Strachan's Cave

Kaukatea Valley Road, Okoia, Whanganui

  • Strachan's Cave.
    Copyright: Papakura Radio Club inc.
  • .
    Copyright: Papakura Radio Club inc.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7308 Date Entered 19th April 1996


City/District Council

Whanganui District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

part of Lot 2 DP 48212 Blk II Ikitara SD


Built in the 1850s Strachan's Cave is a rare surviving example of a privately built refuge, and represents the level to which race relations had fallen in Victorian New Zealand. The cave was built by the Strachan family who immigrated to New Zealand in 1851. For the first two years David and Elizabeth Strachan, and their children stayed in the Wanganui town, before taking up their property known as 'Lornty' in 1853. Here they built a house and cleared the land for a sheep farm. Troubled by the state of affairs between Pakeha settlers and Maori, compounded by their relative isolation from the main Pakeha population at Wanganui, the Strachan's excavated a nearby hillside, creating a cave to retreat to in times of threat.

Strachan's cave consists of an entrance passage, two 'rooms', and a long narrow passage at the back. The entrance has two gunports guarding the passage, whilst the long narrow passage at the back is also guarded by a third gunport facing directly into the second room. Although the family had many scares, especially during the conflicts of the 1860s, they were never attacked.

Until the mid-1980s the cave remained hidden behind bush and scrub.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Strachan's Cave is historically significant as it is a reflection of Pakeha settler fears and attitudes, and the state of race relations at that time. It is an example of a structure made in response to a particular situation, which lasted for a comparatively brief time. The cave may also be seen as a demonstration of the isolation in which many Pakeha families lived for years.

The cave is located in a hillside consisting of soft to medium hard rock with a clay overlay. The fairly sophisticated layout to the cave demonstrates a clear plan for the requirements for defence, with several chambers and gun ports. The construction of the cave by hand is a remarkable achievement and presumably would have been completed fairly quickly, given the perceived threat.

Strachan's cave was excavated circa 1858. Archaeological techniques could provide limited information about the cave, its construction and its use. Analysis could be undertaken of the walls to examine the means of construction, and it is possible that cultural material might be located beneath the floor which would indicated the use of the cave.

(a) The extent to which the place reflect important or representative aspects of NZ history

Strachan's cave is a rare surviving example of a privately built refuge personifying the level to which race relations had fallen in Victorian New Zealand. It is a realisation of the extent to which early Pakeha settlers went to protect themselves when they felt threatened.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of NZ history

The cave can provide information on and demonstrate the attitude of the early Pakeha settlers during time of perceived threat. It demonstrates the innovative solution one family undertook to ensure their safety.

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

The cave is a complex structure, with several chambers and gun ports. It was built with a clear understanding for the needs of defence. Its construction by hand is a remarkable achievement.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The cave has a degree of rarity. Its rarity comes not from its function as a dwelling unit - the archaeological record has people living in caves in several locations in the country, but through its technological and cultural significance in being designed, constructed and utilised by one family for a relatively short period of time, and for one specific purpose, being defence

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1860 -

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.