Tea House

Whitaker Street, Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, Te Aroha

  • Tea House, Te Aroha. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy . Taken By: Paul Le Roy – Minicooperd. Date: 21/01/2017.
  • Tea House, Te Aroha.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones.
  • Tea House, Te Aroha.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 760 Date Entered 11th December 2003 Date of Effect 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the structure, its footings and the ground beneath its footprint. It includes all fixtures and finishes.

City/District Council

Matamata-Piako District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Sec 16 Blk IX Aroha SD (Recreation Reserve NZ Gazette 1882, p. 1860)


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Hot Springs Domain at Te Aroha was the most popular geothermal resort in New Zealand. The Domain was initially established as a reserve in 1881, incorporating an area of 9.1 hectares (20 acres) on the lower slopes of Mount Te Aroha. The many hot springs in this area lay within the traditional territory of Ngati Rahiri, a hapu of Ngati Maru of Hauraki, and had long been frequented by Maori for their perceived healing qualities. By the late 1870s the site had become a popular destination for Pakeha visitors, with tourist numbers increasing after the discovery of gold on Mount Te Aroha in 1880 and the development of Te Aroha township as a mining settlement. The Domain was acquired by the government soon after the passing of the 1881 Thermal Springs District Act, with local Maori - who had played an instrumental role in initially promoting the resort - retaining the right of free access to the waters. The 1881 Act had been introduced to promote Crown ownership of New Zealand's thermal resources, partly in response to their increasing purchase and commercial exploitation by private entrepreneurs.

The earliest permanent buildings in the Domain were erected soon after the reserve was brought under the Public Domains Act in 1882, and were overseen by the Te Aroha Hot Springs Board. By 1887, there were seven bath houses and a drinking fountain, with extensive grounds laid out to plans drawn up by Henry Crump, a local engineer and architect. Government money largely financed the development of the facilities, as well as the establishment of a railway from Auckland in 1886. As the centrepiece of the now-burgeoning town of Te Aroha, the spa became the first geothermal resort in the country to receive thousands of visitors on an annual basis. People came to bathe or ingest its waters for health reasons, but also to promenade, listen to music or play genteel forms of sport such as tennis, croquet and bowls. Spas had important associations in nineteenth-century European society as places where the well-to-do could relax and congregate in refined and beautiful surroundings.

Although the health and leisure aspects of the reserve were heavily promoted when it was taken over by the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts in 1903, the facilities went into a slow decline after government funding and visitor attention were steadily drawn to Rotorua. The Domain nevertheless remained an extremely popular destination until after the First World War (1914-1918), and continued in a reduced capacity as a spa thereafter. Following closure of many of its facilities in the 1950s and 1960s, the Domain was transferred to the control of the local council (now Matamata-Piako District Council) in 1979, while formally remaining in Crown ownership.

The former Tea House was erected in the latter part of 1908, a few years after the administration of the Domain had passed to the Department of Tourism. It was one of three similar structures built at government spa resorts in the early 1900s, the other two being erected at Rotorua and Hamner Springs. Designed in a similar style, they marked an expansion of the recreational facilities at these resorts, enhancing their popularity as tourist destinations. The Te Aroha Tea House was erected at a cost of £760 by a local contractor, William Dudley, and was opened on 1 December 1908, in time for the 1908-1909 summer season.

The tea house at Te Aroha appears to have been more ornate than those at Rotorua and Hamner Springs, but was similar in its prominent deployment of wide verandahs. Tea rooms grew in popularity during the height of the temperance movement, when abstinence from alcohol was seen as a sign of moral strength, particularly in middle class society. Early managers of the Te Aroha establishment all appear to have been unmarried women, with the role being passed from Miss J. Ryan to Miss Corlett in 1909, and to Miss Winstone in 1914. The serving staff also seem to have been largely or exclusively female. The building provided afternoon teas and ice creams to visitors, and was closed during the winter, when it was often hired out by various clubs and organisations. The establishment was criticised by some local residents as unnecessary and taking away custom from local businesses.

