Tira Ora - Past and Present
‘Tira Ora’ is a phrase in the Maori language, meaning “where travellers find life and sustenance”. It was a regular stopping point for Maori on the “highway” of Te Hoiere (i.e., Pelorus Sound) from the North Island through to the Wairau and Rai valleys, and beyond.
The valley and bay provide abundant fresh spring and river water; animals, birds, fish and shellfish for hunting and fishing; and a wide variety of plants for eating, building, and medicinal purposes. Maori artefacts and fire pits have been found at Tira Ora.
Tira Ora covers 550 acres, bounded by the two ridges leading down from the skyline.
The tall mountain behind Tira Ora is 740 metres high. With the distinctive U-shaped saddle next to it, it is a useful navigation point in the outer Pelorus Sound. Many visitors climb it: from the top, on a clear day, you can see Mt Taranaki on the North Island, and over to Abel Tasman National Park in the west.
Two main rivers cut through the Tira Ora valley, providing fresh drinking water and irrigation through the land.
European settlers came to North West Bay in the 1880s, as the government of the day was encouraging settlement of rural lands. The Tira Ora block was surveyed in 1890, and a Scottish family settled here in 1892, headed by John Hunter Black from Penpont, near Dumfries, in southern Scotland. John’s wife, Ann, was the eldest daughter of another famous Scottish settler in Marlborough, David Herd, the founder of the wine-making industry, whose statue you can see outside Blenheim Airport. John and Ann named their first son David Herd Black.
The Blacks established a sheep and cattle farm, and built a small homestead in 1892, followed by a larger one in 1906, which still stands today.
The homesteads housed the Post Office for the area for 50 years, from 1897 to 1946, with John and his second son, Robert, serving as postmasters.
Tira Ora also had a one-room schoolhouse, located on the terrace to the south of the jetty, where the North West Bay children were educated, from 1898 to 1921. Four of the Black family wives and daughters served as teachers over the period.
John Hunter Black was a resourceful and enthusiastic settler, active in the Pelorus Sound community, often speaking at weddings, funerals, welcomes and farewells to residents. He chaired the group that met at Tira Ora to organize the Pelorus Sound Regatta in 1900, and hosted the visit of the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. William Massey, to the Sounds in March 1914, at Tira Ora.
In 1980, after three generations in the Black family, the farm passed from John’s grandson, Garfield Black, to the Weaver family, for development for tourism. They built a restaurant and chalets for accommodation, and made plans for an airfield. But it was the next owner, Pat Whalan who made the airfield a reality, together with his main legacy, the award-winning micro-hydro system. The system harnesses water flowing from the hills into a reservoir, then through a pelton wheel to generate electricity for the 14 buildings now standing on Tira Ora. The Tira Ora micro-hydro system generates up to six kilowatts of electricity, so guests enjoy bright lights, chilled drinks, electric blankets, satellite TV and fast-speed internet at Tira Ora.
“All the comforts of the modern world but within an idyllic natural setting.”
Tony Broad and Annebeth Riles purchased Tira Ora in 1999. Tony was Chief Operating Officer at Credit Suisse First Boston, an investment bank, in Wellington: Tony would commute to Wellington from Tira Ora’s airfield - just a 25 min scenic flight from the capital. Tony has a keen interest in astronomy, and researches local flora, fauna and early local history. Annebeth Riles is a writer with an MBA, with a love of nature, music and dance.
Tira Ora Today