Post Office Complex (Former)

1 Torquay Street And Kilarney Street, Kaikoura

  • Post Office Complex (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Francis Vallance. Taken By: Francis Vallance.
  • Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Francis Vallance. Taken By: Francis Vallance.
  • Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Francis Vallance. Taken By: Francis Vallance.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2914 Date Entered 15th December 2006


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the Post Office (former), Carrier Telephone Repeater Station (former) and the Lines Depot (former), their fittings and fixtures, and the land on certificate of title MB 4D/853. The registration does not include the garage beside the Lines Depot (former).

City/District Council

Kaikoura District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Sec 487 Town of Kaikoura (CT MB4D/853), Marlborough Land District


The Post Office Complex (Former), Kaikoura, comprises three buildings: the former Post Office, Carrier Telephone Repeater Station and Lines Depot. Constructed between 1893 and 1951, these buildings housed vital communication and government services for Kaikoura until the mid 1980s. The complex is therefore representative of the buildings and services once associated with small provincial post offices.

The former Kaikoura Post Office was built in 1893 as part of the Liberal Government's expansion of state services. It replaced an earlier building on the same site dating from the establishment of the new inter-island telegraph system in 1867. From the 1880s, government architect John Campbell developed three post office models. The 1893 building at Kaikoura follows closely the simplest of these standard plans - that for a small provincial or suburban post office. The small, rectangular, rusticated weatherboard building exhibits features typical of a Campbell plan, such as a hipped roof with a central gable crowning a porch, and sash windows of a particular profile. The post office was extended in 1908 and again in 1951 to accommodate changing telecommunications technology, and expanding functions and demand.

The former Carrier Repeater Station and the former Lines Depot were both built in 1936 as part of an infrastructural expansion under the First Labour Government. They were constructed in response to expanding local and national demand for telecommunications during the interwar period. The inclusion of an Employment Bureau as part of the Line Depot reinforces an understanding of the role of the post office as an agent of government, and reflects measures taken to combat the Great Depression. Both 1936 buildings are sympathetic in shape and scale to the Post Office, although the weatherboard Lines Depot relates particularly closely to its older neighbour.

The Post Office Complex was closed between 1983 and 1985 because of obsolescence and a relocation of Kaikoura's business district. At the time of its closure in 1985, the post office's manual exchange was one of the last large exchanges in operation. Since 2001 the buildings have accommodated a backpackers' hostel.

The Post Office Complex (Former), Kaikoura, has historical and social significance as a vital centre of communications for this isolated district over ninety years, linking Kaikoura with the wider world and providing a primary interface with government. The buildings have architectural significance as representative structures of different periods of post office design. The complex and its site also have technological and historical significance as a reflection of 120 years of growth and development in telecommunications technology.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Post Office Complex (former), Kaikoura, has historical significance as a vital centre of communications (telegraph, telephone, and postal) and other government services (savings bank etc) for the isolated Kaikoura district for almost a century. Although the post office building was erected in 1893, the site was in use as a station on the new national telegraph line from 1867. Later additions to the site through the early and mid twentieth century reflect the evolution of communications technology. The two 1936 buildings (the Carrier Station and Lines Depot/Employment Bureau) in particular provide both a snapshot of the growth of telecommunications in the interwar period, and of the role of infrastructural development in the social programme of the first Labour government.

The former Post Office has architectural significance as a representative example of a simple late Victorian provincial post office, built to a standard plan of the Public Works Department under architect John Campbell. The post war alterations to the post office, and its two ancillary buildings from 1936 represent other later phases of Post and Telegraph Department/Public Works Department design. The three buildings and their site have technological significance as a reflection of 120 years of growth and development in telecommunications technology - from the initiation of a national telegraph in 1867, through the establishment of the telephone locally in 1909, and the technical innovation and infrastructural expansion of the mid twentieth century, to the closure of one of New Zealand's last manual exchanges in 1985.

