The now defunct Thirty Thousand Club poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Napier's Marine Parade since the mid-1910s until the 1960s.

In the 1950s, the Napier Borough Council, especially Mayor Peter Tait, realised that a vibrant Marine Parade full of attractions would be a magnet for tourists and the club, of which he was a member, agreed.

In March 1956, it approached the Napier Council with an idea to create a boating lake, together with a penguin colony and seal pools. This was before the aquarium or Marineland was created.

A bequest from a woman, the late H W Thompson, provided the funds to begin the construction of the boating lake in 1958.


The penguin colony and seal pools were not a viable proposition, so only a 90 by 27 metre boating lake at a depth of 45cm, complete with two islands, was developed. It had no concrete base, just a "puddle clay floor".

Some ingenuity was required in order to afford boats for the lake, so 50 surplus, World War II aircraft drop tanks were purchased and converted into outrigger canoes and painted bright colours.

Funds for these, amounting to £260 (2018: $11,800), were provided by the Thirty Thousand Club.

The cost of the boating lake was £933 ($43,000) and it opened in 1959.

A small building was transported from Ahuriri for a ticket booth. It had no floor and was just plonked on the site.

By 1961, the converted drop tank outriggers were showing signs of wear and needed to be replaced.

The Napier City Council couldn't secure any more, so a council employee named McLachlan came up with a design for a plywood boat covered in a fibreglass sheath.

Apparently it was the first time in Hawke's Bay fibreglass had been used for a boat, and it needed some experimentation. If one was made every week, the old drop tank outriggers would be replaced by November 1962 at a cost of $60 each ($1300). The old boats were offered for sale in 1963.

During 1962, the large fish and castle, which became a feature on the two islands, would also be completed.

The aquarium would use the boating lake to gather food for its fish.

Boats were not the only things to float on the lake, and ducks began to make an appearance, which would prove fatal to nearly all of the ducklings born there. Attacks by dogs and people occurred.

The council made the decision to build a new boating lake (near where the aquarium is today) and this was opened in December 1975. The old one had already closed.

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Marineland, which was next door to the old boating lake, wanted to use the area for wild life and was given it. In September 1975 work began to convert the old boating lake into a bird sanctuary.

This would prove controversial, and objections were raised by many Napierites about keeping birds in captivity.

The wood and fibrolite fence that enclosed the sanctuary, with barbed wire at the top to deter vandals from climbing in, would create even more controversy.

Residents across the road complained that it blocked their sea view, while others thought it was visual pollution, woolly thinking, and irresponsible use of ratepayer money.

Mayor Clyde Jeffery said the fence was financed by Marineland and not the council, and he understood concerns that the fence would be permanent, but it was policy that no more buildings be erected along Marine Parade's foreshore.

Town Clerk Pat Ryan had said the fence was to be temporary until the council could afford a "decent one."

A petition to remove the fence gathered 1793 signatures.

The fence was removed in September 1976, except for an area closest to Marineland which would be used to house otters. The rest of the area had a wire mesh fence.

An announcement was then made that the old boating lake was going to be progressively developed by Marineland with the Parks and Reserves department.

In 1989, the Napier Round Table developed a Skate Park on the site of the old boating lake.

Today the old boating lake area forms part of a playground in the redeveloped Marine Parade.

• Regan Beckett kindly supplied some information for this article.

• Coming soon, Historic Hawke's Bay by Michael Fowler. A collection of his best articles 2016-2018

• Michael Fowler FCA ( is a chartered accountant and contract researcher of Hawke's Bay's history.