A video tour of Evan’s Bay and Porirua’s characterful boat sheds

These Wellington boat sheds – some of them important local landmarks – mean many things to many people.

Words: Rachel Helyer Donaldson Photos: Tom Collier

A collection of 36 boat sheds, dating from the late 1940s and 1950s and built in a mishmash of styles is a well-kept local secret. They’re tucked below the hilltop on the northwest side of the Pauatahanui Inlet along Porirua’s Camborne Walkway. A terrier, Moz, races up the leafy track to a lime green shed with a blue roof and a garden filled with wind chimes and bird feeders. This is the special place of Terrie Huege De Serville.

A small boat called Ella bobs out in front, and an old kayak and paddles hang from the rafters. Rugs, small chandeliers, a yellow Formica table and lipstick-red couches furnish the retreat of the former co-owner of Khandallah’s Café du Parc. Terrie has always loved little spaces, little retreats.

Now a caregiver to tetraplegic people, Terrie bought her shed in 2002 and met her long-term partner Mick Parker because he owned the boat shed next door. He built clinker dinghies in his shed; she cooked in hers.

“Like those old weather-house people, we’d poke our heads round and say, ‘tea’s up’.”

After Mick died of cancer 18 months ago, Terrie found it hard to return. More recently it’s become “a contemplative space”. She says the boat shed’s uncomplicated interior and the sheer beauty of its location makes it difficult to feel sorry for yourself for too long. When friends and family visit it’s a different space within seconds. Transformed. There are children swimming and barbecues on the go. “This is a place that houses life and celebrates it. Perhaps it’s its simplicity. There’s no great technology here; it’s just life.”


The boat sheds at Evans Bay are a much-loved part of the capital’s landscape and have been for almost 90 years. The striking green and red Havana Cruising Club shed, owned by Havana Coffee managing director Geoff Marsland, is a local icon. “I would go as far to say it is the most photographed building in Wellington,” says his boat shed neighbour, Jim Scott.

The colourful Havana Cruising Club shed  is an Instagram-worthy tourist attraction.

Jim, the co-owner of Scott Thomson Media, started renting his own shed in 2010, using it for his design, layout and editing work. He bought it in 2014. He won’t say what he paid but says that it was a bit less than one that went for $210,000 last year. “That’s a silly amount for just a box, really.”

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Jim’s shed is set up with a work computer and an orange Optimist in the corner is easily readied for a quick lunchtime sail. He’s down there most days as it’s just a bike ride away from his home.

Jim Scott’s Evans Bay “office” is a bike ride away from his home.

The shed occasionally floods and the wild Wellington weather means it can be cold working there in winter and even, sometimes, “downright scary”. But the thing Jim loves about being there is that he simply doesn’t get sick of going into work, unlike a normal office. There’s always something going on, whether it’s boats floating by, planes going off or even seagulls scavenging for scraps. “It never feels the same.”

Jim Scott in his boat shed. He initially worked out of his neighbour Geoff Marsland’s landmark green and red Havana shed next door when producing his 2010 documentary, Sam Hunt: Purple Balloon, with film-maker and Havana Coffee Works co-founder Tim Rose.

Jim and his mates have a vinyl club there, playing records, “old and new, from across the musical stratosphere”, once a month. Summer is when the shed comes into its own. “All I do is open the door and jump into the sea, and then I just get back to work.”

Sue Dempsey had a pretty dramatic induction as a new boat shed owner in Evans Bay in 2002. In a king tide, the shed tended to flood, so Sue decided to get it re-piled.

Unfortunately, and rather traumatically for Sue, the boat shed fell into the water, hit the sea floor and was smashed up. A friend rescued the deck and dragged it back to land – a photo opportunity for the local newspaper, The Dominion Post. Then the harbourmaster rang with further mortifying news: her hot-water cylinder was in the bay and posing a shipping hazard. “That was the all-time low.”

Sue Dempsey loves her Evans Bay shed’s “million dollar” view.