The former Post Office Complex, Kaikoura, has social significance as a former hub of the Kaikoura community; as a pivotal communications link with the outside world, as an informal meeting place, and the most significant interface with central government bureaucracy that many local people would experience on a regular basis.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Post Office Complex (former) represents the important role that post offices once played in linking otherwise isolated parts of New Zealand with each other, and with the wider world. Such small post offices also represented a primary interface between New Zealand's government and many of its citizens.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The former Post Office complex is associated with events surrounding the development of the postal service and of telecommunications in New Zealand. Use of the site began in 1867 with construction of a telegraph station, and although no buildings survive from this earliest period, the post office (1893, extended 1908, 1951), and the Lines Depot and Carrier Station (both 1936) represent later phases of growth and development. Official use of the site finally ceased with the removal of the telephone exchange in 1985.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The former Kaikoura Post Office, its alterations, and its ancillary buildings represent three distinct phases of Post and Telegraph Department design. The original Post Office building (1893) is a typical small turn-of-the-century provincial post office. Its significant early 1950s alterations represent a response to postwar population growth, greater uptake and utilization of telecommunications, and the changing communications technology of the period.The Lines Depot and Carrier Station (1936) also represent earlier responses to changing communications technology and its utilization. The Line Depot may represent an early effort by the Public Works Department to harmonize a new design with an existing building. The Carrier Repeater Station, a more standard design of the period, is representative of similar functional buildings erected throughout the country. Others survive (ie at Hanmer in North Canterbury), but none are currently represented on the Register.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The former post office and its ancillary buildings form part of a small precinct of government buildings along Kilarney St, including Kaikoura's courthouse (Register No. 3070, Category II Historic Place) and a former police station.


The Post Office Complex (former), Kaikoura, may be assigned Category II status for its significance in the provision of vital communication and government services for its relatively isolated community over ninety years. The three buildings on the site reflect developments in communications technology and the evolution of departmental design over the period - particularly with regard to the 1890s and 1930s.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Campbell, John

John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.

In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.

He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career.

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Rainey, H. W.

Constructed Line Depot in Kaikoura in 1936.

Williamson and Rose

Constructed Carrier Station in Kaikoura in 1936.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The former Post Office Complex, Kaikoura, is representative of many small provincial post offices, established in rural communities in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to provide vital communication and government services.

Opened in 1893, the Post Office building served for ninety years as a community hub until its closure in the 1980s. The Post Office's ancillary buildings - the former Carrier Telephone Repeater Station and the former Lines Depot - reflect changing communications technologies and the expansion of telephone use during the 1930s. The occupation of a portion of the new depot by the Employment Bureau during the 1930s further reinforces the former role of the Post Office as the local face of government, and also reflects the hardships of the Great Depression, and the progressive social agenda of the first Labour government.

The rich waters of Kaikoura have been a favoured kai moana source for Maori since the beginnings of settlement 900 years ago. By the seventeenth century, the Ngai Tahu pa of Takahanga was the dominant pa in the area, protecting both the coastal trade route and an inland route for the collection of pounamu for more than 200 years. In the summer of 1827-1828 however, Takahanga was sacked by Te Rauparaha, and its people killed or enslaved. Some survivors returned from Kapiti in the late 1830s, and a small kaik was formed on the former pa site. Twenty two acres of the site were set aside as Maori reserve in the 1859 Kaikoura Purchase, and occupied until the end of the 1870s.

Between 1861 and 1864 the Marlborough Provincial Council surveyed the Kaikoura district for closer settlement. In the new Kaikoura Township, an area adjacent to the Takahanga reserve was gazetted by the Council for government buildings. A police station was erected on the site in 1865, a courthouse in 1866, and at the beginning of 1867, a relay station on the newly-established inter-island telegraph line.

A regular postal service was established to Kaikoura in 1861, when William Blick won the contract for a bi-monthly mail service from Picton to Hawkeswood. Postman's Road, which skirts the base of Mt Fyffe, follows the line of Blick's route. By November 1861 a post office had been opened north of Kaikoura at Kekerengu. Following the establishment of Kaikoura township, a post office was opened there in November 1865. This office was probably in the Caledonian Hotel. After Walter Hailes took charge in 1866, the post office was shifted out to his house at Mt Pleasant. By April 1867 however, the post office branch had joined the telegraph office in its Torquay Street building, and telegraph office supervisor, Sutherland Macalister, became the township's first full-time postmaster. A savings bank and money order branch opened in the post office in 1869.

The significance of the colonial post and telegraph office was greater than simply its usefulness as a centre of communication. The post office as an institution also represented colonial progress, government authority, and national and imperial unity. The doggedness of the post office in ensuring the mail 'got through' has engendered many stories, and the buildings themselves frequently made architectural statements.

During the period of the Liberal administration (1891-1912), state services were expanded significantly. Within the Post and Telegraph Department, the construction of new buildings, replacement of older buildings and roll-out of telecommunications resulted in a nation-wide post office building boom. In Kaikoura, a new post and telegraph office was constructed adjacent to the site of the previous building in 1893. Designed by the Public Works Department, the new building followed closely the then standard plan for a small provincial or suburban post office. This was the simplest of three post office models developed from the 1880s by government architect John Campbell. It consisted of a one or two-storey block with a hipped roof and central gable, and was usually three bays wide and about nine by ten metres in size. A similar plan was regularly deployed for other small government buildings such as police stations and courthouses, and remained in use (with some variation) for more than two decades.

