In June 1917, the new tea house at the summit of Dyer’s Pass was officially opened.
“The new house at Dyer’s Pass, now half an hour’s walk from the tram terminus, appears destined to be known just as the Rest House, although in some quarters it is called the Toll House. It is a tea house unique in New Zealand.” (Star, 9 June 1917)
The building, designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, was described in the Star as “An inviting flight of red stone steps leads to the entrance, an open porch, with big plate-glass windows at each end. Across the porch is a deep jarrah beam, bearing the quaint carved inscription:-”
Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a,
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a
The Sign of the Kiwi, as it would later be known, was the third of four rest-houses that had been envisaged by Harry Ell as part of the Summit Road Scenic Reserve scheme. Unlike the other rest-houses, the Sign of the Kiwi, was planned to include a toll-house with the collected tolls going towards the construction of the remainder of the road. The Kiwi also provided tearooms, which Harry’s wife, Ada, took over managing in 1920. The collection of tolls and the management of the tearoom attracted some controversy and Harry would often write to the local papers letting his feelings be known about this subject.
In the 1940s the building was closed by the Department of Lands and Survey with responsibility for it being handed over to the Christchurch City Council after 1948. The building was then used as a custodian’s house and modified so that the only public access was to the porch. In 1989 the council began restoration of the Sign of the Kiwi to its original state and it was opened again as a refreshment and information centre.
The building was damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake but after undergoing repairs it was reopened in January 2017.
Read more about the Sign of the Kiwi, Harry Ell and the Summit Road.
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