A rustic and romantic sight set on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean, Matanaka is thought to be New Zealand’s oldest surviving farm.

Matanaka Farm buildings
Image: Grant Sheehan.expand/collapse

Drawn by rich natural resources, Māori were the first people to inhabit the coastal area now known as Waikouaiti, north of Dunedin. After the arrival of Australian entrepreneur Johnny Jones and other immigrants, however, it was only a few years before the landscape was completely transformed.

A ship-owner, whaler and trader, Jones purchased a whaling station and land at Waikouaiti in 1838. It is here that he would become one of the first to attempt organised settlement and agricultural industry in the South Island. His farm would take the name of Matanaka.

The farm was settled by families that Jones encouraged to emigrate from Sydney. Arriving aboard the Magnet in 1840, they set to work tending crops and caring for animals imported from New South Wales. Life was very tough in this isolated and exposed place, and the farm struggled to get off the ground.  As whaling declined, however, more focus was placed on the farm and it began to supply food to both Waikouaiti and the early settlement at Dunedin.

It is believed that the historically unique buildings at Matanaka date back to these early days. Of the five, the finest is the stables, built of Australian timber and still bearing the original iron roof. A gig room, harness room and horse stalls may be seen on the ground floor, while overhead at one end of the building are a series of pigeon lofts.

Following the same utilitarian but nicely detailed style are the granary, store room, and a schoolhouse that houses local history displays. The three-seater privy is a perennial favourite for its distinct lack of privacy.

A visit to Matanaka is truly memorable for its architectural, industrial and colonial history combined with stupendous coastal views. It also illuminates the great changes in Aotearoa since European settlement. From deforestation and the draining of wetlands, to displacement of Māori and decline of their customary food sources – the repercussions continue to echo down the years.

As for Johnny Jones, his claim to historical fame isn’t only as one of New Zealand’s first farmers. He became a major industry figure in Dunedin, where he and his family moved in 1854 to pursue his interests in shipping and related business.

After passing through several subsequent owners, Matanaka’s farm buildings were gifted to Heritage New Zealand in 1976.

Matanaka is 4km from Waikouaiti, with signposts from SH1 directing the way to a car park from where it’s about a five-minute walk.

Come and visit!

Find out about our opening hours and much more here.

Here a farming enterprise thrived to feed flourishing settlements at Waikouaiti and well beyond.