were built.

- The Wellingtonian

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