Fyffe Historic Area

Avoca Point, Kaikoura

  • Fyffe Historic Area.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: N Jackson. Date: 14/09/2009.
  • Fyffe Historic Area.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Grant Sheehan. Date: 23/05/2008.
  • Fyffe Historic Area. Remains of the Bonded Warehouse fireplace. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shelley Morris. Taken By: Shelley Morris – Shells . Date: 3/06/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7430 Date Entered 30th June 1998


Extent of List Entry

The area includes Archaeological site (Lots 1-3 DP 6124 and Lots 1-2 DP 6854); Fyffe House; Garden Posts (Fyffe grounds); Archaeological site (Lot 5 DP 826); Whale Bone Posts; Wharf Store Foundations; Pier Hotel Foundations; Archaeological (Lots 1-2 DP 826 - Fyffe Grounds); Sea Wall Remains; Bonded Warehouse Fireplace; Old Wharf, Beacon Hill; Graves (south side Beacon Hill); Woolshed Foundations (& Urupa); Historic Fence Lines; and the Post (marking Salt-Water Bath).

City/District Council

Kaikoura District


Canterbury Region


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


The area proposed for registration is that which surrounds Fyffe House and includes Avoca Point and the north-western and south-eastern ends of the adjacent Armers Beach (originally Waiopuka Beach), Kaikoura. Fyffe House, an HPT owned property, is located at 62 Avoca Street and is the main focus for the historic area. On this property, to the west of the house, lies a row of nineteenth century garden fenceposts. There is an archaeological site which dates from times of earliest occupation located in the area of flat land to the north and west of (and underneath) Fyffe House, an area which is now privately owned modern residential homes and gardens. These sections are Avoca Street numbers 52, 54 , 56, 58 and 60. There is further undisturbed archaeology in the section adjoining Fyffe House. This land is owned by the Kaikoura District Council.

Across the road is the water's edge. The coastline forms most of the boundary of the proposed area along which stand the remains of an old sea wall and an old fireplace - all that is left of a 1869 or post-1869 bonded warehouse (or customhouse). These items along the waterfront are on Department of Conservation land. Also included within the proposed boundaries of the area are the salt water bath and historic fence lines and the refuse disposal structure at the boiling down works.

The further items included in the proposed historic area are situated on land owned by Mr. and Mrs. Melville Syme. These are several nineteenth century graves and pre-European archaeological sites including pits on the ridge indicating Maori occupation and the remains of a boiling down plant. This plant is near the entrance driveway to the Syme's property, The Point.

Sixteen items have been listed as significant for inclusion within this historic area. Reference to the attached map indicate the location of these items which includes Beacon Hill, Avoca Point, as one of the items (so named because of a tall marker post that was erected on top as a guide to local shipping - the base of this post, about a metre high, remains.

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 Area Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


The Historic Places Act 1993 requires an historic area to meet three criteria:

(a) Contains an inter-related group of historic places:

The proposed area is rich in both historic and pre-historic features which demonstrate the nature of successive human occupation and use of this area. The earliest occupation of the area was by moa-hunting Maori, nearly nine hundred years ago, who used the area to the west of Fyffe House (then a sandy beach) as a camp, rather than a permanent village. From this site they hunted moa and other birds, as well as catching fish and seals. The site was also used as an urupa, as evidenced by the grave discovered in 1857. According to Trotter and McCulloch, a Moa-hunter burial with adze-head(s) and a deliberately perforated moa egg was discovered while excavating the base of the mudstone outcrop at the rear of Fyffe House to prepare the foundations of the 1857 store. The area was later visited by the descendants of these early people from time to time. About 300-400 years ago the site was possibly used by a group of Maori for gardening and growing kumara and activity in the area included fowling and fishing by a variety of Maori tribes, through the following centuries.

The first European settlement in the area was in 1842 with the establishment of Robert Fyfe's shore-whaling station, Waiopuka, close by on the southern side of Avoca Point. Fyffe House was originally a two-roomed cooper's cottage built as part of Robert Fyfe's whaling station. It was later enlarged by his cousin George Fyffe, who had managed the whaling station since Robert's death in 1854. By 1863 the historic whalers' cottage was little different from Fyffe House today.

Shore whaling came to Kaikoura after the peak years and with the decline in the number of right whales by 1849 Robert Fyfe had also turned to farming. He was the first pastoralist in the Kaikoura region. Material relating to both whaling and sheep farming activities has been found in the area.

George Fyffe possibly also built a store close to the eastern wing (Cooper's House), which was free-standing at that time. The store was probably then incorporated into the western wing of Fyffe House as the present kitchen with bedroom above. According to Trotter and McCulloch, while foundations were being prepared for the store in 1857, a moa-hunter burial was discovered - excavated was the largest complete moa egg ever yet to be found. This was one of the most significant archaeological events to occur in New Zealand last century. The burial discovered in 1857 was located underneath what is now the south-western corner of Fyffe House.