The Te Aroha Tea House proved to be less popular than those at Rotorua or Hamner Springs, possibly because it did not occupy a flat or centrally located site. It was eventually closed down in 1923 and converted into a residence for the Tourist Department's agent at the Domain. At least one side of the verandah was probably closed in at this time and additional rooms inserted. The structure continued to be used for residential purposes into the 1970s, when it was rented out privately. In the early 1980s the building was once again open as tea rooms after the Domain was transferred to the control of the local Council. Further alterations were made during the same decade when the building was converted for restaurant use, and again after a fire in the mid 1990s. The structure is currently vacant.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The structure is historically significant for reflecting the expansion of government leisure facilities at spa resorts, the popularity of non-alcoholic beverages at the height of the prohibition movement, and a desire to cater to a genteel clientele.

The former Tea House is aesthetically significant for its ornate appearance and the contribution it makes to the Picturesque nature of the Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain. It has architectural value as one of the few Tea Houses built on behalf of the Department of Tourism and Health Resorts in New Zealand, and is also the most substantial of the early structures built by the Department at Te Aroha.

It is also linked to social perspectives on female work and women's involvement in business during the early years of the twentieth century.

The former Tea House reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history, including government involvement in the promotion and use of spa resorts in the early part of the twentieth century, and gendered approaches to work. It incorporates unusual aspects of design, including broad verandahs and a large timber serving-hatch in its central dining room.

The building has rarity value as one of only three surviving Tea Houses built by the government at spa resorts in New Zealand.

It is part of an important cultural and historical landscape at the Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, which is considered to be the best-preserved Victorian and early Edwardian spa in New Zealand.

This landscape has been recognised in the Domain's registration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust /Pouhere Taonga as a Historic Area (#7012).


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Dudley, William G

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The former Tea House sits on a prominent spur in the lower foothills of Mount Te Aroha. It lies close within the southern boundary of the original 1881-1882 Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain. The structure overlooks the Cadman Bath House, as well as the main bowling greens and croquet lawns fronting Whitaker Street. It also commands wide views across parts of Te Aroha township and the Hauraki Plain beyond. The building has a small garden to the rear, bordering Wilson Street. This incorporates a small outhouse, a white picket fence, concrete paths and steps.

The Edwardian-style structure is a single storey high with its main facade facing north towards the Domain. This elevation features a very broad verandah, whose corners are emphasised with finial-bearing gables. A small central gablet also rises from the main body of the structure above the top of the verandah roof. Verandahs extending around the western and eastern sides of the building appear to have been filled in subsequent to original construction, while the southern elevation is comparatively plain. The large area of visible roof is a prominent part of the building's design, with those parts covering the verandah supported by ornamental posts and pierced, fan-like brackets

In plan the building is approximately square, with much of its space originally taken up by the external verandah areas. Initially surrounded by these, the main public room in the centre of the structure is accessed from outside by a glass-panelled door in its north-western corner. The room interior is panelled with high timber wainscoting, above which there is ornate Art Nouveau-style pressed metal lining. Further pressed metal lines the ceiling around a centrally-located, coloured-glass panel or light. The eastern wall bears a fireplace with a timber surround, while a large and elaborate timber serving hatch survives in its southern wall. To the east and west are large window-lit rooms accessible from the central space, which have been created by enclosing the verandahs. The eastern room bears an additional chimney on its outside wall, and has its own doorway to the verandah. Service rooms lie to the south, including a large modernised kitchen, and toilets.

The structure is timber-framed, with horizontal rusticated timber weatherboards on all original facades. Later modifications have adopted overlapping, bevel-backed horizontal weatherboards, and some fibrolite cladding. The structure sits on timber pile foundations with concrete footings. Concrete steps provide immediate access to the verandah, and form an integrated part of the structure's design. The roof currently consists of corrugated iron but was originally clad with Marseilles tiles. Both chimneys have been constructed of brick.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1908 -

1923 -
Modifications, including probable infilling of side verandah

Modifications, including alterations to service areas and toilet extension

Refurbishment after fire

Construction Details

Timber frame, with weatherboards, concrete footings, brick chimneys and corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

6th September 2004

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Mackay, 1993

Jamie Mackay, 'The Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain Conservation Area, Te Aroha, New Zealand', NZHPT report, Wellington, 1993.

Matamata-Piako District Council

Matamata-Piako District Council

'Te Aroha Domain Management Plan', Te Aroha, 1994

Rockel, 1986

Ian Rockel, Taking the Waters: Early Spas in New Zealand, Wellington, 1986

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Antony Matthews, 'Te Aroha Domain Conservation Plan', Auckland, 1997.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.