The Post Office was first extended in 1908, when a room was added to accommodate Kaikoura's first telephone exchange. The exchange opened on 11 January 1909 with sixteen subscribers. Twenty-seven years later, the next major addition to the post office site was also for telephone apparatus. This was the 'Carrier Station', a substantial three room concrete building erected to the north of the Post Office on the corner of Torquay and Kilarney Streets.

During the two decades following World War I, many more people wanted telephones, and a rapid expansion in telecommunications took place throughout New Zealand. In order to help meet demand, the Post and Telegraph Office enhanced the carrying capacity of the country's main telephone trunks with the 'Carrier' system, a recently developed application of radio technology. This system created extra voice channels on existing telephone wires by modulating the circuit frequencies above the 3 kHz necessary for ordinary conversation. The signal could subsequently be demodulated to produce normal voice signals. Implementation began in 1929, and was expanded from 1936 under the first Labour Government. By the late 1930s, the 'Carrier' network had provided 118 extra long distance circuits. Designed by the Post and Telegraph Office in 1935, the Kaikoura Carrier Repeater Station contained equipment providing 45 through channels and twelve local channels for toll and telegraph communication. It was constructed by contractors Williamson and Rose at a cost of £769, and opened in April 1936.

Two months after the opening of the Carrier Station, the construction of a second building was commenced - this time to the south of the post office on the Torquay Street frontage. This building was intended to house both the linesmen's office, store and garage, and the government employment bureau. The two services had previously shared the old linesmen's store, the inadequacies of which were becoming increasingly evident by the mid 1930s. By 1936, extensive line construction work in the district was placing the existing store under pressure. The employment bureau's quarters were also proving inadequate, given the significantly increased workload that the depression improving initiatives of the first Labour government (1935-38) were producing for the district's unemployment officer.

Most of the officer's new work emanated from the administration of railway construction parties and 'Sustenance Payments'. Following a three-year hiatus during the worst years of the depression, railway construction began again in earnest after Labour's election in 1935. By the end of 1936, 2,273 unemployed relief workers were labouring on the completion of three railways - including the long-awaited South Island Main Trunk Line - the unfinished portion of which passed through the Kaikoura district. Sustenance Payments were benefits paid to the unemployed who were 'fit for work', but for whom work was not available. The new weatherboard Lines Depot and Employment Bureau building was designed by the Public Works Department in Christchurch. The employment by the department of a hipped roof and sash windows in the new building suggests an effort to harmonise its design with that of the Post Office. The depot was built by contractor H. W. Rainey at a cost of £691, and completed in August 1936.

As early as 1929 a report to the Chief Post Master in Christchurch noted that the Kaikoura Post Office was both cramped and poorly sited for the township's business district in the West End. The issue was thereafter revisited on a regular basis. Significant alterations were proposed in 1936 as a stopgap measure, but were opposed by local citizens who feared that this would postpone the erection of a new building. A deputation waited on the Post Master General, who informed them that he could not make a decision on a new building until the completion of the Main Trunk Line and the selection of a site for the station. However despite the selection of the station site in 1938 and the completion of the railway in 1945, neither additions nor a new building were forthcoming.

Finally in 1949, despite the Kaikoura County Council's express desire for a new post office, the decision was made to proceed with a plan to significantly enlarge and reconfigure the existing building. Designed by the Architectural Branch of the Post Office's Property Division, the alterations and additions were constructed during 1950-51 by the Post Office's Mobile Construction Gang at an estimated cost of £2,500. The completed building incorporated a new mailroom, manual exchange, strongroom and interior facilities.

In 1950 a site was acquired for a new Kaikoura Post Office in Beach Road, near the new railway station. The site was never used for this purpose however, and it was not until 1983, more than fifty years after its replacement had been first mooted, that the Torquay Street Post Office finally shut its doors. A new post office was opened on 12 December 1983 on the Esplanade in the West End, but the manual telephone exchange continued to operate from the old building for a further eighteen months. At the time of its closure, the exchange was one of the largest manual exchanges still in service, with eleven switchboards and twenty-one staff. The opening of a fully automated exchange in Hastings Street in mid 1985 finally signalled the end of the Torquay Street site. The old Kaikoura Post Office buildings had become redundant due to a combination of obsolescence and the movement of the town centre to the West End, but their closure anticipated the widespread demise of rural and suburban post offices during the early 1990s.

The complex of former Post Office, Carrier Station and Line Depot was sold in 1986. The new owner began to convert the buildings into six flats. Following the arrival of mass tourism in Kaikoura during the 1990s however, the need for tourist accommodation became evident, and in 2001 the complex was converted into the Albatross Backpackers. This conversion involved further internal alterations to all three buildings. Significant external alterations were however limited to the insertion of French doors in the 1951 post office extension. In 2006 the buildings continue to provide tourist accommodation.