Other nineteenth century European activities in the area included hotel custom, fishing, wharfage business and the use of Kaikoura as a port. Not all of these activities lasted but the evidence of them is still obvious in the area.

Avoca Point, Armers Beach and Fyffe House, with their relationships to the sea always an important element, together encapsulate the history of daily human activity over the last nine hundred years. The proposed historic area is a rich resource of linked historical associations, the remains of which tell the human story of Kaikoura.

(b) Forms part of the historical and cultural heritage of New Zealand:

Fyffe House is the oldest house in Kaikoura and the site of the first European settlement there, but historical interest at Fyffe House should not be limited to the house itself, of equal importance is the surrounding area - the land and the sea favoured by Maori and which first attracted Europeans as a convenient place from which to spot and catch whales. The history of the Fyffe area represents a microcosm of New Zealand history - Maori occupation, establishment of pastoral runs, the growth of the small settlement into a port and its further development into a town. Fishing has also been an important activity in Kaikoura for both Maori and Pakeha, since earliest times up until the present.

Some of the items listed in the registration proposal for the Fyffe historic area are important archaeological finds dating from pre-European times (refer Archaeological section) and some represent a significant era of New Zealand history during which the European settlement in the area, established to hunt whales, underwent the transition from whaling to farming.

The Fyffe historic area is an accessible reminder of its whaling origins - which have come full circle. Whales are no longer hunted off Kaikoura's shores but they are once again a lucrative source of income and form the basis of a local industry - the whale and marine mammal watching.

(c) Lies within the territorial limits of New Zealand:


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


The Fyffe Historic Area comprises six archaeological items identified in the Historic Area Registration Proposal. Item numbers refer to attached map:

Item 1 -Archaeological site covering DP6124 Lots 1 & 2; DP6854 Lots 1, 2, 3

Item 4: -Archaeological site covering DP826 Lot 5

Item 8: -Undisturbed archaeology covering DP826 Lots 1 & 2

Item 13: -Graves, 347, 1.3279 valuation maps 1988

Item 14: -Archaeological site PT. 225, DP6280

Items 1, 4, 8:

The whole area of flat land to the north and west of Fyffe House appears to have contained archaeological deposits of prehistoric occupation. Although they have been partly destroyed through housing development on adjacent sections, there is evidence that the deposits still occur in undisturbed parts of two of these sections and in parts of the present Fyffe section, including to the north of the House and beneath the Cooper's Wing. In 1857 the famous moa hunter burial was uncovered. European artifacts, debris, and midden bones were found in the upper levels of archaeological excavations in 1973 and 1982-1987, and they can also be seen in various other places where the ground is bare or has been disturbed. Coins from the 1830s and 1850s and hand-made whale bone buttons which came from archaeological excavations, date to the whaling era. Most of the archaeological deposit has the potential to provide considerable detailed information about the site, and thus needs to be preserved.

Item 13. Graves.

Early European graves on the south side of Beacon Hill above Fyffe Quay and at the base of Beacon Hill, are marked by one surviving shaped and mortised wooden post and another in damaged condition. Surveyor W.F. Ward's 1863 field book notes two graves in this vicinity. Broken whale bone posts and soil coloration in the adjacent eroded bank suggest that there are other graves here; there is a rose bush of an early type growing near them. In the early 1970s road-works further to the west revealed human bones, presumably from another grave.

Item 14.

This site is located next to the Waiopuka Stream at Armers Beach. It was the site of George Fyffe's woolshed during the 1860s, and contains a number of upright placed whale vertebrae which are considered to have been piles for a very large and substantial building . This building was the first woolshed in the locality. The site also dates back to the initial Maori occupation of the Waiopuka area in the Archaic Maori moa hunting times which could be 900-500 years Before Present in Kaikoura. It is likely that the area also had Maori occupation much more recently, up to European times. On an excavation of this site in 1994 Trotter and McCulloch located another moa hunter burial complete with crushed moa egg. The skeleton was handed over to the local runanga.


The Fyffe Historic Area comprises nine items identified in the nomination which can be considered under an architectural or built heritage heading. Item numbers refer to attached map. These are Fyffe House; Wooden Garden Fence Posts; Whale Bone Posts; Wharf Store Foundations; Pier Hotel Foundations; Sea Wall Remains; Bonded Warehouse Fireplace, the Old Wharf and Remains of Boiling Down Plants which were situated further around Acoca Point. An additional item in the area not included in the registration proposal but nominated by the Marlborough Branch Committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, is the Post, Acoca Point which marks the site of a sea-water bath. The following details are taken from several sources including The Fyffe Historic Precinct, Kaikoura, a proposal by Michael M. Trotter and Beverley McCulloch, January 1991. An updated version of this was published in 1993.

Item 2. Fyffe House:

Fyffe House has a strong architectural character derived from its form of two wings - one hip-roofed and the other gable-roofed - which are unified by a simple verandah. the house has very little exterior decoration, and it relies for its interest on the proportions and the simple, strong forms of the two wings and the verandah.

