Waikouaiti – A Place in the History Books

History buffs will feel right at home in Waikouaiti, which was one of the earliest settlements in the area and is the site of the country’s oldest farm. The town boasts two Grade 1 historic buildings – St John’s Anglican Church and Matanaka Farm – and two Grade 2 buildings – the early post office and the Heritage Centre.

Brief History of the Area

Waikouaiti, well known as the birthplace of Otago, was first settled by Maori as it was rich in land and sea-based food sources. Whalers came next, followed by the first colonists who began landing in 1837; some heading for inland parts, and some deciding to settle in the area, then known as Hawkesbury. Waikouaiti was to have been the site for Dunedin but the harbour was too shallow. The first commercial buildings were erected closer to the bay than they are today, as Beach Street was then the main street.

Waikouaiti Museum

The building which currently houses the Museum collection dates from 1869 and has recently been classified as a Grade One historic building by the Historic Places Trust. It is one of an increasingly small number of buildings designed by well-known architect RA Lawson still in use in New Zealand. For more detail about the origins of the Museum, visit our About Us page.

Matanaka Farm

Matanaka Farm dates from around 1840 and is believed to be Otago's earliest farm, boasting New Zealand's oldest surviving farm buildings. Built on an exposed headland overlooking Waikouaiti for prominent Otago whaler and businessman John (Johnny) Jones, the group of farm outbuildings is made up of stables, a granary, schoolhouse, and three-seater privy.

A Grade One historic building, the Matanaka Farm reserve is open to the public, providing a rare insight into how life was lived early in Otago's history. It can be found by following the signposts from SH1, on the northern approach to Waikouaiti. 

Please be aware that the road to the farm is private and is closed to public access from 14 August to 30 September - the lambing season.

St John's the Evangelist Church

Opened in 1858, St John's is reputed to be the first Anglican Church built in Otago and Southland.

Old Post Office

A grade 2 listed building, Waikouaiti’s Old Post Office was opened in 1907 and stayed in service for 82 years. Sited on the main road on the northern approach to the town, the original public counter and mail sorting rooms now house the gallery and studio of two talented artists, potter Peter Gregory and painter Laura Gregory. The gallery/studio is open to the public on Wed, Thurs, Fri and Sun afternoons from 1-5pm.

Historic buildings

Read the fascinating stories of Waikouaiti’s historic buildings.