Domain Office (Former)

102B Whitaker Street, Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, Te Aroha

  • Domain Office (Former).
    Copyright: Matamata-Piako District Council. Taken By: Isthmus Group Ltd. Date: 1/02/2005.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 765 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. It excludes the more recent bowling pavilion and associated toilet, which conjoin the Domain Office on its eastern side.

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 Domain Office was erected in 1894 as the first substantial building in the Domain not employed for bathing. It appears to have multiple uses from an early stage, incorporating a ticket office, library, general office and women's waiting room. Meetings of the Domain Board were also held on its premises until the Board's duties were fully handed over to the Tourist Department in 1903. The earliest deliberations of the Borough Council were similarly conducted in one of the rooms after this body was formed in 1898. Prior to its construction, many of these functions were held in separate buildings, both on and off the Domain site. The architect and builders of the new purpose-built structure are unknown, although £300 had been allocated for its construction and the creation of a cold swimming pool, located elsewhere in the reserve.

The Domain Board created the library as a recreational facility for visitors to the spa and is said to have stocked the 'Chief Home and Colonial papers'. The women's waiting room is likely to have provided a safe and supervised environment for female visitors to await engagements. By 1900, the building was also used for providing medical advice, after James Muir had been appointed by the Domain Board to provide free consultations on 'the judicious use of the baths and drinking waters'. This association with health care was to last for nearly a hundred years.

The office was extended in 1904-1905, soon after the transfer of the Domain's authority to the Department of Tourism in 1903. The additions were designed by an unknown architect in the Public Works Department and constructed by Messrs Mackie and Dudley at a total cost of just over £193. Extra facilities were provided for medical staff, following increased interest by the government in the science of Balneology and the promotion of health resorts. The library was also improved, with the Tourism Department making its facilities available to the townspeople. A small room at the rear of the building may have been created or modified to dispense tickets or towels for bathing. The Department used the remainder of the building as its administrative centre for the Domain, and as an office for the Government Tourist Agent.

A decline in the stature of the building occurred in the late 1930s, when council meetings and the library were moved to municipal buildings in the town. The government Tourist Office, however, remained with attached rooms for medical consultation. A general surgery occupied the structure until 1995, when the last doctor retired. The building has since been extensively conserved by the Matamata-Piako District Council, and is currently employed as a Visitor's Centre once again.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building is historically significant for its role in the development and administration of the Domain as a spa resort, the establishment of a medical profession in Te Aroha, and civic life in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century township. It is of particular value for its close links with the early development of the tourist industry in New Zealand.

The former Domain Office has aesthetic value for its appearance and visual contribution to the landscape of both the Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain and Whitaker Street. It is architecturally significant for its Italianate appearance, including its timber detailing designed to look like stone.

The former Domain Office reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history, including civic administration, the role of Domain Boards, and the development of health care and early tourism in New Zealand.

Currently operating as a visitor's centre, it has high potential for public education.

The Domain Office is an integral part of an important historical and cultural landscape at the 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

Mackie & Dudley

Reg No.765 - 1904-1905 extension

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The former Domain Office is located in the north-western corner of Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain, fronting Whitaker Street. It lies next to the main entrance to the reserve and is the only building in the reserve to present its facade on to a major public thoroughfare. The structure has a low brick and railing wall on its western, streetward side but is otherwise unenclosed. A bowling pavilion and attached toilet have been built against the eastern part of its northern elevation.

The former Domain Office is a single-storey structure built largely of timber. It is broadly rectangular in form with a north-south gabled roof over its western half, and a double-gabled section extending eastwards to the rear. The northern part of the eastwards extension is longer in length than the southern part, having been added to the original 1894 structure in 1904-1905.

The building has been styled according to classical architectural principles, commonplace for small public buildings in late nineteenth-century New Zealand. It has a distinctive Italianate facade, which emulates a masonry form of construction. This incorporates mock voussoirs and keystones around its arched central door and symmetrically-placed windows, and mock quoins at each end of the facade. The sides and rear of the building are less ornate, with elements typical of contemporary villa construction.

All external walls are clad with rusticated weatherboards, emphasising the building's masonry appearance. Its roof projects out from the walls, with medallions supporting boxed eaves. Brick chimneys that once projected above the roof-line have been removed. The roof itself is covered with corrugated iron.

The internal planning of the structure also reflects a classical approach to design, with a wide central hall running down the centre of the building from the main door to a rear access. Rooms are arranged on either side, with a small front lobby providing access to a front room on the northern side and a larger space on the south. Further rooms are located at the eastern end of the building, including several accessed from a back porch. The major rooms at the front of the building have wainscoting on their lower walls, while others - including the hall - are lined with horizontal tongue and grooved boards. Most rooms have board and batten ceilings.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1894 -

1904 - 1905
Eastern extension added on northern side

1955 -
Internal alterations

1997 - 1998
Modifications, including removal of 1950s alterations

Construction Details

Timber frame and weatherboards, with timber piles and a corrugated iron roof

Completion Date

15th July 2004

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Mackay, 1993

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

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.