Otakou Maori Memorial Methodist Church

Tamatea Rd, Otakou Marae, Otakou

  • Otakou Maori Memorial Methodist Church.
    Copyright: Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 6/09/2008.
  • Otakou Maori Memeorial Methodist Church. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Avenue - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Avenue - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 1/05/2007.
  • Otakou Maori Memeorial Methodist Church. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Derek Smith. Taken By: Derek Smith - travelling-light. Date: 24/08/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5177 Date Entered 14th February 1991


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region



The Otakou Maori Memorial Methodist Church was erected during New Zealand's Centennial Year to commemorate the establishment of the first Christian mission in the South Island by Rev James Watkin on 16 May 1840 and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi at Otakou on 13 June of the same year. The church replaced a weatherboard building erected on the same site in 1865 by the chief Taiaroa who had previously given ten acres of his land on which to build a church following his baptism and acceptance of the Christian faith in 1857.

The memorial church was first proposed in 1931 and the Rev T A Pybus subsequently played a major part in bringing this centennial project to fruition. In 1938 the Methodist Conference resolved to erect a brick church at Otakou and the foundation stones were laid two years later on 24 February 1940. The cost of the building was met by a government grant, the Methodist Church and local fundraising efforts and the church was officially opened on 22 March 1941.

The nearby cemetery is the burial place of all but one of the Chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi and the Otago Deed of Sale.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The church at Otakou commemorates two major events in New Zealand history and the people who made them both possible. It serves as a visible reminder of the long history of Maori settlement on Otago Peninsula and of the efforts of the pioneer missionaries in bringing Christianity to the inhabitants of the South Island.


There were once at least eighty-four Maori churches in the South Island of New Zealand but not very many of that number remain today and among the survivors the Memorial Church at Otakou is unique because it features such an extensive use of traditional Maori decoration and in a non-traditional material. In this regard the concrete panels on the exterior of the church are particularly significant as decoration was usually confined to the interior of Maori churches, whereas their external appearance was often virtually identical to that of contemporary churches built in the same materials for pakeha congregations. The church at Otakou may also be considered as evidence of the growing appreciation of traditional Maori arts that occurred in the 1930s and 1940s, and in particular the impact of New Zealand's Centennial Year.


The Church, given its proximity to the Otakou Meeting House (1945) and the Centennial Gate (1940), forms part of a distinctive complex of buildings in the landscape of Otago Peninsula.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

White, James Hodge

J H White (1896-1970) was born in Dunedin and educated in Tasmania but returned to Dunedin to undertake his early training with a local architectural firm. Having served overseas during World War One, White was awarded a British Army Scholarship and subsequently attended the London School of Architecture for three years. He graduated with honours, winning the gold medal of the International Victory Scholarship (1921). Following his return to New Zealand White undertook a study tour of the United States with fellow architect Horace Massey before settling in Dunedin, where he entered into a brief partnership with Leslie Coombes (1925-6). Coombes & White won the national competition for the design of the Southland War Memorial which was erected in Invercargill, but soon afterwards the partnership was dissolved and in 1927 White joined forces with another Dunedin architect, Eric Miller (1896-1948).

