Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former)

29 Health Camp Road, Otaki Beach, Ōtaki

  • Ōtaki Children's Health Camp (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Jolene Molloy.
  • Ōtaki Children's Health Camp (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Jolene Molloy.
  • Ōtaki Children's Health Camp (Former). 'Boys' dormitory, Otaki Health Camp', 1945. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Ref no. 1/4-001207.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: John Pascoe (1908-1972).

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4098 Date Entered 25th September 1986 Date of Effect 7th May 2020 Date of Last Review 15th April 2020


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Secs 5, 23 and Pt Sec 18 Block VIII Waitohu SD (RT WN56A/66), Wellington Land District and the buildings and structures known as Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) thereon. The extent excludes the Health Camp Road waste water pump station and interpretation panel. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Kapiti Coast District


Wellington Region

Legal description

Secs 5, 23 and Pt Sec 18 Block VIII Waitohu SD (RT WN56A/66), Wellington Land District

Location description

GPS information (NZTM): E 1778700; N 5487490 (front gate)


Opened as New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp in 1932 and set among the sand dunes at Ōtaki Beach, Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) is a place of outstanding significance, featuring an integrated complex of play spaces, buildings and structures.

After the First World War preventative measures were needed to reduce the number of New Zealand children contracting tuberculosis and other diseases. Health camps, focusing on building-up general physical health, were regularly held for short periods from 1919. High profile medical practitioners and health campaigners, such as Sir Truby King, then began advocating for permanent camps. Ōtaki Beach’s climate and proximity to the ocean made it an ideal spot. Prominent local businessman, Byron Brown, donated a large property for the purpose and Dr Ada Paterson was the driving force behind the camp’s realisation and early activities. The Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp was greatly anticipated and enjoyed considerable community support, indeed, it relied on it throughout its history for fundraising, supplies and volunteers. Successes in boosting children’s resilience and enhancing well-being motivated the establishment of other permanent camps around the country, created through the King George V Memorial Fund, for which the Ōtaki camp was the model. Hundreds of children per year attended the camp, except for a brief period of closure when it was an emergency Second World War hospital. Greater awareness of the root of children’s emotional and behavioural issues led to changes in approach in the late twentieth century, amid on-going financial challenges. These became insurmountable for Stand Children’s Services Tū Māia Whanau in the early twenty-first century, forcing a rationalisation of facilities around the country and as a result the Ōtaki camp closed in 2018.

The camp’s buildings are typical examples of public medical and educational sector buildings from the early to mid-twentieth century, being reasonably modest but fit-for-purpose at the time. The main buildings were all designed by leading Wellington architectural practices, including: Hoggard and Prouse for the 1915-16 rotunda (relocated from Rotorua in 1931); Swan and Lavelle for the timber kitchen/dining hall, laundry and school buildings; and Toomath and Wilson for the later concrete block and timber library, administration and accommodation block and covered walkways. Among the other buildings and structures which contributed to camp life are a paddling pool donated by the Rotary Club of Wellington (1951) and the gates (1960), featuring a memorial to Brown.

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) has special historic significance as New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp, providing important support for generations of children from the upper South and lower North Islands. It is also directly associated with numerous nationally and locally notable figures, such as successive Governor Generals. This support is indicative of the considerable social value the camp had and the high community interest in, and esteem for, its services. The three main phases of construction in 1931-32, 1941 and 1963-64, reflect the establishment and peak period of New Zealand’s health camp movement and the evolving needs of this nationally important place.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) has outstanding local and national historic importance because it was the first permanent camp opened in New Zealand, in 1932, building on the achievements of earlier temporary camps. The success of the Ōtaki camp motivated the development of, and was a model for, other permanent health camps around the country, opened from 1939 and throughout the movement’s heyday in the mod-twentieth century. The Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp has historic significance as the earliest example of a permanent, year-round, health camp, which signalled the start of a concerted effort to be proactive in the preventative treatment of the major health issues facing New Zealand children throughout the twentieth and into the early twenty-first centuries, ranging from tuberculosis to psychological well-being.

Because of its status as the first permanent health camp, the Ōtaki camp has historic significance because it became the ‘poster-child’ for the health camp movement, garnering a high level of publicity and public interest. This place also has historic value because its creation is directly associated with distinguished people in New Zealand history, including leading medical practitioners and social change advocates, such as Dr Ada Paterson and Sir Truby King, as well as prominent Ōtaki community leader and philanthropist, Byron Brown. The considerable importance of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) meant it also attracted the high profile support of important Wellingtonians and Wellington residents, including numerous Governor Generals, Prime Ministers and other government ministers.

The camp is connected with earlier health care facilities and has historic significance because its rotunda is a relocated building from Rotorua’s King George V Hospital, where it had been built in 1915-16 for First World War convalescents. The reuse of the rotunda at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp was fitting and has historic importance because it documents a continuation of the popular health principles - that fresh air and natural light was especially beneficial for the well-being of recovering soldiers, health camp children, and briefly, for civilian hospital patients during the Second World War. Later building projects at the Ōtaki camp were supported by the King George V Memorial Fund, established by the first Labour Government as part of its broader social policy of supporting families. Therefore, the buildings from the 1941 and 1963-64 building programme have historic value because they are connected with the federation and increased professionalisation and government oversight of New Zealand’s health camps from the late 1930s. Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) contributes to the nationwide story of the evolution of New Zealand’s health camps.

Architectural Significance or Value

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) has a collection of buildings which have architectural value because they are characteristic health and educational sector buildings of their respective eras, designed in accordance with contemporary thinking and to meet the needs and available resourcing of the camp.