The Cooper's wing of Fyffe house dates from before 1852, probably as early as the 1840s, and is on the left as one looks at Fyffe House from the front, and is oriented east-west. It is identified separately from the west wing as there is strong evidence for it being the first part of the house built, and may have been the Cooper's house of the Waiopuka whaling station. Its whale vertebrae foundations are a direct physical link with these origins.

The spaces of the interior are of interest, especially in the first floor, west wing, where the shapes of the rooms are determined by the roof forms and are enhanced by the smoothly moulded lath and plaster wall finishes. the shapes are enhanced by the natural lighting of these shapes. George Fyffe's original plaster walls in the two upstairs rooms were repaired in 1984 and have a paint finish. The two downstairs rooms have a replicated plaster finish, using traditional materials and methods. The graining of the oak woodwork has been replicated.

The technological importance of Fyffe House is very high because the building fabric has remained relatively undisturbed from the time of its construction. Of particular significance are the whalebone vertebrae foundations; the framing materials and techniques; the earth infill of the framed construction and the lath and plaster of the interior. Several of these features - the foundations and the earth infill - are very rare in New Zealand.

Item 3. Wooden Garden Fence Posts.

To the west of Fyffe House is a partial row of wooden fence posts which probably date from around 1912-20 and appear to mark the edge of the Low's vegetable garden. These are on sloping ground and have a down-hill lean due to gradual earth movement over the years since their erection.

Item 5. Whale Bone Posts.

Although only a few whale bone fence posts remain standing, they provide, along with the whale vertebrae House piles which can be seen along the front of the Cooper's Wing of Fyffe House (but which occur beneath both wings), important visual evidence of the earliest European activity in the area. Only two full-sized standing posts are left standing in the south-east corner of the Fyffe section, opposite the present 'old wharf'. Remnants of several others can be seen at the hillside graves and in the saddle west of Beacon Hill and adjacent to the easternmost full-sized post. Whale bone posts were used extensively on the woolshed and sheep yards. This was due to there being no suitable trees for some considerable distance from the locality.

Item 6. Wharf Store Foundations.

A raised concrete slab floor on either side of where tramlines ran out onto the old wharf is all that remains of an early wharfage store. Historical photographs show other large sheds were adjacent.

Item 7. Pier Hotel Foundations.

One of Kaikoura's second-generation hotels, the Pier Hotel, was built adjacent to the wharfage area in 1885 by J.W. Goodall (who then owned Fyffe House). When a new wharf was constructed closer to the township, the Pier Hotel was shifted to a new site in 1909, but the extensive foundations remain.

Item 9. Sea Wall Remains.

The remains of this early concrete sea-protection wall can be seen between the Bonded Warehouse fireplace and the Old Wharf. George Fyffe recorded the building of such a wall in his dairy, and it has been suggested that it may be the oldest surviving concrete structure in New Zealand.

Item 10. Bonded Warehouse Fireplace.

Just north of the sea wall, this fireplace, a few concrete piles and a doorstep are all that remains of a Bonded Warehouse (commonly referred to locally as the Custom House or Bond Store) probably built around 1869. Its location at high tide level and on the seaward side of the present road gives it added interest.

Item 11. The Old Wharf.

In 1881, with a government grant of £1,000, a wharf was completed practically next door to Fyffe House replacing an earlier wharf built by George Fyffe. By 1907 a new wharf was needed, and was constructed nearer the town, where it still stands, having been opened in 1909. The old wharf continued to be used by professional fishermen for many years. It was shortened - against the wishes of local fishermen - and can still be seen across the road from Fyffe House.

Item 15. Remains of Boiling Down Plant.

Two lines of post holes, at approximately right angles to the shore, extend below high and low tide marks. These are probably remains of fences marked on 1850s and 1860s plans of the area and may have been erected to facilitate early landing of sheep or to keep stock away from the whalers' gardens.

Item 16. The Post, Avoca Point.

The Post, made of wood, has been a prominent landmark for many years on the point in front of Fyffe House. Mr. Alex Goodall stated of this post in an interview held on 7 February 1952, that when his father (Joseph Goodall) built the Pier Hotel he enlarged the capacity of a natural bath about 30 feet by 10 feet in the limestone reef accessible at half tide and low tide. He built a bath house and a plank bridge there, but the first heavy storm washed away all but 6 inch by 6 inch post about 4 feet high. The salt-water bath, marked by the post, is still visible with remains of concrete walls at each end (site record O31/79).


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Completion Date

1st May 1998

Report Written By

Wayne Nelson

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.

Historic Area Place Name

Bonded Warehouse Fireplace.
Fyffe House
Pier Hotel Foundations.
Remains of Boiling Down Plant.
Sea Wall Remains.
The Old Wharf.
The Post, Avoca Point.
Whale Bone Posts.
Wharf Store Foundations.
Wooden Garden Fence Posts.