Coast |

Three beaches.
Oriental Bay.


Three bays, three beaches, one headland, and a rocky outcrop and reef – this fully designed and engineered outcome for Wellington deftly balances the scale of the coast with the feel of the inner city.

Below Three control points maintain the integrity of the beaches. The first is an abstracted headland that extends 60 metres into the harbour. The second is a series of large, carefully placed rocks that extend from the concrete sea wall. The third is an artificial reef, completely hidden underwater. Early headland models were used to measure the effects of tidal processes.

Oriental Bay takes its name from the Oriental, the ship that landed colonists in Wellington in January 1840. Today, on one of the capital’s oft touted ‘good days’ it is three small gold-sand beaches that await visitors seeking fun and recreation.

For much of the Wellington’s history, there wasn’t much beach at Oriental Bay – and what little beach that did exist was man-made from the ships’ ballast material unloaded there. In the early 2000s it was only a beach at high tide – with the beach a coarse, three-metre strip of sand, despite ‘top-ups’ that were swiftly eroded by the prevailing northerly wave movement.

Left A Brian Brake photograph depicting the popularity of Oriental Bay in 1963. The beach had a history of being replenished with sand. In 1945, for instance, the bay was replenished with 8,000 cubic metres of sand from the United Kingdom’s Bristol Channel (which arrived here as ship’s ballast). By the turn of the millennium, the beach had largely disappeared.

At Oriental Bay today there is a new beach ecosystem, put in place by a multi-disciplinary team that identified and worked to correct the coastal processes that were stripping the bay of sand. Early schemes for Oriental Bay depicted one long beach. The design team however, opted instead for three smaller beaches (each informed by the history and scale of Wellington’s coast) with three control points – a new headland located 60 metres out into the harbour; a series of large, carefully placed rocks that extend from the concrete sea wall; and a submerged reef – put in place to prevent the loss of new sand.

“Variables in the coastal engineering equation are complex. The environment is delicate but also hostile and destructive. Work in this area requires balance and expertise.”
— Richard Reinen-Hamill, Tonkin & Taylor

Left Plans showing the layering of the pre-cast concrete elements required to construct the headland at the city end of Oriental Bay.

Below To replenish and enlarge the beaches, 10,000 cubic metres of coarse sand was mined from a bluff in Golden Bay and barged across Cook Strait.

The headland, thanks to masses of stacked, pre-cast concrete slabs, is the most striking intervention. It juts out into the water at an angle predetermined by the coastal modelling and is anchored by a long timber pier aligned with Oriental Parade and Freyberg Pool. This is a space for sitting and climbing (there are also ramps to allow less able-bodied to enjoy the setting) and you can access the edge, where sea flora and fauna occupy the artificial rock pools that often wear a carpet of lurid green algae.

Left Competitors in the 2.8-kilometre New Zealand Ocean Swim’s Capital Classic await starting orders.

Above The stacked concrete forms of the headland. The slabs offer a variety of spaces where people can sit, sunbathe, climb and explore. Ramps allow disabled access to the water’s edge and, as the tide falls, it exposes successive rock pools.

In tandem with the coastal works at Oriental Bay, an upgrade to the playspace was also undertaken and a new amenity block was constructed. The foreshore was widened (an ice cream and coffee outlet has been tucked into the long concrete ramp that rises to meet the promenade), and the globe lamp standards, kerb extensions and tree planters were removed to strengthen the broad sweep of asphalt that runs between the existing sea wall and the street. New lighting positioned in trees reduces the need for additional vertical structures, and, in fact, the only new addition has been new furniture that sits, facing out to the harbour, awaiting the visitors that this refreshed part of the city now attracts in abundance.

“The headland is a beach control point but, to us, it’s a landscape feature, an abstracted headland. It’s not natural but concrete, yet seals use it, there’s seaweed, fish and algae; there’s people. It has a new ecology.”
— David Irwin, Isthmus


Team Members
David Irwin, Nik Kneale,
Past Team Members

Tim Fitzpatrick, Justin Morey

Lead Consultant
Tonkin & Taylor

Architecture Workshop

Brian Perry Civil

Wellington City Council

2006 NZILA – Supreme New Zealand Award for Architecture
2005 Ministry for the Environment – 2005 ‘Year of the Built Environment’
2005 Supreme Winner International Federation of Landscape Architects – Excellence Award
2005 Association of Consulting Engineers (ACENZ) Innovative NZ Gold Award
2005 Wellington Civic Trust Award
2004 NZILA – George Malcolm Supreme Award New Zealand Recreation Association 2004 Outstanding Project Award