In particular, the earliest building on site, the rotunda, has special architectural significance because its design exemplifies the attitudes of the day towards the treatment of the sick. The rotunda is one of only two First World War octagonal hospital buildings of this type remaining in New Zealand and has been a distinctive architectural focal point of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) since 1931.

This building and those in the subsequent construction phases in 1941 and 1963-64 also have architectural value because they are examples of the institutional work of notable Wellington architectural practices: Hoggard and Prouse, Swan and Lavelle, and Toomath and Wilson, respectively. Swan and Lavelle’s buildings, and especially the open-air style school, have architectural value as fit-for-purpose facilities that allowed the camp to fulfil aims of bestowing maximum natural light, fresh air, and by association health and hygiene, on the children. Toomath and Wilson were particularly drawn to projects which appealed to their social conscience. The buildings designed by Derek Wilson have architectural significance because they demonstrate his response to the changing needs of the institution, such as providing greater personal privacy for the children in the accommodation blocks. These were completed in a manner characteristic of his work at the time: including combinations of concrete block and timber, as well as roof lanterns and clerestory windows. Indeed, most of the camp’s buildings are linked by the precept of allowing maximum natural light for well-being.

Social Significance or Value

The services provided at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former), between 1932 and 2018, had a significant social impact for thousands of children and families around the lower North Island and upper South Island. The facility’s central focus, on improving the physical and psychological well-being of children in need and recovering from health issues, means this place was well-known as having considerable social importance. The camp’s local and national social significance was demonstrated through sustained community contributions, such as donations, volunteer resources and health stamp sales, as well as government/public funding. The health camp also had social value as an important local employer during its operative period, especially for local women.

Several memorials and structures, such as the gates and paddling pool, within Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) are tangible reminders of its social significance and the associated community support for and generosity towards the camp. The gates also have social value as a place commemorating: prominent local personality, Byron Brown; the camp’s establishment; and King George V (1865-1936).

This place was assessed against all criteria, and found to qualify under the following: a, b, e, and h. It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place.

(a)The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

New Zealand’s health camp movement, which began after the First World War, matured through the creation of the first permanent camp at Ōtaki in 1932. The movement and associated health camp services have made an important mark on the lives of generations of children whose parents permitted their attendance in the hope of building their physical and mental health and resilience. Between 1932 and 2018 Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) was a key contributor to these nationwide preventative healthcare efforts of health camps and was arguably the most prominent in the public’s minds, especially in its early decades.

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

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) has special importance because it is directly associated with significant people who made the idea of developing child welfare organisations to aid those in need a reality. The children’s health camp movement built on the ideas and efforts of people such as Sir Truby King and those involved in the Plunket Society to reduce infant mortality. Indeed, Truby King was a notable supporter of the Ōtaki camp’s creation and served on its committee. It was recognised that preventative care for children, such as ensuring good nutrition and hygiene, as well as exercise and fresh air, would reduce instances of diseases and ill-health. Dr Ada Paterson, instrumental in the establishment and early running of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former), was a leading figure in the movement and public health at the time, tirelessly advocating for better support for children. The successes at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp legitimised government spending in this area which was formalised under the first Labour Government’s King George V Memorial Fund, launched in 1937. Therefore, the Ōtaki camp was instrumental in the spread of permanent health camps around the country.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

Generations of health camp children were sent to Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) and many of them have a strong connection with the place and the uniquely ‘Ōtaki experience’ of playing in the sand dunes and pines trees, swimming in the ocean and being in and around the camp’s distinctive rotunda.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) is a meaningful symbol of the rise, evolution and importance of New Zealand’s health camp movement. Because it was a high profile facility, in many ways the Ōtaki camp became symbolic of the wider movement and loomed large in the public perception, especially in the mid-twentieth century, because it was consistently featured in newspaper articles as well as other forms of publicity. The commemoration of the camp’s establishment on the gates reflects the significance of that moment in New Zealand history, as well as Byron Brown, the prominent local businessman and philanthropist who donated the land for the camp.

Summary of Significance or Values

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) is a collection of buildings, structures, and spaces that tell the story of the outstanding and special historic and social significance of New Zealand’s first permanent health camp. The creation of the camp was a milestone in children’s healthcare and had a considerable impact on the well-being of children from the top of the South Island and up through to Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki, by providing important facilities and programmes designed to boost resilience against common diseases and other physical and mental problems. The camp’s rotunda is an especially notable building, being the only original building remaining within the complex of buildings which evolved between 1932 and 1964 through the work of prominent Wellington architectural practices: Hoggard and Prouse, Swan and Lavelle, and Toomath and Wilson. The rotunda’s relocation from Rotorua, where it was constructed in 1915-16 as part of a military, and later a civilian, hospital, was fitting because its design principles complemented the health camp movement’s aims of providing maximum health benefits through fresh air and natural light. For many years the Ōtaki camp was the only year-round facility providing this crucial preventative health care and between 1932 and 2018 generations of children were sent there to benefit from the special ‘Ōtaki experience’ of exercising among the sand-dunes and pine trees and at the nearby beach. The Ōtaki camp’s successes motivated the creation of others around the country, based on its model. The outstanding historic and social significance of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) is reflected in the high profile support it garnered, from Dr Ada Paterson and Sir Truby King, but also importantly through the sustained and essential support it consistently had from the local and wider community.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hoggard & Prouse

The partnership of Hoggard and Prouse practised initally in Wellington. The firm was one of the pioneers in the use of steel framed and concrete floored construction in New Zealand. Their four storey Cadbury Warehouse (1908) was an extremely early example of this type of construction to be found outside America.

