Based on the original article by Donal Duthie in the Friends Newsletter July 1996
updated and revised as some of the original photographs included in the article
are not able to be satisfactorily reproduced,
with some new images and material including the opening.  (P C Tomlinson).

The Pond at the Wellington Botanic Garden has been through many transformations over the years, and is currently a focal point of the Main Drive. Those who promenaded up and down this walk, inevitably ended up at the side of the Pond. Usually the Pond was the centre of a green tranquil scene, but on occasions the water was not as attractive as it might have been. It would seem that this junction of Pipitea Stream and another little stream coming down from The Glen had always been a marshy depression, and the early gardeners simply cleared it out to make an ornamental pond.

The original fenced Lily or Frog Pond later called the Swan Pond
 and today the Duck Pond  c 1880. 
The slope to the rear planted with conifers among the tea-tree. The Pinus torreyana and Douglas Fir conspicuous on the slope today may be in the lower 1880 photograph.

In the book "The Botanic Garden: Wellington" by Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook, there are three lovely photos of the pond C1880. The photo (above top)  shows five children not sure whether to look into the murky water or smile at the photographer. It would seem that in 1880, as in 1995, there was concern for small children drowning in the deeper water, as the Pond is ringed by a seven strand wire fence topped with barbed wire. The Pond clearly shows through the black and white photo as little more than a slough. One suspects that the waters have recently been muddied by small boys in search of frogs, kura, eels or whatever. The grassy banks indicate that the rise and fall was not nearly as great as it is today. This can be accounted for by the development of Kelburn and Northland as residential suburbs. In particular the tar sealing of roads meant a rapid run off of rainwater through the storm water drains and into the Pond. These days it can be quite alarming to watch the Pond rapidly rise after a sudden downpour. There is a great surge of dirty water bringing forth much of the debris associated with roadside gutters.

The pond in the foreground, looking south towards the Rigi
Photograph c. 1880

The Pond has had numerous name changes over the years, and has been variously called "Lily Pond", "Frog Pond", "Swan Pond" and "Duck Pond". The great photographer, F.G. Barker, always called it "The Lake" on his postcards. Today it is generally referred to as just "The Pond". Around I910 The Pond had a small landscaped island complete with a shower fountain. The hill in the background had a number of Agave with  neat rock banks.

In the 1920's a high stone wall built in association with the dam, raised the water level and made a better viewing area. A small island, different from the "fountain" one, had several nice Mamuku ferns.

The Swan Pond with many children enjoying the view in 1933.
The 'baby' giant macrocarpa of later years  behind the visitors.

In the 1940's card  during the "Swan Pond" era,  Mamaku ferns on the island had grown considerably. F.G. Barker who photographed this tranquil  called it "The Lake". The banks were covered in lush growth giant Gunnera are growing well with their roots in water, and the huge leaves revelling in the afternoon sun. At times like this, The Pond is a beautiful sight.

The Wilson photo above  looks down on the viewing area, showing the rock wall and the dam in the foreground. Abyssinian bananas were very much in vogue throughout the Garden at this time, and two can be seen in the background.

A 1985 photograph of the Pond area showing the giant macrocarpas
which were a dominant feature.  
A slice from the the trunk of one can be seen on display in the Treehouse Visitor Centre.

In 1990 a redevelopment of this area was proposed. As a firsts step in November 1989 a topo plan was prepared.


   The details of the 1990 conceptual plan  follows; the macrocarpas remaining -

At that stage the 2 original macrocarpas remained.  With concerns regarding the health and safety around these iconic trees,  this proposal was shelved, and a new proposal involving their removal  prepared.

In the July 1995 Friends Newsletter, the following announcement appeared -


One of the Botanic Garden's most popular areas is to get a facelift. The duck pond is to be redeveloped over a three month period this spring - with an exciting result in store for the Garden's summer visitors.

Wellington landscape architects Boffa Miskell came up with the new look pond in a country wide competition, which called for plans to redesign the area, held last year. Wellington City Council and The Friends of Wellington Botanic Gardens ran the competition as a way of getting a range of different design ideas for the redevelopment of the pond. "We were looking for a proposal that incorporated both educational and recreational elements and this design does exactly that" says Botanic Garden curator Mike Oates.

