15 uniquely Kiwi heritage sites to visit with friends and whānau

Department of Conservation —  18/04/2023

To celebrate World Heritage Day, we’re sharing 15 uniquely Kiwi heritage sites to visit with your friends and whānau…

Tohu Whenua makes it easy to discover our nation’s best heritage experiences. Get hands on, have fun with the whole family, and explore Aotearoa New Zealand’s most iconic historic places!

Te Tai Tokerau Northland

New Zealand’s first Christmas – Rangihoua Heritage Park

Rangihoua Heritage Park tells the story of Chief Ruatara and Samuel Marsden, who both saw the benefits for their people of living side by side. Explore the place where the first planned European settlement was welcomed by Māori, where missionaries began writing down Te Reo, and where New Zealand’s first Christmas Day service was held.

Rangihoua Heritage Park. 📷: Nick Thompson (CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

A meeting place of cultures – Kororipo Heritage Park

Kororipo Heritage Park in Kerikeri is a place of gathering where some of the most important early meetings between Māori and Europeans were held. Walk the pā of famed chief Hongi Hika, have a unique and authentic historical and cultural experience at Te Ahurea, picnic on the banks of the Kerikeri River, shop at New Zealand’s oldest store, the Stone Store and tour our oldest building Kemp House (fee applies).

Kororipo Heritage Park. 📷: Claudia Babirat

Largest Treaty of Waitangi signing – Māngungu Mission

Māngungu was established as a Wesleyan mission station under the invitation and protection of the Māori leader Patuone and was the scene of the largest signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by over 70 chiefs. Tour the mission house (check the Heritage New Zealand website for opening times), take in the stunning views over the Hokianga Harbour or start your Twin Coast Cycle Trail ride here.

Māngungu Mission. 📷: Claudia Babirat

Landing place of the seven waka from Hawaiki – Rākaumangamanga-Cape Brett

Rākaumangamanga was the landing point of the first seven waka who followed the beaconing lights of the peninsula’s crystalline rocks to Aotearoa. Fittingly, in 1906 Cape Brett became the site of a lighthouse that continued to light a safe passage for new arrivals. Located above the famous Hole-in-the-Rock Island, access is by walking (8 hours) or water taxi (35 mins).

Rākaumangamanga/Cape Brett. 📷: Claudia Babirat

First European farm – Te Waimate Mission

Te Waimate Mission shows the remains of a model European village built by missionaries, by invitation of Ngāpuhi chiefs at Okuratope Pā. See the last of three mission houses, walk in the footsteps of scientist Charles Darwin and meet some heritage Pitt Island sheep as you learn about the influence of European farming practices on the missionaries and Māori alike.

Te Waimate Mission. 📷: Grant Sheehan

Only surviving pioneer printery and tannery in New Zealand – Pompallier Mission

Pompallier Mission time-capsules the impact of Bishop Pompallier and his missionaries in introducing Catholicism by producing written works in Te Reo Māori. Take an unforgettable guided tour of our oldest industrial building to learn the process of printing and leather bookbinding in the 19th century. Located just a 5 minute walk from Kororareka (Russell) Wharf.

Pompallier Mission. 📷: Claudia Babirat


Where the farmer’s wire strainer was invented – Hayes Engineering Works

The Hayes family defined the spirit of ‘Kiwi ingenuity’. Marvel at their mud brick home and workshop where Ernest invented agricultural labour-saving devices including the fence-fixing wire strainer, rabbit baiters and windmills, while Hannah cycled around the region in ankle length skirts, taking orders for his wares. Visit on an operating day to see the original machinery in action.

Hayes Engineering Works. 📷: James Jubb

One of the world’s oldest steamships – TSS Earnslaw

The TSS Earnslaw is one of the world’s oldest and largest remaining steamships and has graced Lake Wakatipu since 1912. In the days before any roads existed, she ferried people, sheep and goods to lake destinations. Take a cruise from Queenstown, see the giant steam engines at work and let the iconic alpine scenery take your breath away. 

TSS Earnslaw. 📷: Real Journeys

Birthplace of NZ’s billion-dollar meat industry – Totara Estate

It was from this once grand estate that the first shipment of frozen mutton was sent to England, marking the start of an export industry that has underpinned New Zealand’s economic prosperity. Wonderfully restored Ōamaru stone buildings provide a view of rural life in Victorian times, with family-friendly activities on offer.

Totara Estate. 📷: Claudia Babirat

The world’s only penny-farthing carousel – Ōamaru’s Victorian Precinct

Ōamaru’s atmospheric precinct of ornately carved stone buildings tells of Victorian hopes and dreams during the late 19th century boom years. Relive the era by strolling in and around well-preserved buildings that once housed merchant and engineering enterprises, grain stores and banks, now home to shops, artisans, galleries, Steampunk HQ and quirky Whitestone City with its unique penny-farthing carousel.

Oamaru’s Victoria Precinct. 📷: Claudia Babirat

Man-made badlands – Bannockburn Sluicings

Visit the remains of the dams, tunnels, walls, and water races that were built to flush out gold. The result is a spectacular man-made landscape of cliffs and pinnacles to explore on foot or bike, where you can still see the remains of rammed-earth houses where miners lived.

Bannockburn Sluicings. 📷: Claudia Babirat

New Zealand’s castle – Larnach Castle

Located on the Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle tells a colourful story, but this is no fairytale. The majestic mansion was built in the 1870s sparing no expense. William Larnach’s personal fortunes later crumbled and his grand vision fell into disrepair. The now lavishly restored castle is set in immaculate gardens and offers tours, accommodation and events.

Larnach Castle. 📷: DunedinNZ

Te Tai Poutini West Coast

New Zealand’s worst mining disaster – Brunner Mine

An event that shook the nation, Brunner Mine pays homage to the 65 men who died in New Zealand’s worst workplace disaster, with memorials amongst a wide variety of mining relics. Cross the historic suspension bridge and stand at the mine entrance to one of the largest coal operations. This is the birthplace of West Coast unionism and better safety legislation.

Brunner Mine. 📷: Claudia Babirat

First place with electric lighting – Reefton

Nicknamed Quartzopolis and the Town of Light, Reefton was the booming commercial centre of quartz reef gold mining and the first place in the southern hemisphere to supply commercial electric lighting. Meet friendly locals as you tour the character town, then get in on some action with its mountain biking and walking trails.

Reefton. 📷: Stewart Nimmo

The eighth wonder of the world – Denniston

Denniston’s incredibly steep 1670 metre incline railway is an engineering marvel that once earned it the title of eighth wonder of the world. It used gravity and West Coast grit to transport wagons of very high grade coal to the coast. Explore the extensive mining ruins and imagine how tough life must have been for mining families who lived on a plateau so rocky that they couldn’t dig long drops, grow their own food or even bury their dead.

Denniston. 📷: Claudia Babirat


Discover the places that tell our stories this summer. Tohu Whenua are the places that have shaped Aotearoa. Located in stunning landscapes and rich with stories, they offer some of our best heritage experiences.

Learn more: https://tohuwhenua.nz

The Tiaki Promise is a commitment to care for New Zealand, for now, and for future generations. Follow the Tiaki Promise to guard, protect and preserve our home while travelling around New Zealand: https://tiakinewzealand.com