The Boathouse

326 Wakefield Quay (State Highway 6), Stepneyville, Nelson

  • The Boathouse, Nelson.
    Copyright: John Warren. Taken By: John Warren. Date: 16/07/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1591 Date Entered 25th November 1982 Date of Effect 25th November 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 17332 (RT NL11B/883; 742687), Nelson Land District, and the building known as The Boathouse thereon.

City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 17332 (RT NL11B/883; 742687), Nelson Land District


The Boathouse, on Wakefield Quay, Nelson, was purpose-built in 1906 for the Nelson Rowing Club. It was designed by Nelson architect William Houlker and built on wharf piles over the sea. The building is historically and socially significant as an important part of Nelson community life for over a century while acting as a rowing clubhouse, scout hall, community venue and dancehall. Since the 1980s a strikingly successful community ownership model has ensured it has continued its contribution to the city. As its owners note, the Boathouse continues to hold ‘a special place in the heart of many a Nelsonian’. The building’s ornamental half-timbered effect, on the gable ends facing both the street and the sea, makes a significant aesthetic contribution to Nelson’s historic Wakefield Quay.

The rowing club’s new building was considered ‘a building worthy of the club and city and an ornament to the foreshore of the harbour’. Its opening was celebrated with a fancy dress ball. The building, built of native timber, had a gabled main hall, opening onto a tarred slipway leading to the sea, with two flat-roofed sections on either side, used for storage for about twenty boats and changing rooms.

The Rowing Club went into decline after the First World War, and the building and boats were purchased by the Iron Duke Sea Scouts troop in 1924, on the condition that the Scouts continued to foster outrigger rowing. The Sea Scouts had been formed in Nelson three years earlier, and were named for Viscount Jellicoe (1859–1935), who was both New Zealand’s Governor-General and Chief Scout from 1920-24. The Rowing Club revived a few years later and from the 1920s to the 1960s the building was a hive of activity as it was used by both groups for regattas, scout activity, and many public dances, and became an important part of the culture of Nelson.

In the late 1970s the two clubs shifted to new premises and the building was under threat of demolition. To save it, 25 Nelson residents purchased the building, to make it a shared family-friendly cultural and recreational space in 1986. The group carried out a major restoration in 1992-94 including replacing piles, rebuilding the front wall, constructing a new deck and kitchen, and removing the boat ramp. Where possible the original timber and fittings were reused.

The building has continued to be used both by its members and as a community function and meeting space, café, and venue for weddings and live music; in 2017 it was used by 500 people a week. In 2018, Cyclone Fehi severely damaged the building, lifting floorboards and damaging external fixtures. The owners, by then numbering over 280, rapidly raised the funds for its restoration, supported by music and local communities. The floor was completely replaced, the deck repaired, gangways installed, and a new kitchen installed. The building reopened in the same year and took up its place again in the social and community life of the city.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Houlker, William

Architect for the boathouse for the Nelson Rowing Club, 1906

Scott's Estate

Builder of the boathouse of the nelson Rowing Club, 1906

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

- 1921
Some internal renovations

- 1962
New room added onto the boat deck

1992 - 1994
Piles replaced, the old boat and deck ramp removed, the front wall rebuilt and new deck constructed

- 2018
Cyclone Fehi damaged the building. Major repairs, particularly to floor and decks

Completion Date

12th August 2019

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources


The Prow,

‘Nelson’s Boathouse’, The Prow website, , accessed 2 June 2019

Heritage New Zealand

Heritage New Zealand

Arnold, Naomi, ‘Sailing On’, Heritage New Zealand, Autumn 2019, pp.16-19

Anon, c.2018

Anon [Boathouse Society Ltd?],‘A Short History of the Boathouse, 326 Wakefield Quay, Nelson’, c2018, copy held on File 12009-2016, Heritage New Zealand Central Regional Office

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.