The History of Henley Lake and Wetlands Site


RUAMAHANGA AWA (from the Henley Lake Park Management Plan 1998)
    At Tawera, below Rangitumau, stood the first pa built in this area – the paa Heipipi. It was one of the 25 marae built along the rier by Ngati Hamau sub tribe of Rangitumau and Te Whiti.
    The river in the old days meant everything to the people. It was their food basket, from where they gathered their tuna, koura, kakahi and inanga (eels, crayfish, freshwater mussels and native trout). It gave life and strengeth and it gave spiritual healing. Children were baptised in the old ways known only to the elders of the past. When Christianity came to Wairarapa the people were baptised into the many faiths of today's world.
    Today a vein from the Ruamahanga river flows into Henley Lake, leaving behind the enjoyment and pleasure that it once gave to the people of the past. The old people had a saying when the iwi had a problem: "Waiho ki te awa ka-ora-nga kaingata katoa." Leave it to the river to heal mankind.
    From Henley lake, that vein flows back to its body to give pleasure to other people of Wairarapa.

HENLEY LAKE'S EARLY HISTORY (from the Wairarapa Archive Website.)
    Masterton is one of the oldest inland towns in New Zealand. It has no natural lake nearby and for many years its citizens and politicians looked for ways to create some 'ornamental waters'. A water supply dam on Lansdowne Hill, behind the Hansells factory, was a popular site from the 1890s until 1924 when it was destroyed in a flood.
    The Masterton Park lake was formed in the early 1900s, on land recently added to the park. This land was used to create some 'ornamental waters'. A horse-drawn scoop was used to remove the stony soil from the bed of what was to become the lake, then clay was added to ensure that the bottom of the lake was "puddled" in. A line was taken from the Waipoua River (which then ran a lot closer to the park than it does today) and Masterton's first ornamental lake was created.
    In the 1930s a group of local people led by Henry Major, farmer Jack Bennett and Wairarapa College teacher Harry Glen formed a Geological Society, to study local natural history. On one of their trips they studied some of the waste lands on the northern banks of the Ruamahanga River, and came to the conclusion that this land would be suitable for a fresh water lake. It then housed a small dairy farm and a sewage disposal system for Lansdowne. The land Henry Major had in mind would be best described as 'between the confluence of the Waipoua and Ruamahanga Rivers'
    In 1966 Henry Major revisited his dream of creating a fresh water lake for Masterton. He convinced a number of his fellow citizens of the worthiness of the plan, and formed the Henley Trust with Eric Hodder, Jim Long, Don Spiers, Jack Mackley, Bob Dunderdale, and John Maunsell.
    The name itself probably gives some indication of the motivation of those involved. They were very keen to create a lake of at least 100 acres, large enough to hold rowing regattas, and for small yachts to use. The name 'Henley Lake' came from Henry Major. Henry had taken law at Cambridge and followed the Cambridge/Oxford Boat race enthusiastically. He was most impressed with the Henley Stretch of the Thames where this took place and as he hoped his lake would be big enough for rowing regattas gave it the name 'Henley Lake'.
    The basic concept was very simple. The trustees intended to mine the gravel found just underneath the surface of the soil and to use the royalties derived to fund the further development of their lake.
    In 1972 the Masterton Borough Council decided the scheme was to be part of the town's facilities, and gave its backing. The Masterton County Council also gave their support for the scheme, as did the relevant government authorities. The first plans for the future lake were also drawn at this time and show a large lake filling almost all the site now occupied by the lake and the wetlands.
    During the 1970s and 1980s the gravel was mined from the site and large empty pockets created. In 1982 the Masterton Licensing Trust announced they supported the plans for the development, giving it their "Major project" status. The Henley Trust was keen to make the most of the opportunity they were offered, and engaged Wellington landscape consultants Boffa Jackman and Associates to develop a concept plan. The plan called for a 'Fantasyland' style development, complete with miniature trains, paddle steamers, and was met with community opposition. Many people thought that the idea was grandiose and a more passive style of facility was called for. In the end the plans were modified.
    Even before the Boffa plan, the 100 acre lake was stymied. The Wairarapa Catchment Board had strong reservations about the sustainability of a large lake and a smaller version, of about 30 acres, was created.
    Between 1981 and 1991 basic land development was carried out, including the formation of Lakeland with the lake, small beach and adjoining mini lake for birdlife. Stream supplying water from the lake to four wildernessland lakes for birdlife, undulating grassed land with planned planting of trees and shrubs over the whole area, with various amenities and services. The Masterton Licensing Trust provided a major grant of $120,000 towards the development of the project. In 1989 the Masterton Charitable Trust donated $250,000 to back up the Inkster Plan, with the assistance of the Masterton Borough Council. The Henley Complex would never have come to fruition without massive financial support from the original Licensing Trust, and it is important that this contribution is acknowledged in this history.
    In 1985 local engineer George Evans drew the final plans for the lake and a contract was let for the construction. In 1987 a tree lover's appeal was started and over 3000 trees were planted around the lake. In 1988 the waters were opened and the lake was filled for the first time. As an added attraction over 1500 rainbow trout were officially placed into the lake. They were soon joined by a flood of unofficially released perch.
    Masterton architect Neil Inkster joined the trust in the late 1980s. His input was substantial, and he designed many of the lake features.
    Excavation of the lake began in 1986 and the lake was filled in 1987. The big tree planting day was on Sept 5th 1987. Tree selection and lay out of plantings was organized by Murray King, Catchment Board Conservator, and Jim Pottinger, a Farm Forestry man.
    In 1992 the administration of the lake was handed over to the Masterton District Council. This hand over was always intended, but happened then because many of the original trustees had died and the original Henley Trust virtually ceased to exist. Since then a number of groups have been involved in various projects around the lake and the wilderness areas.

