In our monthly 8 Great series, Wendy Montrose explores eight of her favourite historic houses dotted around New Zealand and reflects that winter is the perfect time to plan some travel adventures which incorporate these worthwhile heritage buildings.
Woodlands Estate, Gordonton, Waikato
Bought from the crown in 1872 for 2/6 an acre, Woodlands Estate is full of history and timeless charm. For $3 you can take a self-guided tour of this national treasure built between 1875 and 1881 and clad in kauri weatherboards. The surrounding garden, featuring a number of towering specimen trees, including the country’s largest eucalyptus, is rated a 5-star Garden of National Significance by the New Zealand Garden Trust. Finish the tour with coffee or lunch at Woodlands Garden Grove Cafe & Bar or toss a ball around the old-fashioned cricket oval. Open daily.
Nairn Street Cottage, Wellington
Built in 1858 by William Wallis, Nairn Street Cottage is one of the oldest residences in Wellington. William and his wife Catherine lived here with seven children until moving next door, but the cottage remained in the family until the 1970s with three generations of Wallis women calling it home. The rooms are decorated to show how life and the city changed over time and the heritage garden complements the visit. Open weekends with tours starting on the hour between noon and 3pm.
Clendon House, Rawene, Northland
In the centre of Rawene, Clendon House tells the story of merchant ship owner and New Zealand’s first US consul, James Reddy Clendon. With his young wife Jane, of Hokianga Māori descent, James played a prominent role in early Māori-Pakeha interaction. Learn the inspiring story of how the young widow managed to hold onto her home after James’ death left her deep in debt with eight young children. Open on weekends, the 1860s house is furnished with the Clendon family collection.
Broadgreen, Stoke, Nelson
Beautifully furnished and restored to show family life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Broadgreen Heritage House also features a significant textile and period costume collection. The two-storey cob cottage was built in 1855 for Mr and Mrs Edmund Buxton and their six daughters and offers a glimpse of Nelson’s colonial beginnings. On display are items such as a gasolier chandelier and an English longcase clock from the 1750s. The grounds contain the highly regarded Samuels Rose Garden that boasts an extensive collection of more than 3000 plants, so a summer visit might be in store. Visitors to the house are given an introductory talk and optional tour.
Bushy Park, Tarapuruhi Homestead, Whanganui
The bird nerds among us all know Bushy Park, Tarapuruhi, 25 minutes north of Whanganui. Surrounded by a predator-proof fence, it’s where we go to get up close to rare and endangered native birds. Also inside the fence is a large Edwardian homestead, which is a popular attraction in its own right. Designed and built in 1906 for successful livestock and horse breeder, G.F. Moore, today the house is a fully licenced bed and breakfast homestay and function venue. For the princely sum of $2, you can view the house’s five tastefully decorated bedrooms and reception rooms and you might be tempted to leave the camper at home and treat yourself to a night or two of historic luxury. Check their website for opening times and availability.
Riccarton House Pūtaringamotu, Christchurch
Not just one, but two historic houses tell the story of the pioneering Deans family at Riccarton House and Bush, located just 3.5km from Christchurch city centre. Set in a 12-hectare reserve, this unique heritage site features native bush, open parkland, and ornate gardens bordering the Avon River. Building began in 1856 and the house has been fully restored with original furnishings to give visitors a taste of Victorian and Edwardian elegance. Viewing of the inside of the house is by guided tour only but the bush and gardens are free to wander in at leisure. Also on the grounds is Dean’s Cottage built for Scottish brothers, William and John Deans in 1843 – the oldest European building left on the Canterbury Plains. For the full package, there’s even an on-site café and restaurant. Book your place on a tour.
Couldrey House and Garden, Auckland
Built in 1857 for a tourism entrepreneur and later owned by a reclusive sea captain with a colourful past, Couldrey House in the Wenderholm Regional Park is just 40 minutes from downtown Auckland. The gracious colonial house has been moved, extended, fallen into disrepair, and renovated. Today it’s owned by the Auckland Council and looked after by
The Friends of Couldrey House Charitable Trust. With nine rooms on display, the house offers a unique glimpse of the past with its mix of styles reflecting different ages, stages, and owners. Wander at leisure and listen to the audio reminiscences of direct descendants of previous owners or take a tour with one of the friendly hosts. The house is open throughout the week from 1pm to 4pm in summer.
The Elms Te Papa, Tauranga
In the heart of Tauranga, The Elms is one of New Zealand’s oldest heritage sites. Built in 1847 by Archdeacon Brown, the Georgian-styled Elms Mission House, historic library, heritage garden, and pavilion are packed with stories of the early relationship between Māori and Pakeha. Other attractions are the native tree walk, Fencible cottage, and chapel. Set in a tranquil hectare in the busy city centre, the category one listed buildings are open most days for guided tours. Check their website for details.