The New Zealand History Road Trip

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The last large landmass to be discovered by explorers, New Zealand is known as the youngest country on earth, but all around the nation there are pockets where time stands still, where stately old homes, churches, hotels and pubs are a throwback to colonial times.

In honour of Waitangi Day – held on February 6 every year to commemorate the signing of our founding document in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi – we’ve put together a list of 12 heritage spots for your New Zealand History Road Trip.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Where: Tau Henare Drive, Paihia 0200

Start your NZ historic road trip in the far north at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and get a lesson in early settler’s history at the same time – both European and Maori. Guided tours (many of the guides here are descendants of signatories to the Treaty) bring the past to life here, or catch a traditional welcome and performance complete with haka, waiata (singing), games and weaponry.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo by sids1
Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo by sids1

Kerikeri Mission Station

Where: 246 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri 0230

Step back in time at the nearby Kerikeri Mission, built in the early 1800s by missionaries and Maori. Kemp House is New Zealand’s oldest European building, while the Stone Store is the country’s oldest shop.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Kerikeri Mission Station, the Stone Store.
The Stone Store at Kerikeri Mission Station. Photo by Tony Foster

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Where: The Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland 1010

Built in 1929, the Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill and is considered one of the country’s finest heritage buildings. It was New Zealand’s first museum, housing a number of cultural, artistic, natural and wartime treasures.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Auckland War Memorial Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum. Photo by Francisco Anzola

Highwic

Where: 40 Gillies Avenue, Newmarket, Auckland 1023

Constructed to house auctioneer Alfred Buckland’s enormous family (21 children!), this Gothic mansion offers a bucolic oasis in the heart of Auckland. Highwic has everything you’d expect from an estate of the time, from stables to ballroom and billiard room. Outside is just as impressive as inside, with sprawling gardens and grounds, including tennis and croquet lawns.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Highwic House. Photo by Russell Street
Highwic House. Photo by Russell Street

Pukekohe East Presbyterian Church

Where: Runciman Rd, Pukekohe East 2677

Built by early pioneers, this unassuming church was the site of one of the Waikato War’s most dramatic skirmishes.

Here, a group of less than 20 men held off around 200 others until reinforcements arrived – you can still see bullet holes in the walls and ceiling.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Pukekohe East Presbyterian Church
Pukekohe East Presbyterian Church. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rangiriri Pa

Where: State Highway 1, Rangiriri, Hamilton

A key battle of the Waikato was fought here and dozens of lives were lost. Today you can still see the remains of the Maori fortifications and visit the cemetery.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: angiriri Pa Memorial Arch. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Rangiriri Pa Memorial Arch. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary

Where: 37 Vivian St, New Plymouth 4310

The Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary in New Plymouth is the country’s oldest stone church, complete with stunning stained glass windows, plaques and historic artefacts. Outside, the churchyard is the resting place for the graves of many Maori and early settlers.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: The Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary. Photo by Judy Ansley
The Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary. Photo by Judy Ansley

Old St Paul’s

Where: 34 Mulgrave St, Pipitea, Wellington 6011

Built from native timbers, this celebrated Wellington cathedral is a sight to behold, with soaring ceilings and intricately embroidered furnishings. The cathedral site was once part of Pipitea Pa, a Maori settlement.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Old St Paul's, Wellington. Photo by Bruce Tuten
Old St Paul’s, Wellington. Photo by Bruce Tuten

Pencarrow Lighthouse

Where: Pencarrow Head, Wellington 5013

What makes this lighthouse so famous? Well, it was New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse, and operated by the country’s only female lighthouse keeper. The 8km gravel road there, rising to a steep narrow track, means it’s not thronged with crowds.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Pencarrow Lighthouse, Wellington. Photo by Abaconda Management Group
Pencarrow Lighthouse, Wellington. Photo by Abaconda Management Group

Matanaka Farm Buildings

Where: Edinburgh St, Waikouaiti, Otago 9510

You’ll find the iconic Matanaka Farm Buildings in the Otago region – these five are the oldest surviving of their type still in their original place. The stables still have their old tin iron roof and pigeon lofts while the privy features a three seater toilet!

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Matanaka Farm Buildings, Otago. Photo by Derek Smith and Maclean Barker
Matanaka Farm Buildings, Otago. Photo by Derek Smith and Maclean Barker

Larnach Castle

Where: 145 Camp Rd, Dunedin 9077

Dubbed New Zealand’s only castle, this mansion was built by politician William Larnach and eventually contained over 40 rooms. An air of darkness and mystery surrounds it – Larnach committed suicide in Parliament, and the ghosts of his wife and daughter are said to haunt the castle.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Larnach Castle, Dunedin. Photo by Chee Hong
Larnach Castle, Dunedin. Photo by Chee Hong

Dunedin Railway Station

Where: Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin 9016

One of the most photographed buildings in the country, Dunedin’s railway station is held up as a shining example of Edwardian Baroque style. With a clock tower at one end and a Gothic spire at the other, plus the stark contrast of dark basalt and white limestone, it earned architect George Troup the nickname Gingerbread George. When it was first built, it was the busiest rail station in the country.

The New Zealand History Road Trip: Dunedin Railway Station. Photo by Jan Smith
Dunedin Railway Station. Photo by Jan Smith

Featured image by Jim Tucker

The New Zealand History Road Trip was last modified: November 25th, 2015 by Esther Goh
Author: Esther Goh (56 posts)

Writer and digital specialist hooked on travel and food. Calls Auckland home but desperately misses Mexican and Italian cuisine. Esther blogs at NZ Muse.