A Brief History of Cuba Street, Wellington

The Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street
The Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street | © orinoko42/Flickr
Thalita Alves

These days, Wellington’s Cuba Street is never short of entertainment. New Zealand visitors might know the street for its dynamic and bohemian flair, but its past is just as interesting as the present. Come take a brief look at the history of this compelling capital city icon.

Cuba Street in the 19th century

On January 4, 1840, an early settler ship called Cuba reached the shores of Wellington. The vessel brought some of New Zealand’s many European pioneers, but not the first families to reside on the street named in its honour. In fact, the Tonks family, known as the very first Cuba Street dwellers, arrived in Wellington in 1842. The family eventually began buying up property throughout the city: one of them, William Tonks, established various brickyards in 1847 and also became renowned for his harbour reclamation work in 1866. Over the years, a number of streets were named after members of the Tonks family: including Arthur Street, Tonks Grove (formerly Tonks Ave), and Frederick Street.

Even in its earliest days, Cuba Street was a hub of activity. A local market was established for country folk to sell their produce. The street also consisted of two grocers, a butcher, a violin maker, a bell hanger, a locksmith, a painter, a draper, a boot shop, and a pub called The Nag’s Head Inn. Notable shops that can still be seen in present times include Te Aro House, a former department store which opened in 1868, the Nees Hardware building (opened circa 1874), and Hannah’s footwear, which was established in 1868 and received a Cuba Street store a few years later. Unfortunately, many of the street’s buildings were wiped out by a fire in 1879, including the Royal Oak Hotel, which was an infamous fixture at the time for housing Wellington’s gay community.

Cuba Street, Wellington, 1939

Cuba Street has seen a lot of changes since its inception. An evolving tram network was essential in shaping the way the street looks and operates today. From 1878-1879, a steam tram began making the rounds from Pipitea Station to Vivian Street via Cuba Street. By 1880, horse-drawn trams were the norm, but were quickly phased out with the arrival of electric trams, which ran through the street until May 1964. A year later, in 1965, Cuba Street was closed off to remove the unused tramlines.

By 1969, increasing public demands to permanently close part of Cuba Street to traffic led to the opening of Cuba Mall. The car-free shopping area, which stands between Ghuznee and Dixon Streets, received its famous Bucket Fountain installation that same year. These days, the mall is among one of Wellington’s busiest pedestrian areas and the Bucket Fountain has become a popular attraction among Wellingtonians and passing visitors.

Cuba Street Mall

From heritage buildings to contemporary treasures

Cuba Street was registered as a historic area by Heritage New Zealand in 1995. Currently, there are more than 40 heritage buildings along the street, many of which have been well-preserved and earthquake strengthened. Cuba Street attracts all sorts of crowds, including buskers, artists, musicians, and students. The street is now home to numerous bars, cafes, a weekly night market and even its own annual festival. Retailers embrace the alternative culture in its surrounds, with vintage shops and rustic establishments featuring heavily along the Mall and the open stretches of roads.

The Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article