Swan and Lavelle

From 1906 to 1915 John Swan practiced on his own. In 1915 he was joined in practice by his younger brother, Francis H Swan, and the practice was renamed Swan and Swan. They were later joined in practice by Charles Lawrence and the firm was renamed Swan Lawrence Swan. Charles Lawrence died in 1933 and, in 1934, John Swan left to form Swan and Lavelle (the practice he left would be carried on by his younger brother, and would become known as Lawrence and Swan). In 1936, only two years later, John Swan died. Swan and Lavelle was a forerunner to the present day Structon Group Ltd which Lavelle co-founded in 1944. The Swan and Lavelle partnership only lasted eight years but it was an important link between traditional, historicist architecture and the modern idioms adopted by Lavelle and his contemporaries post-World War II.

Campbell and Burke

Campbell and Burke were a Wellington-based contracting company active in the early twentieth centuries. They were the builders of the Bank of New Zealand’s Te Aro Branch in Wellington (1912-13, List No. 1338) and the King George V Hospital rotunda in Rotorua (1915-16), which was later relocated to Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) in 1931.

Source: Review Report for List No. 4098, Otaki Children's Health Camp (Former), Category 1 Historic Place, Karen Astwood, 31 October 2019.

Toomath and Wilson

Toomath and Wilson Architects was an architectural partnership established by Stanley William (Bill) Toomath and Derek Wilson in 1957. The two predominantly worked separately as project architects, depending on the size of the project and workloads. There were numerous residential and commercial buildings around the Wellington region designed during the partnership, including Calvert House, Stokes Valley and Wilson’s house in Khandallah. Educational facility designs included Stage One of Wellington Teachers’ Training College (List No. 9797), with Toomath as the project lead. Toomath and Wilson also designed ecclesiastical buildings, such as St Matthews Church in Brooklyn.

The practice later became known as Gabites, Toomath, Wilson and Partners. When Don Irvine and Grahame Anderson became partners in the early 1970s it became Toomath, Wilson, Irvine, Anderson Limited. It was this later iteration of the practice which completed Stage Two of the Wellington Teachers’ Training College.

Source: Proposal Report for Wellington Teachers' Training College, WELLINGTON, List No. 9797, 27 Apr 2018, Karen Astwood and Alison Dangerfield with Natasha Naus, Annwyn Tobin and Blyss Wagstaff

S. Jarvis and Son

S. Jarvis and Son was a Lower Hutt construction company who were responsible for reconstructing a 1915-16 King George V Hospital rotunda which it was relocated to Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp in 1931. By the late 1930s the company appears to have been based in Te Kuiti.

Source: Review Report for List No. 4098, Otaki Children's Health Camp (Former), Category 1 Historic Place, Karen Astwood, 31 October 2019.

Wilson, Derek

Derek Wilson (1922-2016) was a New Zealand born architect who grew-up in the Wairarapa. He began work as a draughtsperson with Wellington architectural practice Mitchell and Mitchell in 1939 and served overseas during the Second World War. After the war, Wilson studied architecture in Auckland and then gained experience working in London, before entering into the notable Wellington architectural partnership of Toomath and Wilson with Stanley William (Bill) Toomath in 1957. During the period when he designed additions to Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp Wilson was involved with the Architectural Centre’s committee and was President in 1963. Wilson is said to have designed at least 50 houses in his career, including the distinctive Maunsell Beach House and his own house in Khandallah. Wilson retired in 1987.

Source: Review Report for List No. 4098, Otaki Children's Health Camp (Former), Category 1 Historic Place, Karen Astwood, 31 October 2019.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Kāpiti Coast has a long history of Māori settlement because of its rich marine, coastal, wetland and forest resources. It is an acknowledged archaeological landscape and there are a considerable number of recorded archaeological sites on the New Zealand Archaeological Association’s Site Recording Scheme in the Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp’s area. Prior to the 1820s Muaūpoko and Ngāti Apa occupied much of the area between Horowhenua and Porirua. Then, Ngāti Toa and allied tribes, including Ngāti Raukawa and Te Āti Awa, moved south to the region and challenged local people for their lands. Ōtaki is said to have quickly become a ‘centre of Ngāti Raukawa culture’.

The nineteenth century use of the Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) site’s area by Māori is well-documented. A map of the historic use of the area, by G. Leslie Atkin, denotes the site as the ‘Tau-manuka dune-ridge’, with Pakakutu Pā, as well as other midden and pā/kainga sites, just to the south. Pakakutu Pā was a site used by Ngāti Ruanui and Taranaki iwi in the early nineteenth century during a period of conflict involving Ngāti Raukawa and others. On an 1870s survey plan the land is labelled ‘Tupapaku’ and there was a whare karakia a little further east.

European whalers and missionaries began coming to the area in the same period as the Ngāti Raukawa migrations. However, earnest European settlement only began in the late nineteenth century and it was not until 1918 that Tasman Road was extended towards Ōtaki Beach. That project was led by Byron Brown (1866-1947). Born in Wellington, Brown came to Ōtaki in the 1890s, established a general store and soon branched-out into other local towns. In the early twentieth century this successful businessman purchased land at Ōtaki Beach from Māori owners, forayed into politics and was also heavily involved in local sports clubs. In addition, he regularly gave public readings and even broadcast a children’s radio programme from 1931. This well-rounded and community-spirited man then turned philanthropist, by donating portions of his extensive land holdings to causes, including nearly 100 acres for the Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp - New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp.

