A cluster of little red buildings at Matanaka Farm has stood facing the sea since1843 and are the oldest farm buildings in New Zealand still at their original location.

The attractive little wooden buildings are spectacularly located above a cliff top on a large field of deep green grass close to Waikouaiti just 40 minutes drive north of Dunedin.

When I tried to find these buildings, I had to ask a number of local people and I still got lost. When I finally found the car park, I still couldn’t see the buildings. It took a ten minute walk over farmland to finally come across the isolated structures. According to a review on Tripadvisor, some signage has been erected since I was there to guide those who seek out this worthwhile local historic site.


Johnny Jones (Wikitree)

When whaling declined in the sea around New Zealand in the 1830s, the out-of-work European whalers set up small colonies along the coast, where they took up boatbuilding, fishing and subsistence farming. Sydney based Johnny Jones was more ambitious. He was already ahead of the pack because he owned a couple of whaling stations along the Otago coast. He also owned a fleet of supply boats and could see the writing on the wall when whales became less numerous. In 1840, with an eye on a new opportunity, Johnny sent 12 families and some livestock from New South Wales across to his Matanaka Farm, and moved there himself three years later. He liked to be as comfortable as possible. Visitors to his home were impressed with the touches of civilisation he brought with him such as a piano and finely crafted furniture. Johnny’s farm prospered when he became one of the main suppliers of meat and produce to the Free Church settlers who struggled in the mud to establish Dunedin in the years following their arrival in1848.


Matanaka Farm (Ceidrik Heward)

Johnny Jones had bought the land at Matanaka and an adjoining whaling station in 1838. The stables were built in 1840 using materials he had shipped over with the first families from Sydney. The following year, he ordered a number of barns and some small accommodation buildings to be added to the farm including a homestead which he and his wife Sarah moved into on their arrival in 1843.

By the 1850s, Dunedin had become established as a colonial centre with all the amenities of a civilized town so in 1854, Johnny moved there with his family so his children could have a formal education at one of the schools that offered a good education.  Johnny’s oldest son William stayed on the farm at Matanaka until 1858 when it was passed onto the next generation. In February 1878, Matanaka Farm was sold to local MP, George McLean. He flicked the property 14 years later to a local farmer Alexander Bannatyne, whose family held onto it until 1961. After brief ownership by two individuals, the farm was sold to the Ericson family in 1965. In 1976, they generously gave the Matanaka Farm buildings and some land surrounding them to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust who gazetted the area as an historic reserve in 1981.


Johnny Jones called his impressive Dunedin stone residence Fernhill which years later became the Dunedin Club. The building survives as one of the many fine buildings from that period which helps give Dunedin its unique character. One of his many ventures after he moved to Dunedin was the creation of the Harbour Steam Company which would become New Zealand’s biggest colonial-era business, the Union Steamship Company.

Today, there are five surviving buildings at Matanaka, the stables, granary, schoolroom, store and communal privy. The largest of these is the two-storey, six-stalled stable which was built of pit-sawn timber.

Stable (Ceidrik Heward)

The harness room is lined in tongue and groove Baltic pine. A wonderfully crafted weathervane is attached to the loft which has an elevated door for loading fodder from drays. It is believed the schoolroom was converted from a farm building. Although the bigger buildings are impressive it’s the quaint little three-seat communal privy that impresses the most. Its raised central seat adds to the interest this structure has for all who make the time to visit this unusual historic Otago attraction.

There is a special atmosphere at Matanaka Farm.

Maybe it’s the isolation.

Maybe it’s the light wind that gently moves the lush green grass.

Maybe it’s the dramatic views over the Pacific Ocean.

Maybe it’s the ghosts of those who lived and worked here in the first days of European settlement in Otago.

Maybe it’s just the amazing fact that these wooden buildings are still standing at all that makes it so special.

Cluster of Buildings at Matanaka (Ceidrik Heward)

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Ceidrik Heward.

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