At Totara Estate (from leaf) visitor host Keren Mackay, visitor Cemil Clarke and historic estate property manager Paula East. PHOTO: Rebecca Anderson
Totara Estate, south of Oamaru, puts some flesh of history to
the backbone of New Zealand's economy, agriculture and
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) property sits
on the eastern side of SH1 at Totara, a short drive north of
Maheno and about 10 minutes by car south of Oamaru in the
Waitaki district of North Otago.
The sweeping drive to the historic farm and meatworks ushers
visitors into an era of New Zealand history when steam
ploughing, billy tea and stone-house slaughtering were the
Totara Estate visitor host Keren Mackay says the technology
put to use on the property during its heyday was new.
Settlers and workers at the farm were experimenting with
refrigeration such as that being developed in rural Australia
and Argentina 140 years ago.
The value of Totara Estate to New Zealand tourism was
realised when the NZHPT bought the buildings in 1977. Nearly
34 years later its fame as the site from which the country's
first shipment of frozen meat came is well-established.
A stop at Totara Estate gives people a unique glimpse of the
past, Keren says, adding that travellers are rewarded with a
chance to experience the entrepreneurship and the vision that
helped create the New Zealand economy.
"Refrigeration technology was only five years old in the
whole world, and they risked a lot to take it on board. And
this is where it first happened," she explains.
Totara Estate property manager Paula East is equally
enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the site.
"Totara Estate has a whole relationship to New Zealand's meat
industry. The New Zealand economy grew once it was figured
out that they could export meat and everything. That brought
more money into the fledgling country.
"The property has been open since 1982. It was purchased by
the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1977 and then
restored ready for the 100-year anniversary of that frozen
meat shipment in February 1982, and has been running as an
Many visitors to the estate come from farming backgrounds or
are older people with an interest in history and some time to
"It is not quite living history, but you come and see how
they lived in the old days, particularly with farming," Keren
Paula draws attention to the details of cropping history on
"All the buildings here feature artefacts. We have got things
that the cook would have used to cook meals on the estate. We
have a lot of old machinery that pre-dates the electric
machinery: ploughs and other things that would have been
drawn by the horses. It was a grain-growing farm." Cattle
breeds on the estate included Angus, Ayrshire and Highland.
The original Totara Estate sheep raised for slaughter was a
Lincoln-Border Leicester cross.Coffee and refreshments are
soon to be available from the gift shop, which stocks a range
of timeless retrospective items.
The estate's opening hours from November 1 to April 30 are
every day from 10am until 5pm.
In May, September and October, opening hours change to 10am
until 4pm every day. In June, July and August, Totara Estate
is closed, but group tours are still welcome during
For further information contact Totara Estate, phone (03)