Led by important physicians, Frederick Truby King (1858-1938), Elizabeth Gunn (1879-1963) and Ada Paterson (1880-1937), the idea behind the health camp movement was to provide temporary and short-term facilities to tend to the physical and mental wellbeing of vulnerable children. The movement’s ethos was an extension of King’s Plunket Society and Karitane Hospital work, where ‘fresh air, sunshine, exercise and regular meals were the basis of treatment’. This work had been instrumental in reducing New Zealand’s infant mortality rate and it was time to resolve the high instances of poor health and nutrition among older children, primarily as a means of preventing them succumbing to diseases.

Based on her medical and military experience and the British health movement’s example, Gunn established the first temporary camp in Turakina (near Whanganui) during the summer of 1919. Its success inspired replication around the country by voluntary groups in the 1920s. By the late 1920s health camps were ‘seen as a major weapon in the campaign against tuberculosis….Where children failed to thrive, or needed a period of rest and recovery from ill health, parental permission would be sought for their removal to a health camp’.

Paterson, director of the Department of Health’s School Hygiene Division, strongly supported the camps and was ‘the key force’ behind the Raukawa/Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp’s establishment in 1932. It was Paterson who founded the Wellington Children’s Health Camp Association in 1929, the same year as health stamps were introduced. The stamps cost more than normal stamps, with the additional money going to charity. Temporary camps in Wellington’s wider region were held in Haywards and Levin from 1925. However, Paterson believed Ōtaki was the ideal place for a permanent camp because of the climate and proximity to a beach. Paterson had high-level support for the project: the Minister of Health, James Alexander Young (1875-1956), became its Patron; Wellington’s Mayor, Thomas Hislop (1888-1965), was elected as the committee’s first President; and King was an honorary Vice-President. Brown remained involved as a committee member until his death in 1947. The Prime Minister, George William Forbes (1869-1947), was also effusive in his support and called for the public to be generous with their donations.

Preparing the Ōtaki site in the midst of the Great Depression was a significant task, requiring community and government support. Paterson did considerable lobbying to gather funding for the camp’s construction and the project received a boost when the government decided to dedicate proceeds from the first health stamp sales to the new camp. The campaign generated £2500. Paterson’s tenacity is also credited with eliciting considerable contributions from the Public Works Department. The Native Affairs Department also helped with labour costs, conditional on unemployed Māori being involved.

The health camp also provided a chance to re-purpose existing buildings. In 1931 the government approved the transfer of two First World War-era rotunda buildings from the King George V Hospital in Rotorua. They were part of a military hospital built as a place for sick and wounded returned soldiers to convalesce. The hospital was handed over to civilian authorities after the war. However, by the late 1920s the wards were in need of repair and it was decided to demolish most of the hospital. The remaining rotunda buildings were dismantled and transported by rail to their new home in Ōtaki, where they were re-erected by the Lower Hutt firm of S. Jarvis and Son. The rotunda buildings formed the bulk of the camp’s original facilities and could accommodate 60 children each - one for girls and one for boys. Additional original buildings included an adjoining office and utility buildings.

All this hard work paid off and the camp was opened, with considerable fanfare and numerous dignitaries attending, in mid-February 1932. The Minister of Health opened the camp in front of approximately 300 people, including local politicians, Lady Jacobina Luke (1860-1937, former Mayoress of Wellington) and Sir Truby King. Paterson and Brown were suitably thanked for their important contributions to the project. The Wellington Children’s Health Camp Association ran the camp and by the following year it was being hailed as a success, with the children exhibiting ‘a most gratifying improvement’. Ōtaki camp was New Zealand’s only health camp able to help children all year-round, except for briefly closing for maintenance, until further permanent camps were created.

This first permanent camp at Ōtaki was ‘registered as a mile-stone in the [health camp] movement’. It was described as bestowing ‘incalculable blessing[s]’ on campers and was an important place for preventative healthcare for children in the Wellington region and up to Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay. By the mid-1930s public confidence in the work of health camps was ‘steadily becoming firmly established’ because of the results from the ‘flagship’ permanent camp at Ōtaki and its temporary counterparts. Therefore, other permanent camps were created in: Whanganui (1939); Gisborne, Nelson and Roxburgh (1941); Christchurch and Whangārei (1945); and Auckland (1949). These were established as part of a concerted expansion of health camp facilities under the King George V Memorial Fund, which was launched by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage (1872-1940) for that purpose in 1937. This also ushered in greater governmental oversight of the camps and a federated structure. Ōtaki’s camp was a model for those that followed and continued to host high profile visitors, including numerous Governor Generals and their entourages.

At the opening ceremony of the Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp, Member of Parliament Peter Fraser (1884-1950) alluded to the fact that community support would be essential to its success. Because of the economic conditions of the period, the 1930s were trying times and the local and wider community were indeed called on to support the camp’s activities, by donating food, volunteering their time and contributing to fundraising efforts, such as an annual Lower Hutt and Wellington street appeals. In turn, the camp contributed to the local economy and was ‘an important source of jobs for female school leavers, and eventually, for married women’. Funding and adequate support would be an on-going problem for Ōtaki’s camp and others around the country.

In 1935 the camp was described as having ‘all the amenities necessary to bring back to health those who are delicate or undernourished’. That year alone the camp assisted around 400 children to become ‘happy and healthy’. The demand for services and the results over the Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp’s first decade made it feasible and desirable to upgrade and expand the facilities. The aim was not to increase capacity, but to ‘give the institution a greater degree of convenience and comfort to facilitate a movement generally recognised as of paramount importance to the community’. This led to new purpose-built school and kitchen/dining buildings, as well as ablution blocks for the rotundas, being constructed in 1941 through a considerable grant from the King George V Memorial Fund.

