Detail of a map of Wellington showing Māori place names compiled from information supplied by Elsdon Best.

Pukeahu was a prominent feature in Wellington’s landscape, especially as it was before European settlement.

Between the ridges

Pukeahu sits between two dominant ridgelines. The first, known by Māori as Te Ranga o Hiwi, extends from Point Jerningham (Orua-kai-kuru) up to Te Mātairangi (Mount Victoria), and finishes between Island Bay and Lyall Bay. The other ridgeline runs from Te Ahumairangi (Tinakori Hill) through to Te Kopahou (Red Rocks) on Wellington’s south coast, extending to Te Rimurapa (Sinclair Head) in the west and the Tawatawa Ridge between Island Bay and Ōwhiro Bay.

Beside the flats

The flat area between Pukeahu and Wellington Harbour was called Huriwhenua. It extended as far as what is now Newtown and included what is now called the Te Aro flat. The peak of Pukeahu, rising from the Huriwhenua flat, was by some accounts once ‘as sharply conical as Mt Victoria’. The Waitangi Stream flowed through the valley to the east of Pukeahu, with the Waimāpihi Stream to the west. The area where Basin Reserve is now was a swamp known as Hauwai.


The area from the harbour to the south coast was once wooded, with tall trees including pukatea, tōtara, northern rātā, rimu, kohekohe, tawa, hīnau, mānuka and many other species. Many paths ran through this area, and Māori from the earliest settlements cleared much of the land for gardens.

New Zealand company draughtsman Charles Heaphy, recalling his first visit to Port Nicholson (as Wellington was then known by Europeans) in 1839, before the arrival of European settlers, said Tinakori Hill was, ‘densely timbered ... the rata … being conspicuous’. Wellington Terrace (where The Terrace is now) was ‘timbered chiefly with high manuka’, some trees 12 metres high. Te Aro was covered in high fern and tutu, and Hauwai was a ‘deep morass’.

A changing landscape

The 1848 Marlborough and 1855 Wairarapa earthquakes both changed the landscape of the area. Most notably, they raised the land around the harbour and allowed Hauwai (Basin Reserve) to be drained.

Next: First Settlement and Tribal Migrations 

Updated on 23rd July 2015