Mahara House, Waikanae - an architectural gem

By Kenneth Ward

LANDMARK: The former Mahara House, Waikanae.
Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library
LANDMARK: The former Mahara House, Waikanae. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

Kenneth Ward looks back at the history of Mahara House, Waikanae

The name Mahara, meaning remembrance, was chosen, possibly out of respect for victims of the Boer War, and was located on the main highway.

Mahara House was built in 1902 by A.A. Brown for Hemi Matenga Waipunahau, brother of the paramount Chief Wi Parata Te Kakakura of the Ngati Awa and Ngati Toa.

Its luxury accommodation attracted guests such as Admiral Jellicoe, Richard Seddon, Lord Plunket, Herbert Kitchener (First Lord Kitchener) and Alexander Turnbull.

An architectural gem, it was frequently used for hunting and fishing groups, hosting their many memorable bragging parties.

The name Mahara, meaning remembrance, was chosen possibly out of respect for victims of the Boer War, and was located on the main highway.

The site of the front entrance is next to the large pohutukawa tree on the south border of the Gas service station.

Neighbouring Mahara House on the Ngaio Rd corner, was the Parata homestead where Hira Parata, the son of Wi Parata and his son Tohuroa (Tom), resided. Hira managed Mahara House for a short period after its official opening.

Hemi Matenga and Wi Parata were both born on Kapiti Island, the sons of Waipunahau of Ngati Awa and Ngati Toa descent. Their father was George Stubbs, an Australian whaler who in 1838 was drowned off Kapiti.

The Ngati Awa, having settled previous grievances with the Ngati Toa, established three pa both north and south of the Waikanae River estuary.

The principal pa was located at Kena Kena where Octavius Hadfield had built a small church.

By the late 1840s Ngati Awa had established horticultural cultivations a few kilometres inland.

It was logical to relocate their village closer to this area where coaches from the south forded the river.

This move enhanced trade with travellers while providing transport for their produce.

At the heart of the new Tukurakau village, Wi Parata planted a kauri tree.

This tree still stands today off Te Moana Rd, west of Greenaway Rd, and remains sacred to local Maori.

In the 1880s the settlement again relocated to a site close to the newly completed main trunk railway.

The Whakarongotai Marae is today a vital part of the Waikanae town centre.

St Luke Church was moved by bullock wagon from its original Tukurakau site to its existing site in Elizabeth St, the land being donated to the community by Wi Parata and his brother Hemi Matenga.

Hemi Matenga died in May 1912, just six years after the death of his brother Wi Parata who had been residing in a house next to the marae.

This house was demolished to make way for the Waikanae Hotel bottle store and car park.

Future use of the now vacant land is being negotiated.

The politically involved Hemi Matenga sometimes used the anglicised form of his name, James Martin, when on official business not connected to local tribal interests.

His wife Huria aka Julia Martin was known as 'The Grace Darling of New Zealand' after her heroic rescue of the crew of the brigantine Delaware after it had broken up on rocks close to the pa at Wakapuaka near Nelson.

In 1907 the land to the south of Mahara House, opposite the railway line, was auctioned off by Hira Parata in 100 quarter acre sections.

This land, after further subdivision, was used for most of the existing Main Rd shops.

In the early hours of 19th January 1937, the daughter of the absent proprietor of Mahara House, sleeping in her upstairs bedroom, was awakened by the noise of the crackling of flames; on investigating, she found smoke pouring up the stairwell.

The electric lights failed.

Keeping her head, she managed to alert the few sleeping guests and staff.

They escaped the toxic smoke in their night clothes, just as the entire staircase exploded in flames and collapsed.

The flames soon reached 50 feet in the air, and the glow could be seen up to 20 miles away.

There was a 500 gallon water tank at the rear of the building but its supports had caught alight.

It overturned, spilling the water.

There were no fire brigades at the time and nothing could be done to prevent the total loss of Mahara House.

Hemi Matenga built another house for himself and family at 48 Winara Ave which is still standing. Known as Kildoon House, its stables can be seen from the road.

Hemi never lived to see its completion.

- Kapiti News

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