From Heritage New Zealand, Summer 2008
by Lindy Carroll
There are certain musts on every heritage traveller’s personal itinerary, from mansions built by wealthy colonists to the magnificent historic precincts of major cities. Every site – big or small, off the beaten track or on a well-trodden route – has its own singular story to tell. Here is a selection of New Zealand Historic Places Trust-owned and staffed properties that are worth making the time to visit when you’re on the main holiday trails this summer
The Stone Store seen from Kerikeri Mission House (Kemp House)
Dotted throughout New Zealand, and within easy reach, are destinations to delight heritage travellers of all ages. These sites are an integral slice of our very identity, each offering the opportunity to reflect on the way we were.
And with summer fast approaching, what better option than to set off – children in tow – and visit heritage properties that bring ample reward to every seeker? The far north, the cradle of New Zealand’s earliest Maori and Pakeha interaction, has a number of well maintained New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) properties.
This rich cluster takes in the Kerikeri Mission House and Stone Store, Pompallier Mission and Te Waimate Mission. Add in two gems on the Hokianga: Clendon House – which featured in our last issue – and Mangungu Mission House, and the set makes for comprehensive and compelling viewing.
These properties form the backbone of a trip through the beautiful Bay of Islands and across to the stunning and unspoilt Hokianga, guiding you through what is regarded as New Zealand’s “first region” and telling huge stories that had a major impact on the shape of New Zealand today.
First stop: Russell. At Pompallier Mission, visitors admire the accuracy and detail that has gone into the restoration and presentation of the last remaining building of the founding French Catholic Mission for the entire western Pacific. Within the mission is a hands-on, pioneer factory, which houses the only surviving pioneer printery and tannery in the country. The printery, built in 1841-42, first produced religious texts in Te Reo Maori and is regarded as one of the key early 19th-century centres in developing literature for Maori.
Today the printery works again, in exactly the same way as when it was used by the pioneer printers. It offers a fascinating insight: not just into the tools and the technology of the time, but also to the introduction of print culture and literacy to our country.
Children, in particular, are taken with the workings of the printing equipment, says Pompallier’s manager, Kate Martin. “They come in with their parents, and they don’t look very interested – but once they get their hands on it, you can’t drag them away.”
Visitors also delight in the colonial garden, which has been lovingly restored to reflect its original glory. Pompallier carries its founding traditions through to today – continuing as a place where the community engages within its surrounds. Testimony to this lies in the efforts of pupils at Russell Primary School. They are beginning to propagate native trees from the surrounding ecological area to assist with the replanting of one of the hillsides.
Every Labour Weekend – which marks the start of summer at Pompallier – the pupils also play a star role at the mission. That’s when they don the garb of their forebears and take over as tour guides: meeting, greeting, telling stories and demonstrating the technology, as it has been taught to them. This feature, too, is becoming part of the tradition of Pompallier, says Martin. “The children are enjoying it so much, they’re asking if they can do it more than once.”
This ongoing involvement, combined with the restoration efforts of the past, she adds, contributes to making this venue so special. “It is a magic experience.”
The next stop is Kerikeri, to visit one of our most notable historic buildings: the Kerikeri Mission House (Kemp House). This is the earliest surviving building in New Zealand – pre-dating the country’s formal foundation as a British colony by nearly 20 years.
The Mission was sponsored by Hongi Hika, the most influential Maori leader in the Bay of Islands at the time, and directed by Reverend Samuel Marsden. The nearby Stone Store, which is also on the mission site, was built by an ex-convict stonemason from New South Wales. Church Missionary Society storekeeper and blacksmith James Kemp and his wife, Charlotte, used the store for a kauri gum business in the 1830s. The closure of the Kerikeri Basin road bridge means summer visitors will experience a long-lost tranquillity in this most atmospheric of places. A visit to this site is a must-do for New Zealanders.
“More and more people are returning to the Stone Store and the Basin area now that the busy road is closed,” says manager Liz Bigwood. Business and heritage continue to mix at the Stone Store to this day. And to further strengthen its on-site retail component, an on-line shop is soon to be introduced. However, Bigwood adds that the core function remains heritage – with a bonus. “The physical beauty here is fantastic.”
From here, head to Waimate North and stop at Te Waimate Mission – once part-host to New Zealand’s first large English-style farm. Visitors to Te Waimate often have a particular interest in architecture; the Mission House, built in 1832, is the second-oldest house in New Zealand. Te Waimate can boast both local and international claims to fame. Scene of the second signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, on 10 February 1840, the farm also once entertained English naturalist Charles Darwin, who described the setting as being “placed there as if by an enchanter’s wand”.
Another 19th-century leading exponent of evolution, Thomas Huxley, also stayed at Te Waimate – although not at the same time as Darwin. Acting property supervisor Airini Kingi notes that visitors often admire the skills of the Maori carpenters who built Te Waimate, and adds that the surrounding land – originally modelled on an English style farm – also inspires. She likes to tell Te Waimate tales to young visitors in particular.
