By 1840 Bottle Lake and the Waitikiri swamplands were well recognised as food gathering areas for the local Māori people of Ngai Tahu. Long before European settlers arrived the gathering of eels and other fish had been well established. The area was rich in native plants that provided a constant supply of medicines, and also materials for building, making traps, baskets, weaving, footwear, and weapons.
With the Europeans arriving in increasing numbers there was a need to purchase land. The New Zealand Land Company was established to supervise the legal purchase of land and later became known as The New Zealand Company. The Association responsible for forming the settlement of Canterbury began organising for the new town of Christchurch under the patronage of the New Zealand Company.
The right to purchase 1,000,000 acres over two years was granted to the association by the New Zealand Company. The control the association had over the purchasing of land prevented most squatting situations like those that had occurred in Australia where land was rented cheaply and stock ran unchecked.
In June 1848, Harry Kemp, Governor Grey’s agent for land purchase, began negotiations to buy land from the Ngai Tahu people on behalf of the New Zealand Company. Large areas of land from Kaiapoi to Otago were divided into runs, and this buying of lands became known as the Kemp Purchase.
One of the runs surveyed encompassed Bottle Lake and the Waitikiri swamplands. It extended from the Waimakariri River to the Southshore Spit and was named the Sandhills Run.
John McLean was the first European to own the land where the lake was situated, having bought it from the New Zealand Company in 1860.
Edward Reece was the next owner and he purchased the land from McLean only two years later. Reece was a Shropshire farmer’s son, and arrived in New Zealand in 1854. He became an astute businessman with a successful ironmongers business, and an interest in local affairs. Reece became a councillor, sitting on the first council meeting that took place on 3 March 1862. It was also Reece who first introduced pinus seedlings into the Bottle Lake area. He built his house over-looking the bottle-shaped lake, and brought in labour to trim the lakes banks and to landscape around the homestead. Cattle were bought with a view to fattening, but this was hampered due to heavy losses with stock being stuck in the bogs. Mr Reece died in 1885 and left his property to his sons William and Charles.
William eventually became Mayor of Christchurch for a short time, and sold the property to Mr Dalgety in 1901. Included in the sale was the fine house that William had built at Bottle Lake called Waitikiri . Research with Māori people suggests several different interpretations of 'Waitikiri' and they are 'muddy water', 'water springs back', 'there it is dug', and 'a lagoon'.
In 1920 Dalgety sold the property to Mr J G Armstrong, a farmer and land valuer. Throughout the 1920s, JG, as he was known, continued to drain the land and run cattle. He also lost stock to the bogs. JG employed Mr Aldridge to look after this property as he also had a sheep run near Scargill, and spent much of his time there. It was Aldridge who was responsible for much of the drainage in the area. The Aldridge family lived at Waitikiri in the servants' quarters.
In 1937 Ray Blank and several businessmen formed Waitikiri Links Ltd and purchased the property from Armstrong for £7750. The city has benefitted to this day from the development of two very good golf courses, Windsor and Waitikiri.
Over the years the area surrounding the lake was neglected as the development of the land into productive farmland took precedence, and by the late 1930s the bottle-shaped lake had virtually disappeared.
The name 'Bottle Lake' has been used by various bodies since. When the council acquired land nearby and planted trees, they named it Bottle Lake Forest. In 1975 the area was given protective park status and has since been named Bottle Lake Forest Park.
The council was not the only one to adopt the name. Looking for a remote area in which to set up an infectious diseases hospital, the hospital board developed an area and built a fever hospital on the current Burwood Hospital site. They named the fever hospital Bottle Lake Hospital and the road leading up to the hospital was Bottle Lake Road. The hospital and the road changed their names in the early 1900s and became known as Burwood Hospital and Burwood Road.
The majority of Christchurch people were unaware of the developments at Bottle Lake Forest, and as it was a working forest, the public was barred from using it. However, since gaining park status, the forest is being used by ever increasing numbers and attracts thousands of visitors annually wanting to enjoy the expanse and the tranquillity.
- McKelvey, Peter. Sand Forests: a historical perspective of the stabilisation and afforestation of coastal sands in New Zealand. Canterbury University Press, New Zealand 1999.
- Surgenor, Ian. Water Wood: the story of Bottle Lake Forest Park. Christchurch City Council, New Zealand 2000.