St Peters Church

Hinemoa Point, Rotorua

  • St Peter's Church.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: J Schuster. Date: 2/03/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7402 Date Entered 31st October 1997


City/District Council

Rotorua District


Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Owhata 5 Blk XII Rotoiti SD

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


St Peter's Church is part of the Te Ngae parish established by Rev. Thomas Chapman in the mid 19th century. The church building was part of what local historian Don Stafford describes as 'an upsurge in enthusiasm for church matters during the 1930s'. Its construction owed much to community effort - the Misses Bulstrode and the Women's Maori Mission at Whakarewarewa raising money for a decade and a half and community labour contributing to its construction. A similar combination of effort produced St Paul's Church at Ngapuna, which opened two years later.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


St Peters Church is a small, traditional, timber-built cruciform building with an ecclesiastically pitched roof clad in corrugated iron. Although the design is therefore nominally Gothic Revival the exterior is undistinguished, has no Gothic detail and is extremely plain in the manner of many Inter-war churches. The interior on the other hand conforms to the genre of Maori churches in having detailed art work of very high quality which is associated with the School of Maori Arts and Crafts, Rotorua, and specifically with the carvers Pine Taiapu and Eremiha Neke.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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


The history of the church is poorly documented, although the opening ceremony, like that performed for St Paul's, Ngapuna, was a major event, officiated by Bishop Bennett.


St Peter's was designed by Tai Mitchell with the help of Tai Mitchell and Taimoana. Mitchell, of mixed Scottish and Maori ancestry, had trained as a surveyor and was the first chairman of the Te Arawa District Trust Board. Stafford notes that 'little, if anything, involving the Maori people took place in Rotorua without his participation... Few government matters were prosecuted except through him.' The carving is associated with Pine Taiapa and Eremiha Neke from the School of Maori Arts and Crafts and the tukutuku work is attributed to the women of Owhata.


The church's physical fusion of European vernacular architectural styles and Maori interior decoration, shows the interplay between Maori and European culture. The church occupies a site of importance to local Maori, the point from which Hinemoa is said to have swum to meet her lover, Tutanekai.

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

DATE: 1933


STYLE CODE: 78: Inter War Maori Church


St Peters Church (1933) was built during a period when many church buildings still looked back to the traditional architectural forms of the Gothic Revival. Generally speaking these forms became plainer and plainer as the Inter-war period progressed, with only the Arts and Crafts churches, like St David's Pioneer Memorial Church, Cave, (Category I), or the Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo, (Cat.I), breaking new ground.

Inter-war Maori Churches were no exception in terms of the treatment of their exteriors, and the plain exteriors of places like St Mary's Church, Tikitiki, (Cat.I), and St Peters (considered here) stand in stark contrast with the elaborate and eclectic Tudor styled exterior of a late Edwardian designed place like St Faiths Church, Ohinemutu, (proposed 'A', Cat.I).

From Victorian times, however, Maori churches have formed a special genre in their own right due to the treatment of their interiors which are finely detailed and artistically somewhat different from the European churches because of the richness of the symbolism involved in traditional Maori arts and crafts. It is in terms of these items, rather than in terms of the conventional exterior treatment of Maori churches, that a meaningful assessment of the qualities of these places would seem to lie.

St Peters church clearly contains beautifully detailed Maori decoration inside in the form of tukutuku panels, kowhaiwhai designs, a carved altar, lectern and baptismal font. All of these items indicate design and workmanship of a very high quality quite apart from their traditional and spiritual significance.

Nevertheless, in at least one sense an assessment of the interior decorative work in St Peters is very difficult because, considered purely as art, we have no information that would allow us to compare the quality of the Rotorua school of Maori arts and crafts, which this work is a product of, with other similar schools of traditional Maori art. Another difficulty is that the traditional and spiritual significance of the art may well have a higher value to the local or regional Maori people than it might have if one were to simply compare it, from a European point of view, with the same significance and quality of the art work in St Marys or St Faiths. All one can say for certain, is that on a purely technical level, the execution of the individual works of art in St Peters is, without question, comparable with that found in the other two churches, and indeed one may go so far as to say that certain specific items appear, in some respects, to be richer in design because there appears to be more of it in St Peters and in greater detail. The tukutuku panels in St Peters, for example, have extremely intricate and elaborate designs. At the entrance to the chancel these panels extend from floor to ceiling in the same way that can be seen in the other two churches, but while the panels in the other two churches are relatively plain in this position (although not in the main body of the two respective churches) the panels at St Peters contain an elaborate diamond patterned design encapsulating a motif which may possibly be an abstract representation of a chalice.

Having said this however, I believe it is necessary to be cautious when making material comparisons like this. The richness of detail in one or two panels should not necessarily be a determining factor in assessing design quality, but rather the overall scope and presentation of the art work as a whole, and more particularly what it represents. With regard to these considerations, it seems to me that the quality of the overall presentation of art work in St Peters is not quite as good as that found in St Faiths and in St Marys where one finds outstanding engraved and stained glass work in both churches. The symbolism of these windows and of the other art work found in these two churches also seems to me to be of greater historical/cultural importance (given Julia Gatley's brief resume of the significance of these and other Category I places in her assessment) than that represented in St Peters church, although I may stand to be corrected in this.

In conclusion, I have difficulty in establishing to my own satisfaction that the regional historical significance which one would expect to be symbolised in the interior art work of the place, is special and outstanding in the same way that it is for the other registered Category I Maori churches identified above. There is an associated problem in that, as I have said, from a purely technical point of view there is no authoritative standard by which to judge the merits of different schools of Maori Arts and Crafts. Without any information to assist me in this direction I am reluctant to recommend anything other than a good Category II for this place. (I should note here that I am not certain as to the value or significance of the legend of Hinemoa or its bearing, if any, on the art work of the place in this context.)


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1933 -

Completion Date

24th July 1997

Report Written By

G.McLean, W.Nelson

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.