History on the beachfront

Last updated 15:23 30/11/2013

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The Wellingtonian

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With a picturesque view of the beach looking out towards the South Island, Lyall Parade emits a coastal town vibe and is a welcome escape from the bustle of Wellington city.

The road, and the suburb that shares its name, honour Dr David Lyall, a Royal Navy medical officer and naturalist who took part in a survey cruise of the area in 1847.

Lyall, a Scot, was an inveterate traveller who visited both the Arctic and Antarctic - adventurous stuff for the 1800s.

Before Lyall lent his name to the area, it was known as False Bay, after several shipwrecks had occurred when sea skippers misjudged the rocky outlets and the tides.

Lyall Parade - often mistakenly called Lyall Bay Parade - stretches from Queens Drive in the west past Wellington Airport to Moa Point Rd.

The airport dominates the area.

Rongotai Airport started as a grass runway in 1929.

The airport officially opened in 1935 but was closed for safety reasons in 1947 - the grass surface often became unusable during winter months.

The current airport was opened on October 25, 1959, and is now New Zealand's third busiest.

Lyall Bay Beach has a much- used dog area, and surfers and surf lifesavers flock to the water.

Swimmers are sometimes more reluctant - the water often feels as if it has come straight from Antarctica.

Two historic surf lifesaving clubs, Maranui and Lyall Bay, are sited side by side on Lyall Bay Beach.

Ekim Burgers, towards the airport, has developed a huge following over the past year or so.

Several other eateries and dairies are dotted along the road.

Besides the airport, Lyall Parade has been the site of other major projects.

The biggest was the New Zealand centenary exhibition that ran from November 1939 till May 1940. It was based at the eastern end of Lyall Parade, bordering the airport.

The exhibition grounds encompassed about 55 acres and it drew 2.6 million visitors.

The centrepiece of the strip these days, encapsulating the spirit of the community, is Maranui Cafe.

Those seeking a weekend brunch flock to Maranui Cafe for some time out by the beach, feasting and enjoying the sunshine.

However, only three years ago the establishment was closed indefinitely.

On August 1, 2009, a fire broke out, nearly destroying the building housing the Maranui surf club and the cafe.

The club has been there since 1911, so the fire took its toll on nearly a century's worth of community history. Irreplaceable memorabilia was lost and the interior was badly damaged.

Staff and club members were disheartened by the apparent write-off they had before them, but the community rallied.

Within days, hundreds of community members had shown their support via Facebook, and the staff and club members were overwhelmed by the generosity that poured in.

Most notably, local cafes ceased to be competitors and offered some of their takings to help the refurbishment of the historic site.

The community made clear the establishment's cultural value when it defiantly turned down the Wellington City Council's proposal to demolish the building and start again.

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What is left of the club memorabilia is now displayed on the interior walls, along with the building's more recent history, including the tale of the rebuild.

In the cruellest of fates, the building was struck by fire again, three years later.

On August 26, 2012, a fire was set in a skip outside the building, and the outer walls caught fire.

Fortunately, there was much less damage and the cafe was able to operate the next day, despite having to offer a revised menu until damage could be repaired.

- The Wellingtonian


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