Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Visiting dairy factories from days gone by

Many of our historic dairy factories, which existed in most small towns across New Zealand, have been given a new purpose in life, writes Diana Clement.

The original dairy factory at Mercury Bay is now the Mercury Bay Museum in Whitianga. Photo / Supplied
The original dairy factory at Mercury Bay is now the Mercury Bay Museum in Whitianga. Photo / Supplied

There's history in them there walls. Small dairy factories adorned almost every hamlet in New Zealand in days gone by. Some have fallen into dereliction and others have succumbed to the bulldozer. A handful of these solidly built, lovely heritage buildings are rising from the dead and house tourist attractions and all manner of businesses and shops.

CANDYLAND

Any child who has ever read or watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will dream of visiting a candy factory. The old Komakarau Dairy Factory at Gordonton, designed by architect Philip S. King, was built in the late 1950s (probably 1957 or 1958).

Today, now known as Candyland, it is a magical place. It makes old-fashioned candy and has daily candy making shows hosted by Queen Candy or her elves.

My children loved the shop which was the biggest lolly shop they'd ever seen in their lives.

The show was interesting for adults and kids alike. I enjoyed seeing how all the machinery and processes worked, and the kids thought it was magical to see chocolate and candy being made in real life.

Don't miss: The shows at 10.30am and 1pm, Saturdays, Sundays and school holidays (tickets from $10 for kids).

Address: 75 Henry Rd, Gordonton, Waikato, ph (07) 824 6818. Shop open from 9am to 5pm.

NIGEL OGLE'S TAWHITI MUSEUM AND TRADERS & WHALERS

New Zealand is home to some fabulous heritage projects driven by enthusiasts. The Tawhiti Museum in Hawera is just that sort of place. The Hawera Dairy Company formed in 1885; this 1917 building replaces the original one destroyed by fire and was designed by Duffill & Gibson. Artist Nigel Ogle bought the factory in 1975 and has built up a huge collection of life-sized exhibits and scale models to capture the past in super-realistic displays. In fact, Nigel says it was other people asking him how his museum was coming on that made him realise that he had in fact a basis for a good display of local history - and so the project began.These days there are two attractions at the old dairy factory: the museum and Traders & Whalers, which takes visitors in a boat ride back to the Taranaki coast in the 1820 to 1840 period.

Don't miss: The Tawhiti Bush Railway, which runs on the first Sunday of each month, public holidays and all Sundays during the school holidays.

Address: 401 Ohangai Rd, Hawera, ph (06) 278 6347. Open Fri to Mon, 10am to 4pm; Jun to Aug, Sundays only. ,

MERCURY BAY MUSEUM

This museum in Whitianga is the mecca for lovers of New Zealand's dairy history. The 1924 Mercury Bay Dairy Co building is restored to its art deco glory and has displays about Captain Cook's arrival, the kauri and gum industries, gold mining and, of course, dairy production.

"The Mercury Bay dairy factory is an absolute treasure trove of dairy industry history and artefacts ... particularly for industrial archaeology nuts like me," says Peter Mellalieu, Unitec associate professor and dairy factory enthusiast, who drew my attention to this museum.

Mellalieu did a PhD on dairy company mergers and now the professor of innovation and enterprise creativity believes we can learn much from history.

"I am constantly surprised at the different stories that each building reveals, despite a first glance that suggests yet another copy of a factory further down the road."

Don't miss: the Anderson 65 Box Butter Churn, which made 14,000 tons of butter from 1945 to 1972.

Address: 11 The Esplanade, Whitianga, ph (07) 866 0730.

NATIONAL DAIRY MUSEUM

Although not housed in an old dairy factory, the National Dairy Museum (part of the Agricultural Heritage Museum) has our largest collection of dairy equipment. It focuses on farm equipment, but also has displays about the Dunedin, the first ship to take refrigerated dairy products to Britain, and the significance of dairy factories in the days when they were the main networking and information exchange location for farmers.

Don't Miss: The stationary engine-powered "walk thru" milking shed.

Address: Mystery Creek Rd, Hamilton, ph (07) 843 7990, agheritage.co.nz. Open only to pre-booked groups.

KATIKATI CO-OP DAIRY

For 29 years the Forta Leza Country Inn has wined and dined Katikati residents with steaks and seafood. There's a surprise upstairs in this old cheese and butter factory - probably the world's best collection of Jan McLean dolls. Restaurant owner Mary Belcher has collected more than 200 of McLean's porcelain and other dolls including one-offs and limited editions. The Beautiful Dollz collection is open seven days a week.

Don't Miss: The porcelain doll made for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

Address: 2656 SH 2, Katikati, ph (07) 549 0388. Open 10.30am to 2pm or by appointment; restaurant 10.30am til late.

OLD MATANGI DAIRY FACTORY

Not all old dairy factories are endangered, derelict or house museums - some are being resurrected for commercial purposes. Hamilton's Matangi Dairy Factory, the birthplace of Glaxo, is a thriving hub of businesses and is gradually being renovated. Owner Harry Mowbray bought the factory site for his toy business, though he has subsequently moved manufacture overseas.

Mowbray bought the site for purely commercial reasons, but has fallen in love with his slice of Waikato's heritage, and has written a history of the site. As he started digging through history records all sorts of surprises came to light at the massive site, which started life in the dairy industry in 1885. Cream from the factory was turned into some of the very earliest Anchor butter. In its hey-day the factory was the first to produce the Highlander brand of tinned milk, which is still sold by Nestle today. At its height this was the biggest, most technologically advanced milk factory in the world, says Mowbray.

- NZ Herald

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