A group of keen “60s Up” members assembled in the long term behind the shopping centre and waited for the bus to arrive. And we waited, and waited, and waited some more, as the wind got up and the rain clouds threatened. Mumblings and grumblings were heard – there was no shelter and the bus was way overdue to take us on our outing. Finally, our President rang through to the bus company. Ooops….. there had been a communication breakdown and our booking had not been passed on to the local office. Finally the bus arrived, and we gladly climbed aboard. Peter, our usual driver must have had to change his early morning plans, dress in his bus driving uniform, drive down to the depot to collect the bus, and collect his waiting passengers. We were finally on our way to Takapau.
The remnants of spring bulbs were in the gardens as we were ushered into a church building, with tables set up for our lunch. The historic St Vincent’s Church was relocated to Oruawharo in 2012 from the nearby township of Takapau. The church was originally donated to the community by the Johnston family, who owned the Oruawharo homestead and surrounding farmland. In 2012, due to dwindling congregation numbers, the church was donated to the present owners of Oruawharo, who carefully moved it onto the property where it has now become home to the weddings and functions that are hosted at Oruawharo.
We admired the beautiful New Zealand timbers inside the church, richly glowing in the sunlight pouring in from the windows. The meat was carved, and we selected our vegetables from the “bain marie”, and silence descended as we settled down to enjoy our roast meals.
Lunch time inside the church
“Wander over to the house when you are ready”, we were told, as we finished our lunch with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a slice of delicious American Brownie.
Our tour started in the ballroom, where our host Peter Harris related how he came to purchase the historic Oruawharo Homestead. Built in 1868 for Sydney and Sophia Johnston, the house was alive with house parties where guests were entertained with tennis, croquet, picnics, horse races and hunts. From these grand occasions, the house was abandoned 100 years later after the early tragic death of the young heir. 30 years of neglect later the once beautiful homestead was covered in ivy and in danger of being demolished. Peter and Dianne Harris decided they could not let this happen, the house needed to be saved, and they bought the property in 2000, with the aim to restore it have to it’s original condition. The badly leaking roof was the first priority and one that yielded a surprise bonus. The roof cavity revealed a cache of Royal Doulton and other good china which former occupants had used as ‘buckets’ to catch drips. With the roof repaired and insulated, new heating, water and sewage systems were installed, power and telephone upgraded and the cables undergrounded to preserve the house’s uncluttered silhouette. A start has been made on the brick-by-brick process of relining Oruawharo’s 23 chimneys. Peter gave us a slide show presentation showing the early days of their purchase and what has been achieved so far.
Timber ceiling in the ballroom
After that, we were free to wander anywhere in the house. Where to start – perhaps we will go up this magnificent staircase to check out the bedrooms. Rooms led off rooms, which led in to bathrooms. Some rooms had been renovated, others had materials stacked up ready and waiting for the work to begin.
Completely empty of furniture when purchased in 2000, Peter has been seeking early New Zealand colonial furniture and slowly adding these pieces to the house.
Chinese Opera Scene, carved from a single slab of NZ Kauri
Much has been achieved so far, and we wish Peter and Dianne well in their endeavours. With their drive, enthusiasm and love of this beautiful old house, they are sure to make their dream come true.