Miller & White became architects to the University of Otago, won the national design competition for the Auckland Residential Methodist College and also designed the Regent Theatre, Dunedin, the Willi Fels Wing of the Otago Museum (c.1929), and numerous other commercial, ecclesiastical and residential buildings in Dunedin. James White was the principal designer of the firm and it was in this capacity that he designed the St John Ambulance building in York Place and the New Zealand Road Services Passenger Station in Rattray Street (1939) which is also in the Art Deco style. After Eric Miller's death White entered partnership with Ian Dunn, who had been with the practice since 1933. The firm then became known as Miller, White & Dunn. This practice won the national competition for the design of the Canterbury Museum extensions in 1951. James White retired five years before his death in 1970 and today the firm is continued by his son Geoffrey in partnership with Rodney Dalziel.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The Centenary Memorial Church at Otakou brings together the formal principles of English church design with the traditional decorative motifs of Maori art. The result is a building which evokes the appearance of a Maori meeting house and yet at the same time fulfills the Ecclesiological tenet that the different parts of a church should be distinct from one another. Thus the nave, chancel, bell and entrance tower, vestry and sanctuary are clearly articulated within an exterior composition which features the extensive use of concrete panels cast in imitation of Maori carving. The panels adorn the bargeboards, buttresses, door and window surrounds of the building and were cast from moulds which were taken from carvings held in the Otago Museum. The plaster panels which decorate the interior of the church were also created in this manner and the idea of using existing carvings to serve as the templates for the Otakou church panels can be credited to a Mr Thompson, who was a local collector and connoisseur of Maori artifacts.

Designed to provide seating for one hundred and twenty people, the church is unusual not only for its extensive use of Maori decorative motifs, but also for the inclusion of a local history museum within the building. Situated at the liturgical west end of the church, directly opposite the chancel, the museum is 4.3 x 4.9 metres square and is entered through double swing doors at the rear of the nave which is four bays long and 12.5 x 6.1 metres square. Like the main body of the church the museum features painted kowhaiwhai panels which decorate the ceiling, although in the museum these panels are flat whereas those in the nave are boxed to sheath the rafters of the pitched roof. Both the nave and the museum are lit by rectangular windows and those in the former are filled with coloured leadlights which are based on Maori decorative patterns. The chancel is lit by a stained glass window designed by John Brock, a Dunedin craftsman, and the window depicts a seated Christ surrounded by three adults and three children, four of the figures wearing traditional Maori dress.

In addition to the principal architectural features of the church, there are a number of objects set within the fabric of the building which commemorate different aspects of Otakou's history. For example, a brick set within the wall of the church was originally part of Reverend Watkin's manse at Karitane, which was built in 1840 from bricks imported from Sydney. Further, there is a stone set into the rear wall of the nave which came from the Venerable Bede's Monastery at Jarrow, England (862) and another which was part of the Weller Brothers' whaling store, erected in 1831 and the site of the first services held by Rev. Watkin in Otakou. The stone font beside the entrance was originally made for the first Otakou church and the bell in the tower came from the Perseverance, a Maori owned schooner which transported Bishop Selwyn to Otakou in 1844. Finally the pulpit, which repeats the tukutuku work featured on the chancel dado, contains fragments from the pulpit, carved by the Rev J F Reimenschneider of the first Otakou church.


1984 Flooring renewed in museum wing and in part of the nave.

Notable Features

"Carved" panels in concrete; fine decoration of interior.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1941 -

1984 -
Flooring renewed in museum wing and in part of the nave.

Construction Details

Cavity brick walls with a Moeraki gravel/concrete finish tinted pink by the addition of paint to the concrete. Timber flooring and framing with clay tile roof. Concrete and plaster decorative panels.

Information Sources

Knight, 1979

Hardwicke Knight, Otago Peninsula, Broad Bay, Dunedin, 1979

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Files: Otakou Church File, Otago Regional Officer


Architectural Drawings/Plans

Miller, White and Dalziel, Architects, Dunedin

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

'The Maori Churches of the South Island', W. Chambers, No. 29, June 1990, pp15-20

New Zealand Methodist Times

New Zealand Methodist Times

19 April, p409 (Photographs)

- 2 July 1938, pp69, 73

- 23 March 1940, p386

- 18 May 1940, pp22-3, 27

- 27 July 1940, p109

- 19 April 1941, p422

Pybus, 1940

Rev T A Pybus, 'Centenary Commemoration South Island - Otakou and the First Christian Mission', Dunedin, 1940

Pybus, 1940 (2)

Rev T A Pybus, 'It Happened in Otakou - A Centennial Souvenir, 1840-1940', Dunedin, 1940

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.