The Sign of the Kiwi

Designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, and built 1916-1917, the Sign of the Kiwi is one of the rest houses constructed as part of Harry Ell’s Summit Road vision.

Sign of the Kiwi
Sign of the Kiwi. Creator (cre): Darryl Tong, Contributor (ctb): Darryl Tong. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In 1909 the Summit Road Scenic Reserves Board was formed to promote Harry Ell’s vision of a road to provide public access to all parts of the Port Hills. Ell also advocated the provision of rest houses along the Summit Road.

The Sign of the Kiwi was designed by architect Samuel Hurst Seager who also designed two other smaller rest houses, the Sign of the Packhorse and the Sign of the Bellbird. Seager was a major proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Sign of the Kiwi reflects this stylistic convention. An important landmark on the crest of the Port Hills, the design of the Kiwi strives to blend into the setting of the natural environment, a design philosophy in keeping with the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Opened in 1917, Sign of the Kiwi operated as a tea room, hostel and toll house. Between 1920 and 1926 Harry Ell and his wife Ada lived in the cottage with Ada running a successful tearoom and Harry working as the tollgate keeper. During the 1920s motorists began to complain that the tollgate meant they were paying road maintenance tax twice and the Heathcote County Council eventually removed it.

During the Second World War the rest house was closed. In 1948 it was taken over by the Christchurch City Council and later used as a custodian's residence. Renovations began in 1986–1987 and in 1989 the Sign of the Kiwi was registered by Heritage New Zealand as a Category I historic place. It underwent a restoration programme that saw the interior returned to Seager's original architectural and aesthetic intent and its original function as a teahouse.

With the added visitor information centre, Sign of the Kiwi was popular with residents and tourists alike until the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–2011 put it temporarily out of commission.

Closed for nearly six years after the earthquakes, the Sign of the Kiwi was repaired and strengthened to 67 per cent of the New Building Standard during 2016. It officially re-opened as a café and visitor centre on 23 January 2017 only to be immediately threatened by the Port Hills fires. It survived the fires unscathed and reopened again in March 2017.