“If you engage the children, the parents will follow.” She plans her tours depending on visitors’ needs, with some just wanting a quick overview and others saying, “Tell me more.”
And so the journey continues. Drive west to the gloriously peaceful Hokianga and you arrive at the Mangungu Mission House – a place with plenty of early settler buzz about it in more ways than one. This Wesleyan Mission House hosted a notably large gathering to discuss and sign the Treaty of Waitangi, on 12 February 1840.
It was here that Governor William Hobson bunked down as 70 Maori chiefs added their assent before a crowd of up to 3000. Mangungu was also the scene of the introduction of honey bees to New Zealand. The Mission House has its own traveller’s tale to tell. Built in 1838-39, it was moved twice: to two separate addresses in Grey St, Onehunga, Auckland, before returning to its birthplace once more. It subsequently took five years to restore the building.
“Many people are very surprised to hear it went away and came back again,” says Mangungu curator Kuini Puru. Visitors to Mangungu are greeted with a korero by Puru, who also touches on the Treaty of Waitangi. They are then free to visit the Mission House and church themselves, or, if they want Puru to guide them, she will. At the end of their tour, she’ll perform a waiata. “I always save the best until last,” she laughs.
Next stop on this historic journey means a drive south, and a detour on State Highway 2. The gold-rush days on the Coromandel Peninsula may be gone, but day-trippers from Auckland, Hamilton and surrounding Waikato towns can take in a friendly, convivial lesson or two at the Thames School of Mines. As educational institutions go, the Thames School of Mines, formed in 1885-86, to train miners for the quartz gold fields, has always been one out of the ordinary. It was once the largest of 30 that were formed to train miners for all sorts of mining operations. What you see is what you get at this address: the buildings stand as they were made – in all their haphazard fashion and without any glamorisation. There are lean-tos and add-ons and boarded up doorways; doors that were made bigger, then smaller and then bigger again.
It’s this authenticity that is the key to its appeal for visitors. “It’s like people just walked out and you’re seeing what was there then,” says property manager John Isdale. “You really do step back in the past. We’ve got a photo [of the 1897 assay room] that probably was taken when it was opened, and you are obviously walking into the same room today. It even smells right; people comment on that.”
The survival story has not been without a struggle. Repeated cash crises over the years saw the School of Mines deviate from its original aim and resort to numerous and inventive money-making ventures just to stay afloat. It dabbled in electricity, engineering, agriculture and pharmacy (including the testing of milk) in an effort to keep its doors open.
Attached to the School of Mines is another historic landmark, the Mineral Museum, which was used for teaching purposes, and is still very much as it was over 100 years ago, and now a museum piece in its own right. Both it and the school attract visitors from the world over, including geologists and members of the mining profession from other schools of mines in locations as far-flung as Colorado, Madrid and Cornwall.
Time, now, to take a cross-country journey, linking up with State Highway 3 and heading to New Plymouth. Here, you will find Hurworth Cottage – where the writing is, literally, on the wall, in the form of some of New Zealand’s earliest-known graffiti. Hurworth Cottage was built by hand, by Premier-to-be Harry Atkinson, in 1855-56. The small building – originally the Atkinson family home – is the only survivor of an eponymous settlement, named after the village in England where Harry Atkinson had spent his youth.
In its heyday, Hurworth and its surrounds were home to “The Mob”, the name given to the group of English settlers, including the Atkinsons, who settled in Taranaki. Hurworth escaped destruction during the Taranaki Wars in 1860-61. Subsequently, it was repaired and, with many additions and modifications, remained a homestead for the Atkinsons and later occupants until the 1960s, when it was stripped back to an approximation of its original configuration and restored by the NZHPT.
During restoration the charcoaled 19th-century graffiti was uncovered on an interior wall. Readable sections include: Hemi Barrett takes a farewell Benefit on Thursday night Previous to his departure for Victoria On his way to Europe Colonial Hospital March 23 
The graffiti bore no identifying signature, but it is assumed that the hand work was Barrett’s. That in itself presents something of a mystery, because his true identity has never been proven. However, whoever he was, his work is today regarded as the most prominent example of early graffiti.
Elsewhere on the wall there is a series of figures, consisting of a naked, tattooed, Maori warrior with a kakauroa (long-handled tomahawk) presumably pursuing three Pakeha, one of whom has tripped over. Also, a date appears under a rough sketch of a cottage.
The actual year is difficult to determine, but could be 1864. Property manager Judi Gopperth describes Hurworth as a hidden treasure, “humble and quaint, within its setting and notable for its peace and tranquillity”.
We next head across Cook Strait, and take the winding coastal highway to Kaikoura, where we find Fyffe House, built in 1842. Modern-day whale hunters can incorporate a visit to this unique property as part of a total cetacean experience. It rests on whalebone foundations – the biggest talking point – and is built of native timbers with lath and plaster interior walls and mud and straw insulation. Visitors can walk along what property manager Anne McCaw has dubbed “the best verandah in New Zealand” because of the sea and mountain views.
