Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company Factory (Former)

652 State Highway 1 (Levin-Manakau), Kuku, Manakau

  • Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company Factory (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: A Dangerfield. Date: 1/07/2013.
  • Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company Factory (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: A Dangerfield. Date: 1/07/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4075 Date Entered 5th September 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 4 DP 73189 (CT WN40C/970), Wellington Land District, and the building known as Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company Ltd Factory (Former) thereon, with a curtilage to the north and east. Extent does not include the newer parts of the building at the northwest of the site. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rarangi Korero meeting on 9 March 2017.

City/District Council

Horowhenua District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Lot 4 DP 73189 (CT WN40C/970), Wellington Land District


The Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company Ltd was founded in 1915 and almost from the start its factory at Kuku, a locality midway between Manakau and Ohau, was subject to successive campaigns of rebuilding, renovation, expansion, and modernisation. These phases of physical change have architectural significance as they document a dynamic history in terms of dairy production (technology and goods) and frequent business restructuring, as well as losses caused by at least two major fires. Visually prominent from State Highway 1, the factory has historical significance as an important touchstone in the twentieth-century development of one of the nation’s most significant industries.

The Kuku Co-Operative Dairy Company first occupied an existing ‘dairy factory plant and premises at Kuku.’ This plant had been constructed as a creamery in 1913 around the time that a large beef cattle farm was subdivided into smaller plots more suited to dairying. Early-twentieth-century dairy farming in New Zealand was characterised, first, by a major expansion in the number of local dairy factories, and later, after about 1920, by decades of business consolidation, which capitalised on the inherent economies of scale in production as well as new developments in technology and transportation. The first Kuku Co-operative Dairy Company factory was ‘totally destroyed by fire’ in October 1915 and an entirely new one quickly built and operating by early in 1916.

Three years later, a dramatic increase in milk production in the region compelled the cooperative to expand the factory so that its ‘capacity for converting milk into cheese will be considerably increased.’ The initial proposal to house two additional cheese vats was quickly augmented to include a freezer and whey butter plant, the latter of which would ‘utilise a valuable by-product….[and] greatly extend the operations and scope of this progressive concern.’ The scope of these additions encouraged the directors to acquire a freehold on the property, which was owned by the Horowhenua County Council; they succeeded in making this purchase in December 1919.

In 1936 the Kuku dairy company merged with the nearby Manakau dairy company, becoming the Kuku-Manakau Co-operative Dairy Company Limited. The merged company consolidated their operations at Kuku, resulting in the construction of a ‘new butter-making premises,’ which most likely comprised all or part of the prominent reinforced concrete portions that remain extant along State Highway 1. While similar in form, structure, and scale, visible distinctions in construction details and joints, and the location and appearance of, now, interior window openings suggest two, closely spaced phases of construction with the portion closest to the road built first. The distinctive pair of matched, shaped parapet gables on the northeast side of the building facing the stream may have been devised to visually unify the two parts. The continued efforts toward expansion and modernisation were acknowledged in an April 1936 newspaper notice that records a visit by the Governor-General and his wife. It not only referred to the factory as ‘one of the best and most up-to-date in the Wellington provincial district,’ but also explained that the Department of Agriculture had ‘specially recommended’ going to the one at Kuku.

The 1936 additions now probably comprise the historic part of the factory. In January 1938, the facility suffered a major fire that in all likelihood destroyed the factory built in 1915 and, possibly, some of the expansions of 1919-20. The replacement for that part of the factory was subsequently lost when the Wellington Dairy Farmers Co-op Association, a later entity resulting from further mergers, constructed a new facility in 1979-80 for the production of milk powder, a vehicle workshop, and offices for administration and merchandising. That part of the complex is no longer used for dairy production. The current owner operates a drilling company out of the newer part of the building at the rear, leaving the historic portions at the front fully intact and readable as an open industrial space.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1915 - 1916
Construction of new factory after a fire destroyed the company’s factory purchased when the company was established earlier in the year

1919 - 1920
Addition of two vats, whey butter plant, and freezer

1936 -
Addition of new facilities for butter making; this campaign likely resulted in the reinforced concrete buildings with the prominent gables at front

1938 -
Fire that was likely the cause of the loss of the 1915-16 factory part

Additional building added to site
1979 - 1980
Addition of milk powder factory, vehicle workshop, and administrative offices at the northwest of the site

Completion Date

24th January 2017

Report Written By

James A. Jacobs

Information Sources

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Hugh Stringleman and Frank Scrimgeour, ‘Dairying and dairy products - Cooperatives and centralisation,’ Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13 July 2012, accessed 25 February 2016, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/dairying-and-dairy-products/page-3.

Dreaver, 1986

A.J. Dreaver, Horowhenua County and its People: A Centennial History, Dunmore Press, Wellington, 1986.

Wehipeihana, 1964

John Rodford Wehipeihana, ‘Sequent Economies in Kuku, A Study of a Rural Locality in New Zealand,’ thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 1964.

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central region Office of Heritage New Zealand.