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WAI - water, NUI
- big, 0 - of,
and MATA -
refer to a
woman's name.
Origins are
disputed, but
one commonly
refers to the
woman who
came over
Hill to evade
tribes from
north and south.
Water could
refer to tears
streaming down
faces, or pools
of water.



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A Brief History of the Wainuiomata Valley.

If we take the word WAINUIOMATA we find that it is made up of the words WAI – water, NUI – big, O – of, and MATA – which could refer to a woman’s name. The origins of the word are disputed, but one commonly accepted translation refers to the women who came over the Wainuiomata Hill to evade marauding tribes from the north, and who sat wailing by the stream after the slaughter of their menfolk. From this we have ‘faces streaming with water’ or ‘tears’ although it could equally refer to the large pools of water which lay over the swampy surface (face) of the northern end of the Valley, and which led to that area being known to the first settlers as ‘The Lowry Bay Swamp’.

Wainuiomata was included in the Wellington purchases by the New Zealand Land Company, and land in the Valley was broken into various acreages. Settlement was slow at first – access was via foot tracks which crossed the Hill near present-day Waterloo and Lowry Bay, and possibly by routes further to the south. Settlers had to carry all goods and possessions in on their backs, and all produce had to be back-packed out again for sale in the Hutt Valley or Wellington. There is the tale of one resident hiding some of his purchases for retrieval the following day, only to find, upon returning, that his hiding place had been discovered and the goods uplifted by some observant Maori who no doubt felt they could make equally good use of the contents. In fact, the Maori do not appear to have occupied the Wainuiomata Valley itself to any great extent prior to the European arrival, although traces of their kumara gardens and ovens are evident around the coastline. The Wainuiomata Valley was used as a path to the Coast and the Wairarapa, and initially settlers thought that a road would follow this route to open up the Wairarapa. However, the Rimutaka Hill route was found to be a more practical alternative to this proposal.

The limited access to the Valley was, for many years, a problem for settlers in Wainuiomata. By the 1850’s local residents were rating themselves for roading, and working on the digging out and widening of the track over the hill. The first hill road over much of the route followed by the present road was in use by the 1860’s. 1860 saw the opening of the first Post Office in the Valley, and the Wainuiomata School was already into its third year by this date. In 1863 the first church was built of timber and resources donated entirely by local residents. One early settler, Richard Prouse, had heard the Wesley faith shortly before departing England, and he vowed that if he should prosper in the new and unknown country, (ie, New Zealand), he would build a church as a token of thanksgiving. Richard arrived in Wainuiomata in the 1850’s and by 1863 was able to provide the land and much of the timber in fulfilment of his vow. Although no longer used as a church, except for special events, this building still stands on the Coast Road, surrounded by a small graveyard which bears witness to the hardships endured by our pioneering forebears. There are also two other small cemeteries established by early Valley settlers, and details about all three cemeteries are contained in booklets produced by the Wainuiomata Historical Society, and available for sale through the Wainuiomata Library and the local Museum.

Large timber resources in the middle and lower reaches of the Wainuiomata Valley fed two timber mills, the Prouse and the Sinclair, and a variety of houses and workers cottages sprang up in conjunction with these milling operations. So great was the demand for timber for buildings in the Wellington area in the 1850’s and ‘60’s, that the Sinclair family commissioned and imported a small locomotive from Tasmania. This was unloaded at the Wellington wharf, from whence it was hauled by bullock wagon over the Wainuiomata Hill and up to what we now know as the Waterworks Valley, but then known as Sinclair Valley. One can imagine the problems entailed in the transportation of such a large object over the barely formed narrow windy hill road, and history reports that the locals could see the dust as the wagon descended the hill into the Wainuiomata Valley. A holiday was declared upon the arrival of the loco, which, once on its rails, took parties of local inhabitants on a picnic excursion up the Sinclair Valley. The loco was subsequently used to haul timber Junkers down Sinclair and Moores Valley. Of local interest is the fact that a number of the piles for the Wellington wharves, and timber for the Government Buildings in Wellington, came from the Sinclair mill.

At the northern end of Wainuiomata was a vast tract of land owned by Sir William Fitzherbert, and the original road still bears his name. This tract was broken up for subdivision in the early 1880’s and a number of Scandinavians bought lots in the ‘small farm settlement’. However, although a flax mill operated here for some time, the land proved to be hard farming country, the low-lying nature of the ground leaving it prone to frequent surface flooding. Some enterprising locals attempted cropping, but generally sheep and dairy farming were the mainstay once the land was cleared.

In 1879 the Wellington ratepayers voted to extend their water supply and by 1884 a dam was built in Sinclair Valley and a pipeline ran across the Wainuiomata Valley floor, through a tunnel under the hill, and on to Wellington. This dam was replaced in 1910 with the Morton Dam, since decommissioned, while the Orongorongo tunnel and pipelines were implemented by 1926. The establishment of the waterworks meant the coming of the telephone although, by 1921, there were still only two subscribers.

Despite a population barely in the hundreds, community spirit was strong, and in 1913 sufficient funds were raised entirely by the Valley residents to see the building of a local hall. Community spirit also saw the dedication of a War Memorial to those residents who did not return from the Great War. The original hall has been superseded by a large community building in the centre of Wainuiomata, and tributes to those lost in both World Wars have been placed in the vicinity of this complex.

In 1919 the Mata Dairy Co-Operative was formed, and the problem of marketing dairy produce was solved for a time when farmers were able to cart their milk to the local factory, where it was processed into cheese and sold on their behalf. However, by the late 1920’s the factory had closed and a Hutt Valley contractor was coming into the Valley for the milk collection.

The late 1920’s also saw the formation, in Wellington, of the Wainuiomata Development Company, a far-sighted group who envisaged the building of a planned town development on some thousands of acres purchased from the farming community in the northern end of the Valley, ie the Wainuiomata, Fitzherbert and Main Road areas. One of the first projects commenced by this company, with the idea of opening up the Valley, was the hill tunnel from Hutt Park Road through to the present Parkway area. Unfortunately, however, the Depression put a halt to the Development Company’s plans, and it was not until the 1940’s that building in Wainuiomata went ahead once more. At that time the tunnel was deemed too small and inadequate for the increased vehicular traffic commuting to and from Wainuiomata, and it was never finished.


The spectacular growth of the Valley post-World War II can be traced in the pattern of homes built from that era. Post war there was a severe shortage of materials and, consequently, limits on the size and design of houses built. It is said that for a time there were just five floor plans for home owners to choose from, and today a keen-eyed observer can pick these designs replicated in the Village area of the Valley. In the 1950’s the air rang all day every day with the sound of hammering and sawing, and facilities in the Valley at the time were stretched to cope with the influx. Where there had been a sole primary school for nearly 100 years, this grew to 10, two colleges and two intermediates, although growth has now settled and four primary schools, a college and an intermediate have been amalgamated to better cater for today’s student role. With the 4-laned road over the Wainuiomata hill, access to the Hutt Valley and Wellington is only minutes instead of the day’s travel it used to be. Farming now takes place on only a few Coast Road properties, with much of the rural land being broken up into lifestyle blocks. A scenic drive along the Coast Road can be accomplished on tar seal for its entire length, instead of the cart track through many paddocks with the associated opening and closing of farm gates along the way, which was the norm just 75 years ago.

Wainuiomata has come a long way since the first settlers struggled through the bush clad hills from the Hutt Valley to establish their homes and carve a living from ‘the Swamp’. And we have their tenacity and perseverance to thank in laying the foundations for the lovely Valley this has become.



Vicky Alexander
July 2004


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