Kelburn: midway between earth and sky

Wellington (New Zealand) journalist, Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), digs into his boyhood diary

February 1, 1906….. Went to the Kiosk and had fun in the cable car……

Vintage postcard of Kelburn Tea Kiosk and cable car c.1907

Kelburn (with an extra ‘e’) Kiosk around 1907 with cable car at right.

The place Wellingtonians know now as the Skyline was for many years identified as the Kiosk. It was a barn-like building where one could have tea and cakes for sixpence, with a fine view of the city and harbour thrown in for good measure. The young men of the city usually took their young ladies there by cable car and then wandered on down through the Botanical Gardens on the way home, or through the then-embowered Kelburn to the other end of the city. I do not know when the tea rooms ceased to be called the Kiosk.

I do know, however, that after World War II the name became unpopular. Anti-communists suggested ‘kiosk’ was of Russian origin, but this is not correct. The word is Turkish or Persian signifying…… banqueting amid trellised splendour with fair views. This, despite all the glamour that youthful memory may inspire, could hardly describe the Kiosk I wrote of in my diary of 1906.
‘More Wellington Days’. Pat Lawlor, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1962.

F. L. Irvine-Smith, in her book ‘The Streets of my City’ (1948), digs a little deeper

Kelburn, named after Viscount Kelburn, the eldest son of the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand (1892-1897), quickly became a favourite suburb, not only because of its proximity to the city, but because of the sheer beauty of its position poised high above the city and the shining waters below.

Kelburn ascent

The nucleus of settlement was the Upland Farm, acquired by the Upland Estate Co., in 1896, originally the property of Wm. Moxham, but every possible foothold was soon covered by the heavily basemented type of house which may be said to have become the characteristic of Wellington hill-side architecture…….

It was a sheer triumph of engineering that transformed the lower levels of Moxham Farm into habitable ground….. which emerged out of the levelling of the knolls that filled the valley, their soil being spread by means of an aerial wire tramway.

Kelburn is thus an essentially man-made suburb, from its cable tramway which transports passengers in ten minutes from the heart of the city, to its flights of soaring steps and bastions and retaining walls that transform the most inaccessible eyries into “desirable building lots,” but once safely ensconced within these buttressed edifices, midway between earth and sky, the panorama that meets the eye is truly heaven-made – an unsurpassable vista of city, sea and sky in the perfection of harmonious balance…….

Kelburn descent

Nearby is Kelburn Park, a verdant expanse of “the greenest grass that ever grew,” with scarce a trace of having been made to order by cutting off a hill-top and tipping it holus-bolus into the adjacent gully.
‘The Streets of My City’. F. L. Irvine-Smith, 1948. Reprinted 1974 by A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd, Wellington.

Overlooking the Oriental Bay area of Wellington from the suburb of Kelburn.

Kelburn Park, foreground, “made to order”.

The Skyline building was lost to two suspicious fires, three weeks apart, in 1982.

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