Curious street with transmitter mast and gun emplacements

Last updated 12:24 31/01/2014

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The Wellingtonian

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Orangi Kaupapa Rd is surely one of Wellington's most curious streets. It winds from the very heights of Northland - about 300 metres or 1000 feet - down to Glenmore St, opposite Botanic Gardens.

On the way it changes from a wide two-way street to a precarious one-way section. There is a set of 192 steps to Garden Rd and near the bottom a narrow path to Glenmore St.

Though the bottom section of Orangi Kaupapa Rd gets most attention - it is blocked off at present because retaining walls are being built to prevent slips, and was also closed because of the 2011 snowstorm - it is the top section that is most interesting.

During the early 20th century it used to be called "the wireless road" because it wound ever higher towards the Radio Wellington transmitter mast, opened in 1911 by Prime Minister Joseph Ward.

The station was set up by the Post and Telegraph Department after Wellington Radio was moved from the Post Office clock tower in Post Office Square to Tinakori Hill, or Mt Etako, as it was then called.

A 2.5 kilowatt spark transmitter provided a wireless telegraph service to ships within a 1000-kilometre radius.

These days the site of the former transmitter is called Te Ahumairangi Hill.

The location offers super views of a great expanse of Wellington, but is also one of the windiest places in the city.

Those in charge of the mast had trouble finding strong enough wires to brace it. Indeed, on the day it was installed, there were 112kmh (70mph) gales.

During World War II, the site became of strategic interest for another reason. Six gun emplacements were installed to help ward off any invaders with designs on taking over Wellington.

Next door to Te Ahumairangi Hill is Stellin Memorial Park, built in 1977 on the edge of the Green Belt, and with a lookout and various walking tracks off it.

It was named after James Stellin, a Scots College old boy who became a New Zealand pilot officer and served in the RAF. On August 19, 1944, he gave his life to save the inhabitants of a French village, Saint-Maclou-la- Briere, in Normandy.

Orangi Kaupapa Rd was so named so because the road adjoins the old native reserve of Orangi Kaupapa, which was initially spelt Aorangi Kaupapa. In fact, in earlier years there were two separate roads - Orangi and Kaupapa.

Orangi Kaupapa is famed in Maori mythology.

When Rangi, the god of light and sunshine, decided to visit Papa, the god of the earth, the spot chosen for the meeting was the level plateau overlooking the Wellington harbour, where the sun in rising in the east first strikes its golden ray, and where when sinking in the west it bathes it in crimson splendour.

At the meeting, the historic spot was blessed by the gods, and named "Rangi-Papa".

Not surprisingly, considering it is one of Wellington's steepest streets, The Evening Post files contain many accounts of traffic accidents, with cars sliding out of control on the descent. Slips and erosion have also been constant problems.

It has been noteworthy for other reasons.

A pack of wild dogs in the area grew so large that by 1935 it was evoking letters to the editor.

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For many years, the Olympic Harriers athletics club would begin weekend runs at the Cable Car kiosk, then proceed down The Terrace and set themselves for the tough climb up Orangi Kaupapa Rd.

In 1913, the Wellington Motor Cycle Club set about finding Wellington's steepest street. All the motorbikes, including those with sidecars, managed to get up Aurora Tce and Devon St. Most managed Mortimer Tce, but not even half could manage Orangi Kaupapa Rd.

Northland is a particularly hilly suburb, as is evidenced by the names of some of its streets - The Rigi, Seaview Tce, Harbour View Tce, Bank Rd. But Orangi Kaupapa outdoes them all.

As F L Irvine Smith wrote in The Streets of My City: "It is small wonder that some Wellington lasses have such well-developed calves."

- The Wellingtonian


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