Explore the house and garden that inspired Katherine Mansfield

by Redmer Yska / 13 November, 2018
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The house where Katherine Mansfield was born. Photo/Getty Images

Our greatest writer's Wellington home offers a rare glimpse into her late-Victorian world.

Tinakori Rd, a spine of asphalt running from Thorndon Quay to the Botanical Gardens, is Katherine Mansfield territory. She lived here twice on the cusp of the 20th century, striding through a raw, blustery landscape she’d weave into stories such as The Garden Party. These days, however, Thorndon is Jacinda Ardern country. Today’s visitor is more likely to inquire about the chance of a “selfie” with our Prime Minister, currently resident, together with her partner, Clarke Gayford, and baby Neve, at Premier House at 260 Tinakori Rd. Gayford confesses the first family have barely had time to check out their new location. “We've only ventured up Tinakori Rd a couple of times. The antique and curio shops have been catching my magpie eye but I haven’t had time to explore properly yet,” he told the Listener. Their spacious, tree-shrouded residence back from the road is often remembered locally as a dental clinic. Premier House remains off-limits to the public, though an occasional open day draws big crowds. Mansfield, then 19, took tea there in 1908 as she prepared to leave New Zealand for the last time. Prime Minister Joseph Ward’s daughter Eileen’s “afternoon of activities” included fortune-telling and, bizarrely, a pig-drawing competition.

Walk this historic roadway, starting at Mansfield’s squat wooden birthplace at No 25. Today a tourist pit stop, the place has been rebranded “House and Garden”. Open Tuesday to Sunday (10am to 4pm, entrance free), the house offers a rare, fascinating glimpse of her late-Victorian world, especially when you consider the zigzag immortalised in The Wind Blows still winds down the nearby hill.

Cross busy Molesworth St, past wooden villas. Today’s scrappy gardens are nothing like those in Mansfield’s story Weak Heart: “You could see, as you ran by, whose daffys were out, whose wild snowdrop border was over and who had the biggest hyacinths, so pink and white, the colour of coconut ice.”

Mansfield.

Below the Hawkestone St turn-off is the site of the now-demolished white wedding cake mansion that was her second Tinakori Rd address. From here, young Kath looked onto the workers' cottages below, inspiring The Garden Party. A heritage trail panel by the car repair shop at No 130 fleshes out the history.

Continue up to the road. Hillside Kitchen and Cellar at 241 Tinakori, across the road from Premier House, makes a good espresso. This zingy local cafe has recently had a makeover and gone “meatless”. “I've been watching their refurb with much interest,” Gayford says. “We’re looking forward to trying it out.”

This article is sponsored by Wellington Tourism.

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