The redevelopment project will involve enlarging and partially reshaping the existing pond, developing a variety of water related garden settings near it and a series of trails and lookouts above it. A promenade complete with columns and a pavilion will be key features in the finished design and wetland gardens will be planted along the stream that feeds the pond.

The duck pond redesign project is estimated to cost $300,000 and will be funded largely by the Charles Plimmer bequest - with contributions from the Friends of Wellington Botanic Gardens and Wellington City Council.

Today we enjoy the result of the  largest ever transformation at the Pond. This is the first time that any development has been done in a planned manner as opposed to an informal ad hoc basis as in the past.

Duck Pond from the Treehouse balcony
Photo August 2006

An out of town gardening correspondent has been highly critical of Pond developments, but appears to be a lone voice as it is obvious that the local community was highly enthusiastic. The Council have done a splendid exercise in relation to concerns expressed at the danger to young children toddling out into deep water while feeding ducks. A thorough investigation was done, submissions called and an independent assessor was assigned to arbitrate. The outcome will see a low barrier to protect children without impairing the vista down the Main Drive.

Duck Pond February 2009

The pavilion was funded to th extent of $20,000 by the Friends of the Wellington Botanic Garden. 

In the magazine Landscape New Zealand (issue January/February 1997) it is noted that the design of the pavilion, instead of using the wooden bandstand which once overlooked the pond as a design reference , the 1875 tower building on the jetty of the nearby Karori Wildlife Sanctuary Reservoir provided a basis for the design of the new building, providing a strong visual feature from William Bramley Drive.  In keeping with historical associations, benches with iron castings from original seat designs found  elsewhere in the garden were reproduced in the seating around the promenade walls.

Curator Mike Oates expressed pleasure at the new feature as he saw the pavilion not just as a focal point at the end of the Main Drive but also as a feature between the formal aspects of the Main Garden and the informal trees and native bush of the Glen.

Duck Pond during Light and Sound Festival  January 2006

The October 1996 Friends Newsletter contained the following report on the official opening of the area -


After over two years of planning, designing then re-building, the Duck Pond area was formally opened by Mayor Blumsky on a beautiful spring morning, Saturday, September 21 1996. The scene was a happy one indeed for all those involved in this project, with many families attending and children enjoying the lovely day and the gas filled balloons issued to them. The calmness of the day was such that escaping balloons climbed high up into the sky with no change of direction!

In introducing the Mayor and accompanying dignitaries, Lady Holmes, President of the Friends of the Botanic Garden, paid tribute to all those involved - designers, builders, the curator Mike Oates and the Garden staff, and those who provided the finance for this project. Special mention was made of the contributions from the Plimmer Family Trust, Sir Walter & Lady Norwood, the BNZ North End Branch, along with donations and fund raising from the Friends of the Garden.

Lady Holmes speaking at the unveiling the plaque on the pavilion, which was donated by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens.
Curator Mike Oats left and
Mayor Mark  Blumsky right
Pavilion on opening day
Lady Holmes touched on the set backs that were encountered and the problems of resource consents, and the necessity to have safety steps included into the initial design. Advice was sought from many experts on a suitable design and a nation wide competition was set up in 1994 for members of the National Institute of Landscape Architects to submit ideas. The finished project was not to cost more than $250,000, and the successful winner of the competition was the Wellington company, Boffa Miskell & Co.

To complete the design, the Friends of the Garden decided that they would provide a pavilion to complement the finished area, and $20,000 was raised through fund raising with plant sales, book launches and activities in the Spring Festival. It was a proud moment for the Friends when Lady Holmes unveiled a plaque on the pavilion.

Comments heard at the opening were that this area now enhanced the total Garden area and was a very worthwhile project. The planting of irises and other water plants has now been carried out, and as soon as these have established the water in the pond will be raised, much to the delight of the duck inhabitants, to complete a very pleasant visual effect."

The redevelopment of this area has been very successful and it remains a focal point of the Main Garden.  On a nice summer day the seats surrounding the pool are all occupied, and children delight in feeding the ducks who make their home here.  During school holidays bread can cover the pond as she ducks cannot keep up with the supply, and to avoid attracting vermin, a grain vending machine is to be installed with the aim to rationalise bird feeding.