The architects for this second major phase of construction at the camp were prominent Wellington practice, Swan and Lavelle. John Sydney Swan and William Edward Lavelle paired-up in 1934. Swan was a longstanding and well-known Wellington architect who had previously been in practice with Frederick de Jersey Clere. Lavelle had previously worked for Swan at Swan Lawrence and Swan before a time at Dawson and King and then starting his own practice in 1931. The practice designed Wellington commercial buildings such as the Van Staveren Building (1937). In accordance with the general principles of the health camp movement, Swan and Lavelle designed the school to let in fresh air and natural light, in the style of an open-air classroom. The new additions to the Otaki Children’s Health Camp were officially opened by the Minister of Health, who headed a delegation of politicians and dignitaries from Wellington, in late 1941. A special souvenir health stamp cover was also provided for the occasion.

However, soon after the new buildings were completed the health camp’s activities were briefly suspended because the Wellington Health Board needed the facilities for a World War Two emergency hospital. The rotunda and schoolrooms were used as wards for Wellington patients sent to Ōtaki as a precautionary measure, in case of Japanese attack or invasion. The health camp reopened in December 1944. At that time it was noted that many children on the camp’s waiting list had fathers on duty overseas and mothers who had gone into the workforce as part of the wartime response needed to keep industry functioning.

The mid-twentieth century was the health camp movement’s heyday – ‘the health camp became a distinctive New Zealand institution, the subject of films, articles, and a reinvigorated health stamp campaign’. Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp was described in the media as an ‘admirable institution’ which ‘[p]eople are proud to let their children go [to]’. After a referral from a family doctor or local nurse, children generally stayed between six to 12 weeks. The experience was described, in Pictorial Parade footage of the Ōtaki camp, as a chance for convalescent or under-nourished children to have a holiday in the sunshine and fresh air. However, it was not all fun and games. The children’s routines were highly regimented to get maximum health benefits from being outside, exercising and eating. Progress was checked with daily weigh-ins. The children swam in the ocean often and periods of play among the trees and sand dunes were mandatory, which were all memorable parts of the ‘Otaki experience’. The recreational facilities were enhanced in the 1950s with the addition of a paddling pool and a swimming pool was also added by 1966. Other aspects of camp-life included school work and focusing on hygiene.

By the 1960s it was recognised that Ōtaki’s camp needed another upgrade and a project between 1962 and 1964 was the third and final major building phase at the camp. The eastern rotunda was demolished to make way for a new administration block and accommodation facilities and a caretaker’s residence was also built. These works were so extensive the camp needed to close during 1963 for construction. Important Wellington architectural practice, Toomath and Wilson, were commissioned to design the administration and accommodation buildings and other features. The practice had formed in 1958 and, because of a shared sense of social responsibility, the two principal architects, William (Bill) Toomath (1925-2014) and Derek Wilson (1922-2016), preferred to focus on domestic, community and educational projects. The Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp commission fitted neatly with their ethos.

Over the next few decades there were other changes instore at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp. Tighter requirements around facilities and treatment meant the voluntary aspect of camp staffing was gradually phased out from the 1960s and by the 1980s all the camps relied heavily on government support. It was also in the late twentieth century that some of the area previously vested in the health camp was subdivided and sold for residential development.

Although not perfect, malnutrition rates and risk from disease had substantially reduced by the 1980s and there was a shift in focus for health camps. This went hand in hand with greater awareness of physical and sexual abuse and the psychology behind emotional and behavioural issues. Children still needed parental permission to go to the health camp and the basic routines remained similar, although less regimented and there was allowance for tailoring programmes to individual needs. Providing benefits for body and soul at health camps had always been a guiding principle, but in the late-twentieth century building children’s resilience, mental health and self-esteem seems to have become as, if not more, important than bolstering physical well-being. One example of the difference in approach saw the introduction of pets at Ōtaki, to help teach children ‘about responsibility and how to care for others’. Some of these camp animals became much loved features of the camp, including Pepe, a donkey who was a star at public events.

In the early 1990s the Ōtaki camp’s was still taking around 60 children per intake, from the lower North Island and upper South Island, with around two thirds being Pākehā and the majority of the rest identifying as Māori. These demographics were more evenly split by the late 1990s. The camp stays were aligned with school terms and usually for five weeks. In the mid-1990s approximately 60 per cent of the children who attended health camps around the country were referred for behavioural and/or emotional issues, with the balance being children with physical health problems or ‘simply that parent and child needed time apart’. By this time ‘Maori cultural activities had become integrated into many of the camp activities…[and there were] opportunities for parents to stay on site to support their children and attend workshops on parenting skills’. A large common room/nohoanga whānau, opened by Lady Beverley Reeves, was created in the courtyard space between the children’s accommodation blocks in late 1980s, and was where some of these activities were held.

Funding was static over the decade which prompted the Ōtaki camp to sell its nurse’s home (relocated off-site) to try and help cover costs. The funding situation was frustrating for Children’s Health Camp Board’s chief executive, Ron Turner, who said, ‘health camps provide one of the few fences at the top of the child health cliff, rather than the ambulance at the bottom. Next to no money goes to the top-of-the-cliff child health care’. Nelson’s permanent health camp had closed by this time and others faced uncertain futures.

In 2000 the Children’s Health Camps Board was disestablished concurrent with the New Zealand Foundation for Child and Family Health and Development’s creation. The twenty-first century’s first decade was a difficult time at the Ōtaki camp, involving re-building its team after a period of high staff turn-over, continued financial restrictions exacerbated by the need to renovate and upgrade the facilities, and further specialisation of services. Therefore, support of community groups was still very welcome and necessary. The Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer described a shift – the Ōtaki health camp and others went from being ‘a universal health service in 2000…to being a specialised social service in 2008 working with our most vulnerable children and families.