Internally, the eye-catching key items include “wallpaper that has horrible stains from a leaking roof with the last owner,” says McCaw. “That’s all part of the house’s story. And there appear to be hatchet marks on the front-bedroom door.”
Fyffe House is open as a house museum and is Kaikoura’s oldest surviving building. It is important as a survivor of New Zealand’s early whaling industry. Its charm connects people to other parts of the world.
“Everyone who comes seems to have had an aunty in the UK who lived in a building like this,” Anne says. “That just shows how it reflects the people who came here. We had a Scottish woman visit last winter on a day when the weather was terrible. She said, ‘I had to come because I was so homesick.’ ”
Completing this whirlwind heritage trip are three Central Otago gems. Like the jewels of the north, these properties act as a bookend to a long, white-clouded shelf with plenty of history wedged between.
Hayes Engineering Works, near the start of the popular Otago Rail Trail, is a supreme example of an historic site that looks just as it did when in its heyday. At this rural engineering works, established in 1895, numerous No. 8 wire creations came into being, thanks to the creative minds and productive hands of the Hayes family.
Founder Ernest Hayes went on to establish a business with a worldwide reputation – providing farmers with implements including wire strainers, windmills, cattle stops and pulley blocks. The Hayes wire strainer remains standard equipment on farms today.
To preserve this particular piece of history, a team of eight specialists, including members of Otago University’s Department of Anthropology, recently descended on the works. Their role? To catalogue 4000 items on site and return them to their original positions, in a bid to ensure historical accuracy and authenticity were retained. Everything from the little to the large: bits of wire, barrels, pots and pans and much more, is now recorded and restored in its rightful place. This effort is part of an ambitious project by NZHPT to catalogue electronically historical items on all its properties.
A few times a year, visitors are treated to a true journey back in time. That’s when everything at the works is turned on – in the manner that it was in bygone days – with the use of a Peyton wheel, which drives all the machinery. “The fact that it goes fascinates people. Everything is still here: two houses, the factory, the oil shed, the windmills, the storage shed, the water tower,” says Helen Cameron, who along with her partner, Ken Gillespie, has worked at Hayes for many years.
“A lot of people come in and say, ‘It smells like Granddad’s workshop.’ People are also fascinated by the mudbrick, which is peculiar to this climate.”
Cameron is a mastermind on the subject of the Hayes family, who she describes as unique and very clever people. The property is not clean and tidy, because it’s a working environment, she says. “Many museums try and re-create that sort of environment artificially now, but we don’t have to. It’s the only one of its kind in Australasia. There are other places with a shed and a machine and donated stuff – but this is how they worked in it.”
Anyone visiting Hayes should make a point of posting a card from the nearby Ophir Post Office. Built in 1886, it is the oldest continuously operating one in the country. With the Raggedy Range foothills as a backdrop and a view across the Dunstan Range, the Post Office is a grand structure for such a small town.
Unlike most of today’s Post Offices, this one is not a miniature department store. “We don’t do banking,” says property supervisor and postmistress Val Butcher. “There’s no car registrations or anything like that. Our post is brought out by rural delivery, and gets here at 11. The locals collect it, and in summer I also deal with tourists.” Many of the tourists stop off while on the Otago Rail Trail; camper vanners call by too.
“Visitors like the fact that it still has the feeling of an old Post Office. There’s the old brown Lino, original woodwork, a worn look. And a lot like the smell, that nice old smell of polish and wood. They say it’s got that nice smell of an old place.”
The final leg of this tour takes us to Totara Estate, on State Highway 1, about 8 kilometres south of Oamaru. Anyone on a heritage visit to Oamaru should include Totara Estate in their itinerary. In 1882, it was the departure point for the first shipment of frozen meat sent from here to Britain. The success of that move determined our economic future for 100 years, and the property is thus a crucial site in our development as a nation.
Of course, today’s visitor is as likely to be drawn to enjoy the faithfully restored buildings and grounds as by an interest in agricultural and economic history. Visitors’ experience is aided by hosts who are on-site to introduce them to the estate, says property manager Ray Craig.
Some people are fascinated to see just what farming, now as high-tech an industry as any, was like in the old days. “Then you’ve got people interested in the frozen meat success story,” says Craig. “With the majority of our customers, that’s the big pull, so we specialise in doing a good job on that, but, if there are people who just want to enjoy Totara Estate like a park, then that’s fine, too. “What people see now is the heart of the old farm,” Craig continues. “They see the remains of the utility buildings that were the hub, so you’ve got the accommodation for the single men, the stables, the granary and the meat-processing works. From a distance, people can also enjoy the view of the manager’s residence, which is now in private hands.
“Around the property, we have examples of the kind of equipment being used all the time, and also on-site during the summer, when feed is ripe, we have breeds of sheep that once ran on the estate.” Craig’s Totara tale ends our journey, but it is not the end of the road as far as visits to local historical treasures go. Many other NZHPT properties can be discovered at www.historic.org.nz. More, then, lies in store for travellers who want to learn about the past, and who may be surprised they can find it on their very doorstep, or not far off.
Lindy Carroll is an Auckland-based freelance writer.