Original Structures (From the Management Plan 1998)
Boat Shed: A 4-bay pole construction building located in the northern carpark was developed as a boat shed. The building was designed to allow for meeting rooms to be built on top in the future.

Shelters: Two lakeside sheltered seats were formed at a Summer School Log Building Seminar and reconstructed on site. The roofing shingles were manufactured on site using the Queen Elizabeth Park Redwood butt as raw material.

Light Towers: Two towers were erected on the lake edge, designed by architect, Neil Inkster. They provide a raised viewing platform for events. Access is limited for safety reasons.
Farm Barn: This is an open barn structure with a secure loft. The farm in the south-west corner was originally run by Hiona School. The ongoing commitment to this became too much, and the school's association with the farm ceased. The land was used by the Rare Breeds' Association for some years.

Bird Hides: Two substantial timber buildings were built to offer shelter and comfort from which to view the various water fowl and birds. (Both these hides were burnt down in arson attacks.) The bird hides have now been replaced with the Bird Observation Tower.

Playground: A small collection of conventional children's play equipment is sited beside the carpark off the Colombo Road entrance.
Beach: A beach has been formed with coastal sand as an adjunct to the lake.

Model Farm : Hiona Intermediate School were originally managing the farm and barn area. The school was responsible for the welfare of the animals.

Statues: Several donated stone sculptures were sited around the Lake. These were from one of the last Hansells Sculpture awards. Most of these are still standing.

    In 2003, the new Trust was formed, under the Chairmanship of Tenick Dennison. Tenick had been involved at Henley Lake over a number of years and felt that a new impetus was needed to carry on the work of the 1980s. Very little tree planting had been done since that time, and the ponds were becoming silted and unattractive to birdlife.
    The new Trust was formed in 2003, and the members were mostly recruited from the Masterton Rotary Club, with a couple of exceptions.
    Meetings with the Masterton District Council were held, and it was agreed that the trust would work in partnership with the MDC to further develop this wonderful Lake and Wetlands with the surrounding parklands.
    Masterton Rotary Club contributed towards the lime paths which now surround the main lake, loop around the river, and down into the southern most corner through the wetlands. They also provided the popular gas barbecue which is situated just off the Te Ore Ore Road entrance.
    The new Trust had many plans. A Friends Group was set up and attracted a number of people keen to help with planting and general maintenance. Planting plans were drawn up to cover the next 4-5 years, and groups from Lakeview School, Friends, St Patrick's School, Douglas Park School, Idea Services, Conservation Day, and Farm Forestry have been involved in developing different areas.
    People were enthusiastic about a plan to donate seats and these are now plentiful and well used by the many walkers. (See list of donated seats below.)
The Henley Trust has received grants from many different sources, see the list under "Sponsors". There is a board inside the Men's Shed which acknowledges many of our sponsors.
    There are notice boards which are kept updated by Trustees with information about what is happening in the Henley Lake area, the birdlife, the flora, and plantings.
    Henley Lake and Wetlands is in good hands, with many hardworking volunteers. If you would like to be one of this bunch, then contact us through the "Henley Trust" contact button on the Home page of our website.