Rotorua Government Gardens Historic Area

Hinemaru Street, Queens Drive and Hinemoa Street, Government Gardens, ROTORUA

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Located at Sulphur Point between the eastern outskirts of the town centre and the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, the area known to tangata whenua in part as Paepaehakumanu and in part as Motutara, collectively became known as the Sanatorium Reserve, or more commonly, the Rotorua Government Gardens. The early history of Paepaehakumanu Motutara is reflected partly in the archaeological landscape and more richly in written and oral traditions that outline the ongoing significance of the area to Ngati Whakaue. It is a Wahi Tapu (sacred/spiritual) place where according to Maori mythology the geothermal features were created by tohunga, Ngatoroirangi. It is also a place where battles were fought, and koiwi deposited after battles. It has traditional values as an area with rich sources of food and fibre and with rocky outcrops well suited to sharpening weapons and tools. It was also valued for the medicinal properties of the sulphurous thermal pools and rongoa or medicinal plants growing there. The earliest European visitors took benefit from the healing properties of the hot springs heedless of the lack of facilities, but the Government of the day had a grand vision for the area. As early as the late 1870s it was viewed and developed by the Crown and its colonising agents as an antipodean version of a great European spa town. In 1881, an agreement reached between Ngati Whakaue leaders, the judiciary, and Government agents, was legalised by the Thermal Springs District Act 1881. The town of Rotorua and, within that, an area of 50 acres containing many medicinal thermal springs was created, ‘Hei oranga mo nga iwi katoa o te Ao’ (for the benefit of the people of the world), this latter being the forerunner of the Rotorua Government Gardens. A town built on the perceptiveness, dreams, philanthropy and goodwill of the native owners was to have a long period of infancy for the Ngati Whakaue and Te Arawa people. The origins of the township of Rotorua began with Crown negotiations between Ngati Whakaue chiefs over the block of land known as Te Pukeroa Oruawhata in the latter half of the 1870s. From 1873 to 1877 the operation of the Native Land Court was suspended by Government because a number of iwi/hapu from the Lakes District were in open opposition to some of its rulings. An agreement known as the Fenton Agreement was reached in November 1880, and was recognised as a document to give rise to the establishment of the township of Rotorua. The Fenton Agreement was followed in 1883 by one known as the Clarke Agreement signed by Government representative Henry Tacy Clarke and Ngati Whakaue, on 26 February of that year. That Agreement led to divisions of titles within the township block and the beliefs of the local owners that they would receive handsome returns for the lease of their land by the Crown and its agencies. The resulting 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera with its ensuing disastrous affect on the iwi/hapu of Te Arawa and defaulting and non payments from lessees who had contracted their government agents to be involved in the growth of Rotorua Township, led to the outright sale of some of the shares in Te Pukeroa Oruawhata by some of its owners. In 1889 Ngati Whakaue elders negotiated a prerequisite that a total of 20 acres encompassing some 48 township lots, were to be reserved and these lands finally became the core for what is known today as Te Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust. Investigations over the years have been instigated by Ngati Whakaue via official petitions to Government, in 1930, 1948 and 1953. The lands had become vested in the Waiariki Maori Land Board in 1924, and in 1952 that Board transferred the administration of the blocks to the Maori Trustee. It was not until 15 December 1980 that the Maori Land Court transferred ownership of the block to the descendants of the underlying owners, represented by 10 formally nominated Trustees (Te Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust). When the Fenton Agreement was signed in 1881, Ngati Whakaue gifted to the Crown, certain lands to be used as public reserves in the new township; an important principle that Ngati Whakaue still stands by. The Sanatorium Reserve was one of those Reserves, still recognised today as such, by Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust and the Crown. Contouring ground works began in 1882, including areas for cultivation of fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a fowl enclosure. The first bathhouse in New Zealand, the Priest’s Pavilion, was built in 1882 with construction of the Government Sanatorium commencing the following year. Enthusiasm verged on the euphoric, with the waters touted to cure everything from ‘congestions of the viscera’ to ‘sexual impotence’. The Reserve gradually became more sophisticated, accelerated in 1886 by the arrival of Camille Malfroy, a French geothermal engineer, who had a major impact on the development of the Reserve, including innovative thermal manipulation to create the Malfroy geysers. Rotorua’s unique situation as an essentially government owned town for 103 years meant that both the town and its Rotorua Government Gardens had enviable access to influence and Government coffers to continue to grow and develop the area’s tourist potential. Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward was an unshakable supporter of the spa town concept. It is doubtful the main trunk rail line would have been extended from Hamilton through to Rotorua, but for such support, nor the very early investment to bring electricity to the town in 1901. With the appointment of the first Balneologist, Dr Arthur Wohlmann, in 1902, more sophisticated treatments were installed and the buildings, grounds and plantings carefully designed and developed to transform the Sanatorium into a modern scientific health spa. An approach keenly supported by Thomas Donne head of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts. Over the next twenty five years the grounds were further developed on an impressive scale with plantings, walks, lakelets and rockeries to complement the new buildings, appearing across the site. The Sanatorium was rebuilt after a fire, the original Blue Baths appeared and a camera obscura was built atop the ticket office. Other attractions that were complimentary to ‘taking the waters’ and designed to offer a wider recreation experience, began to appear around 1900, including: a band rotunda; tearoom; small zoo and aviary; formal areas developed for playing tennis, croquet and bowls; the Prince’s Gate Arch and the Duchess Bath both the latter two in honour of a royal visit. Entertainment was also important and music played daily, provided by brass bands (one Maori and one European) and an orchestra. It was Wohlmann’s concept that strongly influenced the design of the Rotorua Government Gardens’ most prominent building, the Rotorua Bath House (Former) now the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, built in the Elizabethan revival style and opened in 1908. Later structures added to the Gardens include the 1934 replacement Blue Baths, its design unique in New Zealand, and various statutory including several war memorials. The Rotorua Government Gardens’ outstanding aesthetic value is centred around stark cultural, contemporary and historical contrasts. There are both natural and archaeological elements within the area that are evidence of its early and wide ranging use by tangata whenua. Also, the wairua that iwi and hapu associate with this place still exists and reverberates through things such as whakairo that still stand in different forms around the gardens and through the natural, geothermal features themselves. Features such as the surviving rocky outcrops used to sharpen tools and weapons and areas where valued plants grow and continue to be used for their medicinal values as well as for their fibre and fibre dyeing qualities. It is a place where battle skirmishes took place in open, scrubby, geothermal areas that are now pristine, manicured bowling and croquet greens. Further contrast is in a combination of its six spa related registered historic places, each with its own experiential and aesthetic qualities, along with other commemorative and cultural structures and their interrelationship and setting within the ornamental public grounds and thermal landscape. Internationally renowned, it has been one of New Zealand and Rotorua’s primary tourist attractions since the 1880s. The surviving historic places are unequivocal evidence of the social value placed on the Gardens by the community, who time and again have fought for their retention. It is of special significance that Ngati Whakaue are keen to ensure that this land they gifted continues to comply with the original deed of gift, of being used for health and recreation by the ‘people of the world’. It was thanks to the perceptive goodwill of Te Arawa kaumatua that the town of Rotorua was established. The place has importance as the most extensively developed therapeutic spa in New Zealand. The area has strong architectural values, retaining as it does, a range of places from late nineteenth to early twentieth century style, all of which served or supported the health spa function and associated recreational purposes. Alongside this, its landscape architecture is highly significant. The area has been continuously gardened since 1881, they demonstrate the principal characteristics of a distinctive landscape type and way of life no longer practiced; the Edwardian ideal of a spa landscape and pleasure garden. The Gardens were also treated like a botanic garden; a place to educate visitors about plants, particularly native species. Scientifically, it is a site that provides an important example of international medical and balneological theory and was the location for many Government led experimental plantings and has an important place in the history of garden and botanical development in New Zealand. Technologically, examples of early innovations survive in its buildings, including the unique use of local pumice concrete and raft type foundations. The skill of French geological engineer Camille Malfroy oversaw significant and unique inventions to improve amenities and solved problems with building equipment wiring and drainage. His design of the Malfroy Geysers, by technically manipulating the thermal activity, was considered outstanding. It has archaeological significance relating to the potential subsurface historic remains of pre 1900 buildings, the original garden layout and changes over time and two sites recorded by the New Zealand Archaeological Association; a midden and a hoanga. The area has strong spiritual significance as a wahi tapu and sacred place for Ngati Whakaue where in Maori mythology, tohunga, Ngatoroirangi created the geothermal features as well as a place where important chiefs were buried and battles were fought. It has traditional values as a source of food, especially fresh water species and birds; for gathering of plants for their fibre dyeing and medicinal properties, and the medicinal values of the thermal pools, and mud.

