The Dominion Observatory is a fine example of our historic heritage located in Kelburn Community Buildings Reserve administered by the Department.


The Reserve is named Kelburn Community Buildings Reserve administered by the Department as a Local Purpose Reserve for the purpose of providing and retaining areas for such local purpose or purposes as are specified in any classification of the reserve. The specific local purpose is for community buildings.

The Reserve is administered in accordance with the Reserves Act 1977 and applicable planning documents. The most relevant planning document is the Wellington Conservation Management Strategy 2019-2029.


 The observatory was built of Edwardian Baroque architecture in 1907 and housed the Time Service which made astronomical observations to establish the official time for New Zealand.  The Time Service also sent a signal each morning to Wellington’s telegraph office which relayed the signal to post offices, ports and railway stations around the country. The observatory was built on top of an underground concrete bunker associated with a Garden Battery built as part of New Zealand’s Coastal Defence Network.  The Dominion Observatory has a Category I classification under the Historic Places Act 1993.

In 1916, the observatory also began to house the government’s first Seismological Service. The seismological equipment at this site recorded many earthquakes over the Service’s early years, including Murchison (1929) and Napier (1931).  There are still measuring instruments near the building. The site continues to be important for seismological measurements in New Zealand.  A structural assessment of the building itself was carried out shortly after the 14 November 2016 M7.8 earthquake and it was found that the seismic performance of the building had not been significantly affected and that it could, therefore, continue to be occupied.

2003 facelift

In 2003, after being vacant for almost 10 years, DOC gave the building a $250,000.00 facelift which included earthquake strengthening, structural repairs and refitting. It is now a unique and interesting home for a number of private businesses with the current lease of the building having expired on 31 January 2020.  The lessor has an agreement with DOC to continue on a month by month lease of the building beyond expiry. The building is currently fully utilized by the lessor and sublessees (tenants of the lessor).  A new lessee (and any subtenants of the lessee) could potentially be appointed in the second half of 2020.

The Wellington Conservation Management Strategy notes the historic values of the Dominion Observatory regarding its use for seismology.  A milestone under the Wellington-Kapiti Place section of the Strategy is that an investigation is carried out by year 7 of the strategy to tell stories of this site. The strategy also lists the Dominion Observatory as holding significance in regard to Government Service, Maritime, Recreation and New Zealand Defence.

Land description

The total area of the existing Dominion Observatory Lease site is 138.5 square metres plus four car parks and includes: the Dominion Observatory and 1-metre curtilage but excludes the underground tunnels and storage areas under the building and associated with the gun battery.  The legal description is Sec 1223 Town of Wellington.

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