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HISTORY OF ŌTARI-WILTON’S BUSH
When Wellington farmer Job Wilton decided to fence off seven hectares of native bush on his property in 1860, he did a great thing. He’d witnessed the felling of forest for milling and creating farmland and realised such tracts of pristine bush were in danger of disappearing. When they lived there, the Wilton family were vigilant overseers, ensuring no one let fire ravage their patch.
The area became known as Wilton’s Bush and was popular with picnickers who were encouraged to enjoy the stream and bushwalks.
Having been sold in 1906 by Job to the Wellington City Council, Wilton’s Bush came under its protection. Ōtari Native Reserve was purchased and added, making it 100 hectares of native forest (including 800-year-old rimu) and a five-hectare plant collection.
In 1926 the site became known as Ōtari Open-air Plant Museum, and its first director was botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne.
In 1999, the place became known as Ōtari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton’s Bush Reserve or Ōtari-wilton’s Bush for short. Most people call it Ōtari these days.
Ōtari-wilton’s Bush is the largest remnant of old growth native forest on the Wellington Peninsula and the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants.
Ōtarikākā (Ōtari) means ‘the place of snares to trap kākā,’ so for Māori, it was a mahinga kai, a place for gathering food.
The Kaiwharawhara Stream area was valued by both Ngati Tama and
Te Ati Awa. Forest tracks link coastal areas in Wellington and Mākara for food gathering. Local Māori gather forest plants seasonally and once cultivated crops such as kumara on north-facing slopes. Native birds like kīwī, kēreru, and tūī were also prized.
When European settlers arrived around the 1840s, the land around Wellington controversially acquired and was subdivided and sold. The land in this area was part of a 500-acre block, set aside for Māori, called Ōtari Native Reserve.