The Harry Ell Legacy

Latitude Magazine - - NATURE -

Con­tin­u­ing in the foot­steps of en­thu­si­as­tic nat­u­ral­ist and vi­sion­ary Harry Ell, the man who worked tire­lessly to pre­serve the Port Hills for pub­lic en­joy­ment and was be­hind the for­ma­tion of the Sum­mit Road in the 1920s, the Sum­mit Road So­ci­ety has been watch­ing over the Port Hills for more than 70 years.

Grow­ing up on his fa­ther’s farm at Hal­swell,

Harry Ell developed a love of na­ture that stayed with him all his life. He un­der­took many ca­reers – in­clud­ing be­ing a mem­ber of the Armed Con­stab­u­lary in Taranaki – be­fore be­ing elected to par­lia­ment in 1899.

His great­est par­lia­men­tary suc­cesses sur­rounded pre­serv­ing New Zealand’s na­tive flora and fauna. There were fewer than 100 re­serves set aside for their scenic value when he en­tered par­lia­ment; this had swelled to more than 500 by the time he left par­lia­ment 11 years later.

Harry Ell’s dream for a Sum­mit Road in­cluded 15 rest houses along the way. Plagued by fi­nan­cial woes, only four were ever built – the Sign of the Kiwi, Sign of the Takahe, Sign of the Pack­horse and Sign of the Bell­bird. Sadly, he died with­out see­ing the Sum­mit Road com­pleted.

Dur­ing the Se­cond World War, the Sum­mit Road was sadly ne­glected and the build­ings fell into dis­re­pair. Up­set by what he saw, Harry Ell’s grand­son, John Jame­son, es­tab­lished the Sum­mit Road So­ci­ety to beau­tify the Sum­mit Road.

Since its inau­gu­ral meet­ing, it has been shap­ing pol­icy, pro­tect­ing the Port Hills from sub-di­vi­sions and hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, and un­der­tak­ing much of the hard man­ual labour re­quired to re­store and en­hance the Port Hills land­scape for ev­ery­one to en­joy.

Aside from its core roles, to­day, the Sum­mit Road So­ci­ety also owns the 150-hectare Ohine­tahi Re­serve near Gov­er­nors Bay, and a fur­ther 150 hectares of re­gen­er­at­ing bush and na­tive tus­sock land at Omahu Bush. Re­cently it also pur­chased the 233-hectare Linda Woods Re­serve, above the Horotane and Avoca Val­leys, named after cur­rent pres­i­dent Bill Woods’ late wife, Linda.

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