The Harry Ell Legacy
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.