The rafts are a very popular attraction of Oriental Bay, providing as they do hours of enjoyment for young and not so young swimmers.
They were the brainchild of Virginia Barton-Chapple, who had returned to New Zealand in 1980 after 20 years in London. In 1984 the Oriental Bay Residents Association had just been reformed, under the chairmanship of Henry Ward. It had been in recess for many years, and was resurrected by Roger Newport.
Virginia joined OBRA as a committee member in 1984, and suggested that they work on the idea of rafts for the bay. She had seen rafts in Auckland, and was worried by seeing swimmers going out to the Oriental Bay fountain and climbing onto it. She could see trouble, and she was right — lights were broken and the mechanism of the fountain was affected. The Council put strong wire round the fountain in an effort to deter swimmers from climbing onto it, but then there was the worry that people would hurt themselves on the wire.
The 1984 OBRA Committee, however, was not keen on the idea of spending time and money on rafts — very few of the committee members were swimmers — but in 1985 David Rendel became President, and he progressed the idea. The Wellington City Council backed the project, and it took shape. The arrangement was that OBRA would make the rafts and prepare them for the water (I remember helping to paint them in a small hut in Evans Bay), and the Council agreed to transport them, lower them into the water, and house them through the winter months. OBRA being very new did not have the funds to pay for them, and the Ilott family (Jack Ilott was a resident of Oriental Bay) with their usual generosity provided the necessary funding.
In 2014 the original rafts needed to be replaced, and OBRA approached Joanna and Noel Todd and Pub Charity, who very kindly provided the funding for them. OBRA then gifted them to the Wellington City Council, who now own them. Many Oriental Bay residents will remember the chilly day in November 2014 when the Mayor, Celia Wade Brown, launched the new rafts, and then swam out to one of them.
The rafts have been a huge success, and is an endeavour of which Oriental Bay residents can be proud. They have now been enjoyed for over 30 years. It was disappointing that recently young people tried to upturn one of them. The Regional Council took immediate action, and both sides of the raft have now been strapped to the chain which connects the platform to the seabed. It is to be hoped that they survive many more summers, and become a permanent attraction of Oriental Bay.
— Ann Mallinson, Bay View newsletter 71, May 2018