Further name changes occurred and in 2013 the organisation running Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp became known as Stand Children’s Services Tū Māia Whanau. The care provided was described as ‘intensive and individual’, so intakes of children were necessarily smaller. Continued financial issues and the need to upgrade facilities meant the Ōtaki camp, and its counterpart in Roxburgh, were closed in 2018. The Minister for Children described Ōtaki’s camp as ‘iconic’ and its services as ‘essential’, but Stand was one of many health and education sector organisations calling on the government for increased resourcing. Some features, such as two carved pou which flanked the gates (installed 2008), were removed in 2019 when Stand vacated the site. The vesting of the reserve with Stand was cancelled in March 2019.

Physical Description

Current Description

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) is a large property, located at Ōtaki Beach on the Kāpiti Coast. The main access is from Health Camp Road. There is also a secondary, grassed, accessway connecting to Marine Parade which is behind the Scott Avenue houses and was the main route between the camp and the beach for the children. The former health camp complex has areas of relatively unmodified, grass covered, sand dunes surrounding a levelled central area. On the flat are large open spaces used for children’s recreation and the complex’s main buildings and structures nestle in the middle of the property. The sheltered and wholesome atmosphere is augmented by the sound of waves on the nearby beach. The camp’s central collection of buildings is said to be ‘a notable group of buildings of the 1930s and early post-[Second World ] war era, including teaching spaces, workshops and the camp manager’s house, and a small school, amongst others’.

Originally the camp’s site was 43.7 hectares, but it has gradually been reduced to the current (2019) 10 hectares. Mature boundary plantings and the sand dunes provide some privacy between the adjoining residential sections to the northwest and east and blend into the Conservation Reserve to the southwest and south. As well as the formal recreational fields on the levelled central area, this perimeter area was traditionally an important space for the play children required as part of their health camp experience. The pine and macrocarpa trees are predominantly contemporary with the camp’s establishment or its early period, some being planted by the Otaki Beautifying Society. Many trees on the eastern boundary have been felled but there are stumps and other remnants.

On the west side of Health Camp Road, the approach to the health camp has an interpretation panel mounted on a concrete plinth. Immediately west of this, adjoining the property boundary, is a waste water pump station which was probably built circa 1983, as part of a sewerage system upgrade resulting from increased residential development in the immediate area.


The camp’s gates were constructed in 1960 ‘more for appearance than security…[t]hey did, however, stop traffic coming into the camp at night’. The gate defines the main entrance to the former health camp site and consists of four concrete posts, supporting open metal railings and gates. There was a ceremony when the gate was completed to unveil a bronze plaque commemorating Byron Brown, which is recessed into the eastern gatepost. The memorial was unveiled by Prime Minister Walter Nash (1882-1968) who said, ‘I have much pleasure in unveiling this memorial to a great patriot and a great man…This modest memorial will serve as inspiration to all who read it’. The opposite gatepost has a similar insert honouring King George V and the community donations which resulted in camp opening in 1932. The gates, and the flanking fencing sections, are open metalwork, painted green, which feature geometrical shapes.

The gate has undergone little alteration, with the exception of the addition of two pou, flanking the gateposts, in 2008, which were then removed in 2019 when Stand vacated the property. The creation of the koru-shaped gardens adjoining the gates coincided with the installation of the carvings – this shape of the ‘unfurling fern shoot representing growth’.


The first building encountered upon entering the property from the long Health Camp Road driveway is a modest, gabled, weatherboard residence, constructed in the 1960s. This supplemented an existing residence, which was later demolished in 1987.

The extant house’s three-bedrooms are at the north end of the house and are accessed from a central, longitudinal hallway. The bathroom, laundry and kitchen spaces are on the west side. The galley kitchen, with original cabinetry, leads into a living space at the southeast corner, which has expansive glazing.

Swimming pools

The camp’s recreational facilities include paddling and swimming pools, enclosed by a tall timber fence and located next to the car-parking area which adjoins the administration block.

The paddling pool is closest to the main buildings and was donated by the Rotary Club of Wellington in 1951 – this group had been long-term supporters of the camp. It was built in memory of one of the club’s members, Frank Campbell, who had died in 1944. Placed centrally on the brick pool surround is a rectangular feature, with a lion head fountain fixture and a plaque on the opposite side, which has a dedication to Campbell, ‘A friend of the children’. The companion swimming pool to the north was also built in the mid-twentieth century. These facilities were important to the camp because, at the time, the beach was increasingly being viewed as unsafe for the children, but swimming and outdoor recreation was essential to their children’s treatment.

The chemical shed appears to be contemporary with other early 1960s buildings and the changing sheds were constructed in the late twentieth century.


The 1915-16 rotunda is the camp’s only original building and has been described as ‘the physical and historic centrepiece of the complex of buildings on the site’. As with later buildings, this octagonal timber building, with central lantern, was designed by an ‘influential’ Wellington architectural practice. Hoggard and Prouse’s design was constructed by Wellington firm of Campbell and Burke and when relocated from Rotorua in 1931 was re-erected by another local firm.

The former hospital dormitory originally had open windows, covered only by hessian, to maximise sunlight and air within the building, which at the time was considered essential for recuperating patients. However, within a few years window glazing was added (1918). The principles of promoting air-flow and letting in sunshine neatly meshed with ideas promoted by the health camp movement, so it seems fitting that the building found a new use at the Ōtaki camp. At the health camp, the rotunda was used as the boys’ dormitory between 1932 and 1963. The ablution block was added as part of the 1941 expansion of the camp’s facilities. This addition is a modest timber-framed and weatherboard clad building with a gabled roof. The interior is divided into several spaces for ablutions.

