At home along the coast

A turn-of-the-century wooden house overlooks Warrington and Blueskin Bay.
A turn-of-the-century wooden house overlooks Warrington and Blueskin Bay.
The spectacular coastline north of Dunedin is full of hidden gems and history. Charmian Smith does a reconnaisance for The Taieri Rotary Club's Heritage Homes of the Coastline tour on March 7.

When you reach the top of the motorway heading north from Dunedin, the expanse of Blueskin Bay opens out invitingly before you, but to enjoy the coastal delights and history, you need to leave SH1 and head around the back roads.


• Slideshow: Heritage homes of the coastline


Dotted along the coast are settlements near beaches that grew up as holiday resorts from the 1890s - Doctors Point Rd and Warrington at Blueskin Bay, and Karitane at the Waikouaiti River estuary.

They were popular picnic destinations as well, serviced by passenger and excursion trains from Dunedin.

At Warrington, two early-20th-century houses, both with wooden panelling, spectacular views over the coast, and relaxing gardens, will be open for people on the Heritage Homes of the Coastline tour.

Also at Warrington is the little Anglican church of St Barnabas, tucked away behind a lych gate in a peaceful graveyard that holds the remains of whalers and local residents.

It's worth a visit to see the jewel-like stained-glass windows in the west wall.

These, the story goes, were made at studios in Munich, Germany, and shipped out to Melbourne for a Catholic church in 1918.

However, watersiders there refused to unload them because they came from Germany, which at the time was at war with Britain and its empire, so they stayed on the ship and were unloaded at Dunedin, where they remained in storage for many years.

In 1935, Bishop Samuel Neville, who is buried in the graveyard, had them installed in the little church.

Further up the coast, past the site of the baronial Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, now Sir Truby King Reserve, is Puketeraki lookout, where you can admire the view of Karitane, the jagged Huriawa Peninsula and the towering yellow Cornish Head at the north end of Waikouaiti Bay.

At Karitane, Kingscliff, built in 1901 as a holiday home by Sir Truby King, who was the innovative medical superintendent at Seacliff asylum, will be open.

King, perhaps better known as the founder of the Plunket Society, used this house as a hospital for ailing babies - the first of the Karitane hospitals.

In 1925, King sold the house to the Lawson family, who still own it.

They made changes, including building an indoor panelled staircase and opening out the rooms that were once babies' nurseries.

However, King's original wood-panelled fireside alcove sits snugly in the middle of the house. Kingscliff's spacious gardens overlook the Waikouaiti River estuary where fishing boats bob on the tide, but from the back garden, sheltered by pine trees, you can hear the roar of the breakers beating on the rocks of the Huriawa Peninsula, site of Ngai Tahu chief Te Wera's pa.

About 250 years ago, it was beseiged by Te Wera's nephew Taoka, who camped on the sandspit opposite and treacherously stole a sacred image by creeping up the blowhole on the other side of the peninsula.

The image is said to have flown miraculously back to its home when Hatu the tohunga worked a magic spell.

High on Cornish Head across the bay sits Matanaka, Johnny Jones' house built in 1843-44, which, along with the remaining farm buildings, is probably the oldest building in Otago.

Jones was one of the largest landowners and most influential men in mid-19th century Otago.

His farms supplied food to the new settlement of Dunedin from 1848.

Standing on the hill among the handful of remaining farm buildings with the white wooden house and its garden across the paddock and the vast sea beyond, it's easy to imagine the isolation of this small settlement in its early days, although it would have been a bustling farmyard then.

A dozen families and numerous single men worked here, at Jones' whaling station at Old Waikouaiti (now Karitane) and on his other farms, one of which was Cherry Farm, which gave its name a century later to a mental hospital.

Numerous hospitals and rest-homes have been built along the coast, including Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and its successor, Cherry Farm, Orokonui Home near Waitati, James Powell Rest Home at Warrington, King's Karitane hospital for babies and another at Puketeraki for shell-shocked soldiers from World War 1, a health camp at Waikouaiti, a cottage hospital at Palmerston, and the Pleasant Valley Sanatorium, which will be open for the tour.

The sanatorium was built on Fullerton's farm in 1910 for patients suffering from tuberculosis.

Before drugs were developed, the only cure was fresh, cold air, rest and good food.

Although closed in 1954 and used as a church camp then a motor camp until 2005, several buildings remain.

A low wooden building was the first nurses' home.

Close by is a larger, more substantial nurses' home built in 1930.

Across a small gully, linked by a path and newly repaired bridge, is the doctor's residence, designed by Dunedin architects Mason and Wales around 1912.

All are now private houses, but will be open for the tour.


Be there

Heritage Homes of the Coastline open day: March 7, 10am-5pm.
Cost: $25, which includes light refreshments, or $45 for an all-inclusive bus tour.
Tickets available at: Taieri Amcal Pharmacy, Mosgiel; Dunedin i-Site Visitor Centre, Dunedin; CRT, Dunedin; Blueskin Nurseries, Waitati; Karitane Stores, Karitane; Ambience with Information, Palmerston; East Otago Events Centre, Waikouaiti.
Inquiries: phone Henriette Rawlings (03) 476-4133 home or (03) 474-3445.


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