A short history of Ngaio and Crofton Downs
Before the arrival of European settlers, the Ngaio and Crofton Downs area was covered in native bush, which provided food and timber for Maori in the area. The area was one of the few sources of timber suitable for building waka. Trees would be harvested from the forest, and when the Kaiwharawhara Stream was full with rain the trunks would be floated down to the harbour.
The slopes of Mount Kaukau were particularly good for bird snaring, and the mountain’s name is a corruption of ‘kaka’, the native parrot. The nearest settlement was probably the Ngati Tama pa at Kaiwharawhara. A track ran from Kaiwharawhara through Ngaio to another pa at Ohariu.
In 1839, the New Zealand Company arrived in Wellington and purchased around 160,000 acres around the harbour, including the Ngaio and Crofton Downs area, from some of the Maori inhabitants. Ngati Tama soon left Kaiwharawhara for the Hutt Valley because their pa had not been set aside as a reserve, and their cultivations were being damaged by settlers’ cattle. However some Maori remained living in the area.
Roads and early settlement
Logging began in 1840, and logging tracks were formed which later became Crofton Road, Ottawa Road, and Awarua Street. The Maori track from Kaiwharawhara was widened to allow horses to travel along it. It was named the Bridle Track, and is still in existence today. Later in the decade the Old Porirua Road was built through Ngaio, and construction began on Ngaio Gorge Road.
Ngaio’s first house was built by Captain Daniell in 1843, and by 1846 there was a flour mill in the Ngaio Gorge, powered by a waterwheel. More land was cleared, and farms were established. One famous early resident was Sir William Fox, later Premier of New Zealand, who had a house at what is now 21 Kenya Street. In the 1840s and 1850s, Ngaio was known variously as the Old Porirua Road District, Upper Kaiwhara, or Trelissic, but commonly became known as Crofton. What is now Crofton Downs was known as Chartwell.
A large part of Crofton Downs was owned by the Kilmister family, which until recently still owned some of the hill land below the Crow’s Nest.
Part of Onslow County
The suburbs were initially part of Hutt County. Residents objected to money from a toll gate at Kaiwharawhara being spent on other areas, and so in 1890 the people of Kaiwharawhara, Ngaio, Khandallah and Wadestown successfully petitioned to form Onslow Borough. Notable Onslow Mayors included Robert Bradford Williams, an African-American barrister who had originally come to New Zealand as part of a minstrel choir. In 1919 Onslow Borough merged with Wellington City.
The railway and growth
Settlement in Ngaio was boosted by the construction of the railway through the area. This was originally part of the Main Trunk Line between Auckland and Wellington. The Ngaio part of the railway was later rerouted, and the Ngaio line was terminated at Johnsonville. The first decade of the twentieth century saw Ngaio acquire a church, shops and a school. The name of the suburb was officially changed from Crofton to Ngaio.
The 1916 census showed Ngaio with a population of 1,906, and in 1924 the Town Hall and Library Room was opened. The Progressive Association was formed and used the hall to show movies.
In 1925 the Bell Bus Company began a bus service from Ngaio and Khandallah to the city, further aiding settlement. The Railways Department began building houses for its workers in Tarikaka Street. Nairnville Park was formed in the early 1930s by unemployed relief workers, who filled in the hollow previously on the site.
Ngaio continued to expand, with state houses being built on Cockayne Road in the 1940s, and the community-built Kindergarten and Plunket Rooms opened in 1949.
Crofton Downs (then Chartwell) took longer to be developed, and the suburb still had dairy farms in the 1940s. The 1970s saw the opening of Chartwell School (later Crofton Downs School), and the Crofton Downs Mall.