Street history: Onepu Rd

MARY BAINES
Last updated 11:26 14/12/2012

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The Wellingtonian

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The Maori word onepu translates to sand or sandy, which accurately describes Lyall Bay's beginnings.

Onepu Rd, which links Kilbirnie to Lyall Bay Beach, runs across the land the early settlers once called "The Isthmus".

They described it as a bleak and barren stretch of land and shifting sandhills, according to early historian Fannie Louise Irvine-Smith.

In 1842, the barque Winwick was shipwrecked near the peninsula, the first of several ship disasters that occurred there because of sailors mistaking Lyall Bay for Port Nicholson and sailing on to the rocks.

The bay even earned the temporary name "False Bay".

The suburb was eventually named Lyall Bay after scientist Dr David Lyall of the ship HMS Acheron, which did a survey cruise in the area in 1847.

From the 1920s, Onepu Rd has been a central street in Wellington's eastern suburbs.

On the wide road lined with wooden colonial houses there was a post office, theatre, hat shop and much-visited tearoom, which was destroyed by fire in 1927.

At the northern end of the road was the large and busy tram depot - these days a bus depot.

The building where the popular Elements Cafe now sits once housed Lyall Bay's main library and a butcher with the first coolroom in Wellington.

It has also been a pharmacy and a doctor's surgery.

Onepu Rd became famous for having a "southerly buster" stronger than anywhere else in Wellington.

On one day in 1922, three inches of sand was carried from the beach, carpeting the road and making a ride on the tram dangerous.

The tram was the main form of transport until the 1960s. But after a fatal accident in 1943, locals rode the trams with caution.

One Saturday evening, a tram travelling at high speed derailed at the corner of Coutts St and Onepu Rd, killing one and injuring 28. The driver was found guilty of manslaughter.

A dark side of the street can be found in clippings from The Evening Post. There have been reports of suspected suicides and drownings at Lyall Bay Beach, and a surprising number of fatal motor accidents, many of them on the Coutts St/Onepu Rd corner.

In 1922, a 2-week-old girl was found wrapped in brown paper at the end of the road, in a sandhill. She had no injuries and appeared to have been buried for at least a fortnight before being found. The mystery was never solved.

By the 1950s, many of Onepu Rd's shops had closed, as the popular shopping area moved to Kilbirnie.

Now the street has a cafe, dairy, fish and chip shop, bus depot and web designer. A new council permit will allow more shops to open soon.

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- The Wellingtonian

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