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The History of Mount Cook Pukeahu

The area around Mount Cook/Pukeahu has played an important part in the history of New Zealand / Aotearoa.

Importance for Māori

The hill, Mount Cook/Pukeahu has always been a special place for Māori living around Te Whanganui a Tara/Wellington Harbour.

  • pukeahu – means a sacred hill
  • puke - means hill
  • ahu – means a sacred mound used for ceremonies.

Pukeahu was used as a pā (fortified village) by Te Ati Awa, a tribe from Taranaki who settled in Te Whanganui a Tara. The slopes leading down to the harbour were gardens from the earliest times.

European Settlers

When European settlers arrived in 1840, they saw that Mount Cook/Pukeahu was a good place for defence so they built their army, police barracks and prisons there.

  • Prisoners made bricks from Mount Cook/Pukeahu clay soil.
  • The bricks were marked with an arrow and used to make buildings and walls on the hill
  • The European settlers called Pukeahu Mount Cook after Captain James Cook.

A National War Memorial

After the First World War the Government decided to build the National War Memorial on Mount Cook/Pukeahu in Wellington. The place was chosen because;

  • it had been a place for defence
  • a memorial tower would be seen from all around.

The National War Memorial tower includes a carillon. A carillon is a very big musical instrument made up of huge bells.

  • The Memorial Park Carillon has 74 huge bells which weigh a total of 70.5 tonnes
  • It is the third-largest Carillon in the world and is 51 metres in height.

The National War Memorial Carillon opened in 1932.

  • In 1932 it could be seen from any part of the city and by ships entering the harbour
  • Skyscrapers now block the view from the inner city of Wellington.


Mount Cook/Pukeahu is also an important place for education;
•    Mount Cook School was built there in 1875
•    Wellington High School and Massey University College of Creative Arts are also there.

Buckle Street

Many Wellington streets are named after the directors of the New Zealand Company, formed in 1823. John William Buckle was one of those directors.

  • Over the years Buckle Street has turned from a track into a wide road that is now part of State Highway One
  • State Highway One (SH1) is the longest road in New Zealand that goes right through the North and South Islands.
  • Buckle Street is part of SH1 that takes vehicles through Wellington to the airport.

Every year the Buckle Street part of SH1 has to be closed for memorial services at the National War Memorial.

  • The new road will be built in a tunnel underneath the park
  • It will be called the Memorial Park Underpass
  • It will not need to be closed during services.


An 1852 watercolour by John Pearse showing two small Māori figures heading up towards the Buckle Street army barracks. Image: Alexander Turnball Library.


Roadworks on the old Buckle Street in 1930. Can you see the cannon at the barracks gates? Image: Alexander Turnbull Library. Photo Evening Post Newspaper.


Archaeologists carefully excavated this gun pit at the Taranaki end of Buckle Street before the diversion road was built.

Find out more about how Anzac Day is commemorated in your local community.