Now safely re-piled, the pale blue boat shed is currently the brainstorming headquarters for Sue and business partner Janice Kirkwood. The pair owned the bustling Caffe Astoria for 21 years and now work as hospitality consultants. They use the boat shed as the headquarters for their latest venture, Eating Tokyo, which leads small travel groups around the Tokyo foodie scene. “We come down here and do our fun work,” says Sue.

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The duo are currently planning for their next tours, in May and June 2018, taking guests to the city’s hard-to-find eateries, izayaka (gastropubs) and food halls and markets, says Janice. “We’ve been so many times we know our way around all these cool little restaurants and neighbourhoods.”

Inside the light and airy space with its pale walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and stylish plywood joinery are touches of retro in a 1970s veneer turntable and a Crown Lynn swan. Sue has spotted little blue penguins and dolphins from the deck. “Whether it’s a beautiful day or a moody, stormy one, it’s a fantastic outlook.”

Sue and business partner Janice Kirkwood do their “fun work” at the shed, like planning gourmet tours to Toyko.

Bill Thomson, who owns the boat shed next door to Sue, is a keen kayaker who has been paddling in Evans Bay since the late 1970s. He purchased his shed in 1998 and uses it mostly for boat storage. Over the years, it’s been great for the entire family’s paddling enthusiasms. “It has a private beach and it’s easy for launching kids.”

Bill visits several times a week to go kayaking. Earlier this year, he was going out every day, training for the canoe slalom at the World Masters Games in Auckland. In winter, he paddles in the dark after work. His only encounter with a dolphin was one night after a three-metre great white was spotted in the harbour. The dolphin stayed with him until he was out of the water. “Maybe it knew there was something odd out there.”

The building’s glass doors were once windows in a 1920s primary school.

Bill was a model-maker for Weta Workshop for 20 years, working on films including The Lord of the Rings and Avatar. Now he works for the 3D design studio Human Dynamo and lectures in animatronics at Massey University. He sometimes uses the shed for tinkering and preparation for his student workshops.

Model-maker Bill Thomson in his shed. He has been kayaking in Evans Bay since the late 1970s.

These days a lot of boat shed owners plasterboard their walls, but Bill likes to see the bones of the timber framing. “I quite like the shed-dy feel. It’s a shed more than a living space and it shows
the history.”

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The blue carpet on the walls is for insulation. Bill also built a gangplank for clambering down to the beach and invented his own text-message device to turn on the heating remotely.

Step across the shiny brass threshold of Wayne Davies’ boat shed on Onepoto Road, on the Porirua Harbour, and enter a cave of treasures telling of a life at sea.

The Onepoto Road sheds are one of two boat shed communities at Titahi Bay.

Wayne, 64, was a seaman gunner for the Royal New Zealand Navy for 20 years and worked on freighters and interisland ferries. A blackened sugar bowl recovered from the wreck of the Wahine sits on the bar. Other marine memorabilia includes lifebuoys from the GMV Aranui and MS Santa Regina and two bunks from the HMNZS Otago. “Everything means something to me.”

A family friend, Graham Lindsay, built the yellow boat shed in the 1950s. Wayne used to moor his 12-metre launch in the bay and when Graeme offered to sell him the boat shed in 1994, he jumped at the chance. “I had to buy it, it was so handy.”

He’s been approached several times to sell, but says that’s unlikely as he nears permanent retirement. “That’s what I want it for, it’s my man cave.” There’s always maintenance to do, little jobs. He relaxes by reading in his rocking chair, cranking up his music and enjoying the company of a few mates. “We have a couple of beers, swing the lantern and tell lies.”

Former seaman gunner Wayne Davies at ease.

His favourite recollections are of family get-togethers, barbecues and parties. The biggest gathering seen at the shed was a wake for his partner Kathryn’s brother, Dan Peoples. “There are a lot of memories tied up in that boat shed for our family.” Four years ago he was diagnosed with a tumour in his throat. He’s now all clear, but having cancer has put a whole new perspective on life.

Meanwhile, the boat shed holds all his memories good and bad, he says. “It all comes flooding back. But it’s comforting to come down; it’s the peace and quiet. I’m happy with my own company here, but I quite enjoy having someone else to talk to or just to have a beer with.”

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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