Top 10 heritage places to visit this summer

Rebecca Nuttall —  08/01/2015

Rebecca Nuttall.

With summer in full swing, there’s no better time to get out, connect with your heritage, and visit one of New Zealand’s historic places.

Whether you enjoy a quiet picnic in the sun, or a challenging tramp across scenic landscapes, this list of 10 historic places to visit (in no particular order) will get you exploring places that have helped define and distinguish our country.

Stockmen - Molesworth Station. Photo copyright Rob Suisted.

Roam the high country at Molesworth

#1 Rimutaka Rail Trail

Established in the late 1800s, this rail route between the Hutt Valley and Featherston was once a scenic mountain journey.

Nowadays the rail trail is a gently graded 18 kilometre walk or mountain bike ride, with interpretation panels, panoramic views, tunnels (take a torch!), as well as swimming and fishing opportunities in the nearby Pakuratahi River and picnic or camping spots at Ladle Bend and Summit.

Cross Creek railway station, Rimutaka Rail Trail.

Cross Creek railway station was the base of operations for the Rimutaka Incline

#2 Kawau Island Historic Reserve

Kawau is home to the iconic Mansion House, which Sir George Grey, one of New Zealand’s most influential and controversial political figures, made his home in the 1800s.

Kawau Island Historic Reserve, home to the iconic Mansion House.

Kawau Island Historic Reserve, home to the iconic Mansion House

Sir George knew how to do summer in style. This exotic island getaway once boasted zebras and monkeys. Don’t be surprised to still see peacocks roaming in the Italianate gardens.

If you want to know how the rich and famous once lived, Kawau Island is the place to be.

#3 Matiu/Somes Island

Matiu/Somes Island, in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington Harbour, has served as a human and animal quarantine station, an internment camp, a military defence position, and a favourite picnic spot for Wellingtonians.

Bavarian String Band.

Bavarian String Band formed by German internees on Matiu/Somes Island during World War I

Matiu/Somes is now a DOC scientific and historic reserve and a tranquil retreat for both wildlife and visitors.

Visit the lighthouse, count the number of skinks that skitter off the track, and then pause for a moment to reflect on the island’s past, present and future.

#4 The Camphouse on Mount Taranaki

The Camphouse is thought to be one of the most substantial buildings remaining from the New Zealand Land Wars. It is also the oldest building in any of New Zealand’s national parks.

Situated almost 1000 metres up Mount Taranaki, the Camphouse has accommodated soldiers, mountaineers, and visitors since the 1800s.

Historic North Egmont Camphouse.

Historic North Egmont Camphouse

Now, you can wake up to the stunning Taranaki views it affords before heading off on the walks of Egmont National Park.

#5 Molesworth Station

Hop on a horse and roam the high country at Molesworth. Rugged musterers working on this iconic farming landscape enjoyed a hard-earned whiskey on the one day of the year it was allowed—Christmas.

Camp by the Cob Cottage and take a dip in the Acheron River for your own New Zealand style cowboy experience.

Flat and Upper Acheron River, Molesworth Station. Photo copyright Rob Suisted.

Isolated Flat and upper Acheron River from below Ward Pass on the Molesworth Road drive

#6 Urupukapuka Island

Try out your new fishing gear at pest-free Urupukapuka Island in the eastern Bay of Islands.

The abundance of kaimoana has attracted people to Urupukapuka for centuries. It’s also the place where American author, Zane Grey, established a world-famous fishing resort in 1927.

Urupukapuka Island.

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka is a great place for exploring, fishing, swimming, and all types of water sports. There are also three campsites you can stay at.

#7 Sign of the Packhorse Hut

Pioneer conservationist, Henry Ell, had this hut built in 1914 and it’s still a popular stopover for people walking the Banks Peninsula tracks.

Designed by architect, Samuel Hurst Seager, the Sign of the Packhorse Hut is intended to blend and harmonise with the surrounding landscape.

Drop by and stay in this historic hut for a glimpse into the history of New Zealand tourism and recreation.

Historic sign of the Packhorse Hut.

Sign of the Packhorse Hut

#8 Bob’s Cove (Te Punatapu)

Early tourists to Lake Wakatipu would visit this idyllic spot for a picnic, and so should you.

Check out the old lime kilns from the 1870s then take a walk around the lakeshore—once a pounamu trail for Māori visiting Te Punatapu, the sacred waters.

Bob's Cove. Photo: Kathrin & Stefan Marks | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Bob’s Cove (Te Punatapu)

#9 Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto is the largest, youngest, and one of the least modified of about 50 volcanic cones and craters in Auckland. It dominates the local seascape and a visit there is like stepping into another world.

The pest-free island is famed world-wide as a botanical gem and has been a popular summer destination for over 100 years.

You can still see some of the remaining classic kiwi baches that were built on Rangitoto in the early 1900s.

Rangitoto's seawater pool.

Rangitoto’s old seawater pool, built of quarried stones by convict labour

Experience some great kiwiana at Bach 38, the historic home turned museum.

#10 St Bathans

Explore the streets of this historic Central Otago gold mining town, where a number of buildings still exist, including the St Bathans Hall—the oldest continually used mud brick hall in New Zealand.

Some 40 metres below the town’s main street is Blue Lake. You can walk a 2 kilometere track around this man-made lake, or take a dip in its mineral enriched water.

See if you can find some old gold mining equipment that was left here.

Old Pier, Blue Lake Loop Track.

Old Pier, Blue Lake Loop Track

DOC manages the single largest collection of historic heritage in the country.

When you visit a historic site, you learn from their stories and help keep history alive.

Rebecca Nuttall


Rebecca is an intern for the Historic and Cultural Heritage team at DOC. Failing to get her autobiography up off the ground, she shares other people's stories instead. "Aotearoa New Zealand history is rad" - someone, somewhere, at some point.