The Christchurch Gondola Opened – 24th October 1992

On 24th October 1992, the Mt. Cavendish Gondola was opened.  Twenty years in the making, the project became a survivor against court battles, public polls and a $11.5 million dollar construction bill.  After the opening, a new unseen problem made an appearance.   A name change was needed as the Gondola deemed hard to find – even for the locals.  Where is Mt. Cavendish?  The business was renamed to the Christchurch Gondola.

Despite this rocky start, locals and Christchurch visitors can now take the pleasant ride to the top of Mt. Cavendish.  The reward is to be able to look out over the patchwork of the greens and browns of the Canterbury Plains and view its capital: Christchurch.  If you are still in need to be impressed, the opposite view of Lyttelton Harbour and Banks Peninsula will certainly do the job.

445 metres above sea level, nineteen cabins can take up to 812 visitors to the summit within in an hour.  At top speed, the journey to the top takes only four and a half minutes.  After construction was finished, 16,000 tussock plants were returned to the site, along with the addition of new native flora.  The Gondola was closed after the Canterbury earthquakes and reopened in March 2013.

What is mostly forgotten concerns the bloody history that took place there 300 hundred years ago.  Before the Canterbury Association honoured one of its members – the Hon. Richard Cavendish – with naming this mountain after him in 1848, the mountain was known as ‘Oteteupoko’.  Oteteupoko means ‘a place of the basket of heads’.

Elder Ngai Tahu warrior Te Rangi-whakaputa lead a huge war party against the Ngati Mamoe, the then current iwi of Canterbury.  One by one, they sacked the settlements of Te Pataka o Rakaihautū (Banks Peninsula) and took ownership of the land by the spilling of Ngati Mamoe blood.  As Te Rangi-whakaputa’s war wakas sailed into Whanga-raupo (Port of Lyttelton) they cornered a pocket of the Ngati Mamoe on the beach there.  A bloody battle followed where all the Ngati Mamoe were slaughtered.

To make sure the remaining Ngati Mamoe understood the message that the Ngai Tahu were the new bosses in town, Te Rangi-whakaputa cut off a few of the dead warriors heads and placed them in a flax basket.  He carried them up to the top of Mt. Cavendish and placed them on the highest mount.  Here he made them an offering to the Ngai Tahu’s god of war.  As he towered over the bay that would become the port of Lyttelton, he said his offering was ‘he kai mo t era, mo te manu’ – food for the sun and for the birds.

* Image courtesy of The Elegant Variation –*

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