When replacement accommodation facilities were completed in 1964, the rotunda became a recreational building, perfect for rainy days, and a space for activities such as woodworking and crafts. As well as camp activities, the building was also used for local community events. The accompanying rotunda, used for girls’ accommodation, was demolished to make way for the new administration and accommodation block. By 2011 the remaining rotunda’s main use was as a storage area.

Among the thousands of children who have attended the camp many are recorded as vividly remembering the rotunda as an important feature of their experience. This was reflected in a newspaper article about the camp’s 50th anniversary celebrations – ‘this building remains not only as a historical reminder of service and utility but as a happy place of activity….It stands proudly as a living piece of both New Zealand’s and Otaki’s history…’.


The school block, opened in late 1941, was part of an early extension of the camp’s facilities financed through the King George V Memorial Fund. The single level timber building has a high ceiling and was designed with the health camp’s ideals in mind, incorporating large French doors, and a front verandah, partially enclosed with glazing; all to maximise the children’s access to natural light and fresh air. The school was described as ‘a modern, cheerful building with a northerly aspect, and the staff quarters were attractive and comfortable’.

The hipped roofed classroom block was connected to the rotunda with a covered walkway by 1957. The building was extended on its west and eastern ends by 1980 and southwards with a lean-to addition by the early twenty-first century. The building has two main interior teaching spaces, some secondary ones and an office space on the northwest corner. The small pavilion addition on the opposite end of the building houses a kitchenette.

Kitchen, dining hall and laundry

The kitchen and dining hall building and the adjacent laundry were also opened in 1941.

Food was a big focus of health camp life, so appropriate facilities were an important part of running the camp. The kitchen and dining hall is a large gabled timber building, with sash windows, located east of the rotunda. Double doors, featuring original joinery and hardware, open into a wide open space, which was the dining hall. The preparation and utility spaces are to the rear of the building. The kitchen has a servery which opens into the dining area and also appears to feature original, or early, cabinetry.

A smaller gabled building is connected the kitchen/dining hall’s eastern side, which was a laundry and bathroom building. The building has sash windows which match those in the neighbouring building. An eastern lean-to extension seems to have been created in the late twentieth century or early twenty-first century. This is likely to be contemporary with the kitchen/dining hall’s entranceway addition on the western side and also the garage located between the dining hall and the rotunda. The laundry building’s ceiling and interior wall linings have been removed from much of the interior, revealing the timber framing.

Library, administration and accommodation blocks

By the mid-1950s a revamp of the camp’s facilities was being planned and was realised in the early 1960s with buildings and structures designed by notable Wellington architectural practice, Toomath and Wilson. The redevelopment included demolishing one of the original rotundas to build administration and accommodation buildings, creating a new library building directly north of the remaining rotunda and providing connecting covered walkways (later enclosed). Constructed in 1963-64, this work is distinguished from the earlier structures by the combination of concrete-block (subsequently painted) and timber materials.

Wilson appears to have taken the lead on the commission. Characteristics of his work integrated into the health camp buildings and others of this period, such as his own house in Khandallah a few years later, were combinations of concrete block and recessed areas of timber construction, as well as the use of gabled rooves with lanterns and clearstory windows for plenty of natural light.

Completed in 1964, the administration and accommodation blocks were a hub for camp activities and a home away from home for health camp children until 2018. Designed in a cruciform configuration and linked by covered walkways, the administration and accommodation blocks were positioned around a courtyard and said to be ‘more practical’ than the camp’s previous arrangement of buildings.

Positioned north of the rotunda is the library - a small, single room space, with a lean-to roof. The front façade is recessed, creating a verandah, and has extensive glazing. The side and rear walls are dominated by concrete block, but a clerestory on the south side provides additional natural light into the space. The building is flanked by bench seats, facing out to the play area but otherwise enclosed by concrete block walling.

The administration block provided staff office spaces, treatment rooms, and utility spaces, such as a new laundry, on either side of a hallway running the length of the building. As with the dormitories, there are areas of exposed concrete block and timber match-lining on the interior, echoing the external combinations of materials. The administration block’s west end roofline was subsequently modified into a gable.

The dormitories, in particular, reflected the institution’s desire to modernise and provide an enhanced experience for the children. The previous accommodations and toilet facilities in the rotunda buildings were communal, albeit segregated; with all the boys in one and all the girls in the other. The new dormitories divided the children amongst six buildings, providing a greater level of privacy. They included bathroom facilities for each group and half partition walls in the sleeping area to give the children a sense of a personal space.

The courtyard between the administration and accommodation blocks was enclosed in the late 1980s to create a large covered communal space, the family room/nohoanga whanau. The gabled roof is supported by large trusses, exposed on the interior. A hallway surrounds the room and the partitions have large expanses of glazing. Double doors, also glazed, are placed midway along each side of the rectangular space.

Other buildings and structures

There has been a flagpole in the same position, or close proximity, as the extant flagpole since the camp’s early period and was presumably used on special occasions, such as visits from Governor Generals. The current flagpole, between the pool enclosure and the covered walkway, was constructed by 1959.

An enclosure and sheds close to kitchen was present by the late 1940s. Because of its proximity to the kitchen, this appears to have been a chicken run for the hens that produced the large number of eggs the camp went through. The two concrete water storage tanks nearby were built in the early 1960s.

The late twentieth century animal shelters, and associated structures, located south of the complex’s main buildings, reflect the camp’s focus during this period on the emotional and physiological well-being of the children. For example, Pepe (a donkey) and Horace (a goat), each had a hut.

The play equipment in front of the school building and the flying fox close to the eastern boundary appear to have been added from the late twentieth century.