Physical Description

Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the eastern seaboard of the South Island. It is geographically isolated from other centres of population but sits astride State Highway 1. Consequently the township has served through much of its history both as a rural service centre and as a transit point between Marlborough and Canterbury.

The older part of Kaikoura township is located in a long flat ribbon below a former sea cliff, book-ended by areas known respectively as the East and West Ends. The West End has formed the hub of the commercial district since the 1920s; the East End terminates at the port area.

The Kaikoura Post Office Complex (former) is located on a long narrow section at the Torquay Street/Kilarney Street corner. Torquay Street runs parallel to the sea, but a block inland, and links the East and West Ends. By the 1890s when the new Post Office was constructed, the neighbourhood was mixed commercial, service and residential. Kilarney Street, running at right angles to the Esplanade, was the location of Kaikoura's government services, including the Courthouse (Category II, Record Number 3070) and Police Station (for both, see 1905 photograph, Appendix 4). As a consequence of the shift of the commercial area to the West End from the early twentieth century, the neighbourhood today is primarily residential.

The former Post Office is a small rectangular building with the double-hung sash window profile typical of a public building of the period - a single light lower sash and six-light upper sash. The main feature of the single storey building is its central front porch. This is decorated with a spindle frieze supported on brackets, and surmounted with a projecting battened gable and finial. Either side of the porch is a single sash window. The north elevation contains a twin sash window of the same profile. A 1950-51 addition extends from the north elevation. This has a mixture of casement windows and French doors, and is clad in rusticated weatherboard to match the older part of the building. The hipped roof is crowned with a large metal ventilator, a replacement with a different profile to the original.

The interior has been significantly altered (mainly in 1950-51) with the removal of several walls and the rearrangement of others to provide large communal spaces. Wall remnants however provide clues to an earlier layout, and the strongroom remains in-situ. New kitchen and bathroom facilities were inserted in the former staff areas in 2001 to provide for the backpackers' lodge.

To the north of the former Post Office (along the Kilarney Street side of the property) is the former Carrier Telephone Repeater Station. This rectangular hip roofed reinforced concrete structure is three bays in length, one bay wide, and consists of three rooms. The northern elevation originally had three paired fixed-sash steel-framed windows (one pair in each bay), each with a pivoting central pane for ventilation. The eastern-most pair were replaced by a door during the post office period, but have since been restored at a lower height - possibly with the window removed from the western elevation. The southern elevation has a similar fenestration, except in the central bay, where a door was provided in place of one of the casements. The western elevation, which originally contained a pair of steel casements, is now also fitted with a door. The Carrier telephone equipment has been removed, and two of the three 1936 spaces subdivided. The building presently provides bedroom accommodation. To the south of the former Post Office, along Torquay Street, is the former Lines Depot. This rectangular hip roofed timber building originally incorporated offices, stores and a garage. The west elevation (facing Torquay Street) has three single and one paired double-hung sash windows with four pane upper sashes. One window has been replaced with a modern fixed casement . The east (courtyard) elevation has two original doors, two original sash windows and two modern casement windows. The southern-most of the modern windows fills the former garage space; the northern, apparently a former doorway. The short northern elevation features a Victorian style verandah, added in 2001 as part of the backpacker conversion. A door and two casement windows open onto the verandah. The interior of the building has been significantly altered, with most of the 1936 spaces subdivided into smaller rooms. As with the Carrier Station, this building now provides bedroom accommodation.

Notable Features

Post Office (Former)

Carrier Telephone Repeater Station (Former)

Lines Depot (Former)

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1893 -
Post Office completed.

1908 -
Addition of room to rear for telephone exchange.

Original Construction
1936 -
Carrier Station and Lines Deport completed.

1950 - 1951
Significant alterations to interior.

1977 -
Unspecified alterations; possibly an addition to the rear.

1990 - 2000
Conversion to six flats.

2001 -
Conversion to backpackers' accommodation.

Construction Details

Post Office: rusticated weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof.

Carrier Station: reinforced concrete with a corrugated iron roof.

Line Depot: shiplap weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

25th September 2006

Report Written By

Gareth Wright / Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Wilson, 1994 (2)

A. Wilson, Wire and Wireless: a History of Telecommunications in New Zealand 1860-1987 Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1994.

Richardson, 1988

Peter Richardson, 'An Architecture of Empire: The Government Buildings of John Campbell in New Zealand', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988

Sherrard, 1966

J. Sherrard, Kaikoura: A History of the District Kaikoura: Kaikoura County Council, 1966.

Thorn, 1937

J. Thorn, New Zealand's Labour Government: its First Year of Office: a Record of its Legislative and Administrative Achievement Wellington: Standard Press, 1937.

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.