More than half a century ago an energetic group of local businessmen set up a trust in order to plan a magnificent lake for the inland town of Masterton. Following decades of hard work and dedication carried out by many individuals, their vision became a reality. It took over 70 people to provide text, photos and artworks to create a community anthology about Henley Lake, steered by a persistent person at the helm.

“I had started musing on an idea for the publication over twelve years ago,” says book designer and illustrator, Viv Walker. “As a nature lover I was impressed by this man-made lake and park and interested to delve deeper and gather the ‘who, how and why’ background to the Lake’s story. Some mainly factual information and tourism orientated material existed at the time but no one-stop, in-depth publication about Henley Lake’s history was available.” However, other commitments intervened for Viv and it wasn’t until 2014 that this project started in earnest.

After approaching Henley Trust members and engaging initial support for the book, Viv began research. “I was really intrigued by the proposed early ideas - which included an ambitious ‘Disneyland’ style theme park complete with log rides, a shipwreck, paddle steamer and steam railway along with a myriad of other family-directed activities,” she says. These ideas also included souvenir shops, cafes, fountains and child-care facilities, musicians and performers all hoping to attract thousands of visitors to the place. This in turn would boost the local economy and indelibly stamp Henley Lake as a 1980s destination hotspot in the region. 

The lake officially opened in 1988 and though not resulting in a ‘Disney’ style concept, a more natural outcome was well received by the community. “Ultimately with any creative project, some evolution occurs,” Viv says. “Ideas can escalate into bold territory initially, which is exciting – however sensible compromises invariably follow and something achievable eventuates.”  

Today, thousands flock to the popular lake and park, which provides extensive walking trails and is a haven for birdlife. Elegant mute swans glide side by side on the lake with Waka Ama and other watercraft and as you wander through the mature oaks and eucalyptus or through the developing wetlands you may spot not only a rare White heron (Kotuku) visiting the ponds but spy ‘Friends of Henley’ helpers planting many native tree seedlings at one of their regular working bees. These vital volunteers, those ‘many hands’, not only from the past but also the present were a major theme within the publication. “Not only did I want to include the background history of the Lake, and the events and activities held there, but also highlight the people behind the scenes - from the trustees and Friends to the maintenance workers, who all continue to develop and beautify the park surrounds.  In a way the place itself was the secondary subject,” says Viv. “It was more important to celebrate that critical mass of people whose support and efforts have underpinned the success of Henley Lake Park and I hope this sentiment has been expressed, so as to encourage more support for the future development of this valuable resource.”

Though many early ideas for Henley Lake Park never surfaced, this has in no way diminished the outcome. That historically shared desire for an easily accessible expanse of water and recreational space for Masterton residents, as well as an attractive focal point for visitors to the region, has indeed been fulfilled.

Henley Lake from Wasteland to Wetland is available from Wairarapa book stores and directly through Swirld Books at: 

Henley Trust 2003 will receive a portion of profits from sales and $10 a book from direct sales, to help them carry on their great work.