Comparative analysis

The combination of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former)’s memorial gateway, caretakers residence, central buildings and recreational structures, outlying animal shelter structures and the generous allowance of open leisure space - both flat and among the sand-dunes and trees - were essential to the effective and efficient running of the health camp and integral to the overall experience of the children who attended it. The other permanent health camps around the country had facilities which performed similar functions to those at Ōtaki, but only a few comparable extant examples remain from the movement’s peak period of the mid-twentieth century.

The rotunda is the only original building dating from the establishment phase of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) in the early 1930s. In this period the Ōtaki camp cemented itself as the progenitor for all New Zealand’s other permanent camps. The rotunda continued to be a distinguishing feature of Ōtaki’s camp complex as other necessary buildings and structures were added. The rotunda was one of a pair of this type of early twentieth century medical buildings that was relocated from the King George V Hospital in Rotorua, in 1931. However, the companion rotunda was demolished in 1963 to make way for administration and accommodation facilities which suited contemporary requirements better.

Rotundas were a type of First World War New Zealand hospital building that appears to have been a distinctive response to the needs of soldiers in 1915 and 1916. For example, there was another convalescent hospital in Hanmer Springs, the Queen Mary Hospital. Unlike Ōtaki’s building, that rotunda, which is part of the Soldier’s Block, has been retained in its original location. The idea and design for these buildings was based on recent equivalents built as military camp hospitals at Trentham and Featherston. The associated octagonal rotunda buildings at each of the military camps, designed by the Public Works Department, were subsequently demolished. All that remains of the Featherston rotunda is archaeological evidence, but, like the Ōtaki and Hanmer Springs examples, this has been identified as contributing to a larger complex’s heritage values.

The re-use of earlier buildings for health camps purposes was not exclusive to Ōtaki. At Whanganui’s permanent health camp, established in the late 1930s, a 1912 Tea Kiosk was relocated to the site. Like Ōtaki’s rotunda, this building would have formed a distinctive element within the camp. However unlike Ōtaki, the Whanganui camp was short-lived and the kiosk was adapted for other purposes, later becoming the Braves Softball Club Rooms (Former) (List No.5305). The Whanganui camp’s other facilities were removed or demolished, leaving the kiosk as an isolated building. In Christchurch an existing house with large grounds, Glenelg, was purchased and adapted for health camp purposes (opened 1945) but this seems to have been replaced by purpose-built facility. A permanent camp in Whangārei opened the same year, using the former Maunu emergency military hospital facilities. Buildings from closed military camps were also utilised for the camp’s school and staff quarters. This was meant to be an interim arrangement until a seaside location could be found. However, the camp continues to be run from the site and many of the adapted Second World War military buildings have either been replaced or substantially added to.

The other permanent camps were purpose-built. The Roxburgh camp was designed as an integrated modern complex, constructed around a central courtyard. The Nelson Children’s Health Camp, which opened the same year as Roxburgh in 1941, is now (2019) the Nelson Christian Academy and the original health camp buildings appear to have been retained. Auckland and Gisborne’s purpose-built legacy camp buildings were replaced with new buildings completed in 2003 and 2009, respectively.

Because Ōtaki Childrens’ Health Camp (Former) was the first of its kind in New Zealand, it grew up around its original rotunda building as funding could be obtained to add other essential buildings and structures. Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former), with its three time-periods of construction and three different designers, could, like the Maunu camp, be considered quite piecemeal in comparison with the two extant purpose-built camps in Nelson and Roxburgh. However, the incremental development at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) documented the evolution of health camps and the movement’s work from 1931 and created a unique physical environment. Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) features a set of buildings, structures and spaces which are an integral part of the story of New Zealand’s health camps, and they tell that story more comprehensively than all other extant examples.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1915 - 1916
Original Construction in Rotorua

1931 -
Moved from Rotorua to Otaki

1963 -
One of two rotundas removed from site [eastern side] of remain rotunda building, remaining rotunda converted into recreational facility. Relocated rotunda moved to farm and has been demolished.

Demolished - additional building on site
Second rotunda has been sold and relocated off site. Building was not re-erected in same form. Noted by Di Buchanan as 'demolished' 2019.

Additional building added to site
- 1941
Kitchen and dining hall, laundry, and school buildings constructed, and ablution block added to rotunda

- 1951
Paddling pool constructed

Swimming pool constructed

- 1960
Gates constructed and Byron Brown memorial unveiled

Additional building added to site
1963 - 1964
Library, administration and accommodation blocks, as well as covered walkways and care-taker’s residence, constructed

Courtyard between administration and accommodation blocks is enclosed to create a common room

Construction Details

Concrete, concrete block, corrugated iron, timber

Completion Date

19th October 2019

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Otaki Historical Society Journal

Otaki Historical Society Journal

B.V. Swaby, 'Otaki Children's Health Camp', Vol. 11, 1988; Margaret Tennant, 'The children of Otaki Health Camp, a view of the Early years', vol. 14, 1991.

Stafford, 1988

D. M. Stafford, The new century in Rotorua, a history of events from 1900, Rotorua, 1988

Tennant, 1994

Margaret Tennant, Children's Health, the Nation's Wealth - A history of children's health camps, Wellington, 1994

Tennant, 1994

Margaret Tennant, Children's Health, the Nation's Wealth - A history of children's health camps, Wellington, 1994

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Ian Bowman, 'A Conservation Plan for the Rotunda', May 1997, copy held NZHPT, Wellington

Buchan, 2017

Buchan, Di, Sun, Sea and Sustenance: The story of the Otaki Children’s Health Camp, Steele Roberts Aotearoa, Wellington, 2017

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.