To mark Queen's Birthday weekend, Peter Dragicevich explores some of the Kiwi parks and attractions named after our longstanding head of state.
There are Queen streets, Queen's parks and Queen's gardens the length and breadth of New Zealand, but most date to the Victorian era. Despite never visiting this most far-flung of her dominions, Queen Victoria had a whole town named after her (Queenstown) – as did her husband (Albert Town, near Wānaka) and her daughter-in-law (Alexandra). The early colonists threw the name of their queen around willy-nilly, even slapping it on maunga in Auckland and Wellington that already had perfectly good names of their own.
Attitudes have changed, and the naming of places after Elizabeth II has been much more judicious. You could even argue that it's surprising that there aren't more things named after her, given that she's been our head of state for more than a third of the modern nation's existence.
And the list has actually shrunk in recent years, but not due to any republican push. QEII Park was a casualty of the Christchurch earthquakes and Auckland's QEII Square disappeared under the new Commercial Bay development. Of those places dedicated to the present sovereign that remain, here are some well worth visiting.
Crown jewel of the Kāpiti Coast
Stretching between Paekākāriki and Raumati on the Kāpiti Coast, 638ha Queen Elizabeth Park was opened by its namesake during her first royal visit in the summer of 1953/54, mere months after her coronation.
This vast expanse of beach, dunes, wetland and farmland has a large holiday park at its southern end, an ancient pā site near its centre, and a visitor centre at the MacKays Crossing entrance with angular architecture that references both wharenui and the tents of the US Marines stationed here during World War II.
Our famously horse-loving Queen would no doubt be delighted that riding is one of the park's main attractions, with treks and pony rides offered by Kāpiti Stables, based within the park. Nearby, the Wellington Tramway Museum preserves and displays carriages that first traversed the capital's streets in the 1920s and '30s. On weekends you can take a ride in a heritage tramcar along a 2km track terminating at the beach.
Part of the expansive Queen Elizabeth Park in Kāpiti Coast. Photo / Kāpiti News
Of course, the beach itself is the biggest drawcard – a long sandy stretch gazing out to Kāpiti Island. There are also six substantial walking tracks, most of which are shared with bikes and horses. All are pushchair-friendly and one – the completely sealed Te Ara o Whareroa, which cuts through the centre of the park – is also accessible to wheelchair users.
Majesty in Masterton
As if to create a Tararua-filled Queen Elizabeth Park sandwich, the people due east in Masterton found themselves with an identically named park during that very same royal tour. However, this was an act of rebranding rather than renewal.
Masterton's Queen Elizabeth Park was actually founded during Victoria's reign, with its well-known cricket ground laid out by 1881. It is now one of the best and most child-friendly urban parks in Aotearoa, with a castle-like playground, a flying fox, a snazzy skatepark, a BMX track, a steam-powered miniature train and pedal-boat rides on the lake in summer. There is also a fenced-off deer enclosure, accessed by a swing bridge across the Waipoua River.
The popular kids playground at Queen Elizabeth II Park in Masterton. Photo / Supplied
Adding further incentive to visit are the excellent Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History and the Wool Shed Museum of Sheep and Shearing, both across the road.
Tauranga's titular honour
Memorial Park takes up 11ha of Tauranga's harbourfront, filled with playgrounds, a skate park, miniature railway, swimming pool, cenotaph, man-spreading Humpty Dumpty statue and an impressive illuminated fountain.
Added to the mix in 1967, the Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre is more practical than pretty. With the capacity to hold 2580 people, including 850 in grandstand seating, it's a major venue for indoor sports (basketball, volleyball, badminton, netball and, even, roller derby), along with live music and theatre shows.
Christchurch's splash palace
Queen Elizabeth II Park – affectionately known as QEII Park – was built to host the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Sadly, its stadium and pool complex were damaged beyond repair in the February 2011 earthquake and were dismantled the following year.
Built in 2018, the Taiora QEII Recreation and Sports Centre includes a gym, cafe and meeting rooms, but the big attraction is its substantial aquatic centre – particularly its big blue hydroslide. For the smaller kids, there's also a play pool with a less scary slide and an oversized bucket which periodically splashes water on squealing heads. More serious swimmers can swim laps in the 25m pool, then recuperate in the spa, sauna and steam room.
Incidentally, if you're travelling here from the west, chances are you'll drive along Queen Elizabeth II Drive. It's the major route linking Northcote with Burwood.
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz
- by Peter Dragicevich, NZ Herald