Major upgrade for popular visitor attraction
Published on 04 February 2021
Whanganui’s much-loved Durie Hill elevator is set to receive a major upgrade to its entrance as well as a maintenance overhaul of its lift car this month.
Whanganui District Council’s general manager, property, Leighton Toy, says the elevator will be closed to the public for around 12 weeks from 15 February, 2021.
He says, “While the council owns the site, the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust initiated the new entrance in the lead-up to the elevator’s 100th birthday celebrations in 2019 and then undertook the design and fundraising for a replacement for the entrance.
“The entrance project is an initiative of the Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust, with Whanganui District Council managing the demolition and build and undertaking maintenance work on the elevator at the same time.”
Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust member Bruce Falk led the project, along with fellow trustees Mary-Ann Ewing and Ann McNamara. Sadly Bruce Falk passed away at the end of 2019.
Bruce Dickson then took over the leadership of the project and Dennis McGowan joined the working group. Bruce Dickson says, “We are indebted to Bruce Falk for his work and vision. We also appreciate the organisations and individuals who contributed to this project including John Maihi, council staff, Step-up Durie Hill and local iwi who have all worked together to make this project possible.
“The New Zealand Lottery Grants Board contributed $140,000, Four Regions Trust $50,000, Whanganui District Council $50,000 and a fundraising dinner hosted and supported by the Red Lion Inn raised $3,500. In total around $245,000 has been raised to fund the construction.”
The designer of the new entranceway is graduate architect Henry Dickson. His design was chosen by the trust following public consultation and a competitive selection process.
New interpretative boards explaining the significance of the elevator and tower and their history will be placed on the walls of the entrance.
Bruce Dickson says, “Iwi have been consulted on the removal of the original carvings by Austin Brassel, which have been removed with proper ceremony and a new pou will be carved in due course, subject to funding.”
Leighton Toy says maintenance on the elevator itself has been scheduled to coincide with the construction of the new entranceway. “As it’s now over 100 years old, the elevator does need a bit of regular TLC and maintenance. With the closure of the entrance, we’ll take advantage of this time to do our annual inspection and give this wonderful piece of heritage engineering a thorough overhaul.”
The elevator, tunnel and tower are unique to Whanganui. The elevator is New Zealand’s only public underground elevator. It is one of only two in the world, which service a hill suburb in a town (the other is the Santa Justa Elevator in Lisbon, Portugal).
The Durie Hill Elevator is ranked by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 1 Historic Place.