Centre of New Zealand Walk

What is it with Nelson? First game of rugby, centre of New Zealand…are we just showing off, or can we truly make these claims to fame? It’s a ‘Yes and No’ answer, and one that you can learn about with a pleasant walk that also gives you a view of the city and coastline, taking you into Nelson’s leafy Maitai River valley.

Find the Botanics Reserve, set aside by the early settlers, at the end of Hardy Street. An interpretation panel, shaped like rugby ball and goal posts, will tell you all about the history of the playing field.

Centre of New Zealand

The Centre of New Zealand on Botanical Hill is one of Nelson’s most popular walks. The starting point is the Botanical Reserve, over a footbridge from the end of Hardy Street, or you can start at the Nelson Visitor Information Centre and follow the Maitai Walkway to the Hardy Street footbridge. Take a look at the interpretive panel at the bottom of the hill for some views of Nelson over the last century, and the history of this ‘Village Green’.

To reach the Centre of New Zealand will take 20-60 minutes, depending on your age, speed and fitness. The main track is suitable for sturdier push chairs and buggies. At the top take a seat, enjoy the stunning view and pick out the features of Nelson’s geography from the information panels.You can go downhill on one of the other tracks on the Botanical Hill, or opt to head along the hillside to Walters Bluff. A good summer option is to take your togs, walk down the eastern side of the hill to Branford Park, have a swim at Black Hole and take the Maitai Track back to your starting point.

The name reflects the work of John Spence Browning the Chief Surveyor for Nelson in the 1870's.  He used the top of the hill as a central survey point for doing the first geodetic survey of New Zealand when earlier isolated surveys where combined.  A survey in 1962 located the centre of New Zealand at 41deg. 30min S., 172deg. 50min E., which is a point in the Spooners Range in the Golden Downs Forest. The survey did not include the Chathams.

Is it really the Centre of New Zealand?

In the early days of European settlement in New Zealand, independent surveyors made isolated surveys that were not connected up. In the 1870s, it was decided to connect these up by a geodetic survey (one that takes into account the curvature of the earth) and John Spence Browning, the Chief Surveyor for Nelson was the only surveyor with the practical experience to do the job. Because he was located in Nelson he was instructed to begin the job here and to extend the survey south to the West Coast.

Later it was connected up to surveys from Canterbury. Using the triangulation method to make the survey, Browning took the easily accessible Zig Zag track to the summit of the Botanical Hill and made this the starting point for the apex of his first set of triangles. The base line for the triangle was laid out in what is now Rutherford Street, between Examiner St and Haven Rd.

So where is the centre?

In 1962 the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research conducted a gravity survey that took in Stewart Island, the North and South Islands, and the smaller inshore islands, but not the Chathams. This survey located the centre of New Zealand at 41deg. 30min S., 172deg. 50min E., which is a point in the Spooners Range in the Golden Downs Forest.

Rugby origins

Sir David Monro was one of Nelson’s founding fathers and in 1867 sent his 16 year old son Charles ‘home’ to finish his schooling. Rugby had been ‘invented’ by William Webb Ellis and had spread to universities, clubs and other schools. When Charles Monro came back to New Zealand, he talked the Nelson Football Club into ditching the round ball and the hybrid of soccer they had been playing. Rugby was played by teams of 20, and points were scored only by kicking goals. The aim was to touch the ball down, which gave the team the right to have a ‘try’ at a goal. The first game of rugby in New Zealand was played in Nelson on 14 May, 1870, between the Nelson club team and Nelson College.

Find out more about Nelson as the birthplace of New Zealand rugby.