Rotorua Government Gardens Historic Area. Croquet Pavilion. Image courtesy of | PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite | 02/01/2011 | PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite
Rotorua Government Gardens Historic Area. Bath House from Dakin Path | L Beaumont | 15/12/2009 | Heritage New Zealand
Rotorua Government Gardens Historic Area Map courtesy of Google Earth | Google Earth



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Area


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

12th December 2011

Date of Effect

12th December 2011

City/District Council

Rotorua District


Bay of Plenty Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes: Part of the land described as Pt Sec 2 Blk I Tarawera SD (RT SA39B/971) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 5 DPS 45835 (RT SA39B/972) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 2 and Pt Lot 3 and Sec 90 Blk I Tarawera SD DPS 15998 (RT SA34C/324) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lots 1, 2, 3 Blk 1 Sec 2 Tarawera SD (no RT) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1986, p. 2485); and Lot 5 Blk I Sec 2 Tarawera SD (no RT); and Sec 76 Blk I Tarawera SD (no RT) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1980 p. 94); and Lot 1 DPS 15998 (RT SA14D/112) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 1 DPS 38951 (RT SA34C/325) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984, p. 2272); Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1999 p. 1898); and Legal Road All South Auckland Land District. Off shore islets named Harua, Motutara, Moturere and Timanga have been included in this registration, these have no legal description, but are within a gazetted refuge, Lake Rotorua (Motutara) Wildlife Refuge Order 1967 p. 458. (Refer to the maps in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information). The extent also includes the structures and their fittings and fixtures within this boundary, including the following historic places: Prince's Gate Archway, Gardener's Cottage, Band Rotunda Croquet Pavilion, Arawa Memorial, Bath House (Former) or Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, the original remnant of the Ward Baths within the Polynesian Spa complex, and the associated Pumphouse, Blue Baths, Malfroy Geysers, War Memorial, Wylie Memorial, Te Runanga, Band Rotunda, RAVE centre including Wohlmann House, Lewis House and 1240 Hinemaru Street. The registration also encompasses the garden landscape fabric, including the following: Queens Drive plantings, early twentieth century examples; Eucalyptus and Manuka copse; light standard; cast iron fence remnant in Malfroy geyser's bowl; early twentieth century plantings Hinemaru Street and light standard Hinemaru Street.The extent includes the ground underlying the Orchid House, the RAVE centre link building, the Sportsdrome, the Bowling Club, the Rotorua District Council plant nursery and the Motutara Golf Club, but does not include these structures or their associated outbuildings.

Legal description

Pt Sec 2 Blk I Tarawera SD (RT SA39B/971) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 5 DPS 45835 (RT SA39B/972) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 2 and Pt Lot 3 and Sec 90 Blk I Tarawera SD DPS 15998 (RT SA34C/324) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lots 1, 2, 3 Blk 1 Sec 2 Tarawera SD (no RT) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1986, p. 2485); and Lot 5 Blk I Sec 2 Tarawera SD (no RT); and Sec 76 Blk I Tarawera SD (no RT) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1980 p. 94); and Lot 1 DPS 15998 (RT SA14D/112) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984 p. 2272); and Lot 1 DPS 38951 (RT SA34C/325) Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1984, p. 2272); Recreation Reserve (NZ Gazette 1999 p. 1898); and Legal Road All South Auckland Land District.

Location Description

The Rotorua Government Gardens are situated on a large expanse of low lying flat land (including the Motutara Golf Course) on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua to the east of Rotorua’s town centre.

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