Harry’ Ell a passionate local politician was the driving force behind the rest houses, tracks and Port Hills’ Summit Road. He wanted to conserve the natural state of the Port Hills and make it more accessible to the public. He envisioned a road between Godley Heads and Akaroa, linking numerous scenic reserves together with rest houses at regular intervals where the public could rest and be refreshed. By 1915, he had secured 23 reserves in all, purchased either by loans or given as gifts to his project.
The Sign of the Kiwi was Harry Ell’s third rest house and unfortunately the last to be completed during his life as he had planned 24 in all. The first had been the Sign of the Bellbird (1914), then the Sign of the Packhorse (1917) and both were designed by Samuel Hurst Seager. For what would be first known as the ‘Toll House’, Harry Ell chose Coronation Hill, which had been set aside to acknowledge the coronation of King George V in 1912. It was here that the first sod of the Summit Road was turned on 8th November 1908. The Sign of the Kiwi was officially opened on 9th June 1917 and it would cause nothing but controversy for Ell.