Located on Dyers Pass Road and Summit Road, the building is listed as an Historic Place Category 1.
The historic Sign of the Kiwi is currently open(external link) and serves as a popular café for visitors and a beloved feature of the rugged Port Hills landscape.
Sign of the Kiwi was one of four rest houses to be built around the Summit Road as part of Harry Ell's plan to provide access to those out walking the scenic reserves of the Port Hills.
Designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, the building is a fine example of the arts and crafts style as it blends in seamlessly with the natural landscape, using local volcanic stone of varying colours. The other three rest houses were Sign of the Takahe, Sign of the Packhorse(external link) and Sign of the Bellbird.
Opened in 1917, Sign of the Kiwi operated as a tea room, hostel and toll house. Between 1920 and 1926 Harry Ell and his wife Ada lived in the cottage with Ada running a successful tearoom and Harry working as the tollgate keeper. During the 1920s motorists began to complain that the tollgate meant they were paying road maintenance tax twice and the Heathcote County Council eventually removed it.
During the Second World War the rest house was closed. In 1948 it was taken over by the Christchurch City Council and later used as a custodian's residence. Renovations began in 1986–1987 and eventually saw the building reopen as a tearoom in 1996. With the added visitor information centre, Sign of the Kiwi was popular with residents and tourists alike until the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–2011 put it temporarily out of commission.
Closed for nearly six years after the earthquakes, the Sign of the Kiwi was repaired and strengthened to 67 per cent of the New Building Standard during 2016. The building reopened as a cafe and visitor centre in January 2017 only to be immediately threatened by the Port Hills fires. Fortunately it survived unscathed and reopened again in March 2017.
There is more information about the Sign of the Kiwi's heritage significance in the Statement of Significance for the Christchurch District Plan(external link) and the Heritage New Zealand listing.(external link)