The homestead in 1933, soon after completion. Photo: Ormond Wilson

The homestead in 1933, soon after completion. Photo: Ormond Wilson

History of Reserve

The Reserve was part of the 2,800 hectare Ngaio station bought by J G Wilson in 1873, bounded in the east by the Mangaone Stream and on the west by the Rangitikei River. In 1931 Ormond Wilson inherited 320 hectares of the then much diminished Ngaio station. He built the homestead at the head of a gully containing pockets of bush then much damaged by stock, overgrown by vines, as well as being infested with gorse.

He saw the potential of developing the 'bush gully' and set about clearing the gully of the infestations, preserving native trees, encouraging regeneration and planting exotic specimen trees and shrubs. In 1930 the land was a bare paddock and the bush gully was grazed with stock. The homestead was built and the first shelter belts were planted in 1931. Fencing around the bush was completed in 1951 and during the next decade most of the clearings were planted with specimen trees. It took Ormond 40 years to develop the bush gully into what is now a place of beauty.

In December 1972 he gifted the land to the crown as he doubted future landowners 'would have the will to preserve and continue the work I had begun'.

Today the reserve is administered by the Manawatu District Council who has listed the Reserve as one of its most important.

A more detailed history written by Ormond Wilson is available to download in PDF format.

Past Visitors and Comments

Past Important Visitors

There have been many important visitors to the property when it was owned by Ormond Wilson.

In his autobiography 'An Outsider Looks Back', Ormond Wilson writes that the following people have either stayed or visited the homestead, gardens & bush:

  • Walter Nash - NZ Prime Minister. He and his wife spent a fortnight at Mt Lees during the Christmas holiday break for 1935 & 1936.
  • Lord Bledisloe - Governor General. For duck shooting.
  • President LB Johnson - He was flown to the nearby Ohakea Airbase and then taken to sheep shearing demonstration in the woolshed [then owned by Ormond Wilson] located across the road from the entrance road to the reserve.
  • Arnold Toynbee - Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
  • Menuhin sisters - musicians.
  • Jim Callaghan - British prime minister. Visited Mt Lees when he attended a commonwealth parliamentary conference held at Massey University.
  • Peking Opera Company
  • Comments from the Public

    Many favourable comments have been from people who have visited the reserve. Some typical comments received are:

  • "What a real pleasure it was to walk around the grounds of a reserve so well maintained and cared for. There are few places locally that display such beauty. It provides a source of pleasure for people of all ages, form school children to families and the elderly".
  • "We think it's a lovely spot"
  • "We have always liked the Mt Lees Reserve. Whenever overseas visitors have a half a day to spare, we take them to this delightful mix of native and exotic plant enjoyment."
  • "We thought it was a delightful place, so peaceful and restful"