A surprise discovery at Masonic Park in central Tauranga has led to some of the city's earliest European buildings being unearthed.
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, formerly the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, was called in on Friday May 9 after historic artifacts were found by contractors working on the Masonic Park renovation project.
For the last week archaeologists have been excavating the remains of the 1870s bakery with early cooking ovens.
They have discovered the brick foundations of large baking ovens from two different time periods. One dates back to the early 1870s, or possibly earlier, and a later one which has not yet been accurately dated.
The bakery had a shop frontage on The Strand and was still operating in World War II.
Heritage New Zealand lower northern regional archaeologist Rachel Darmody said it was a nationally significant find that represented Tauranga's early commercial development.
"It is rare to find such a well-preserved bakery from this time period anywhere in New Zealand. The only other examples we have are from the goldfields of Central Otago and one site in Dunedin. It is exciting to find that part of the early township still survives to tell us more about our past," she said.
The Masonic Park project was scheduled to be completed by the end of June. While archaeologists are on site, project contractors have moved on to the next stage of the project which is to create a new rail crossing opposite Masonic Park.
Renovation work at the park will resume around the archaeology site from next week.
In the meantime Tauranga City Council and Heritage New Zealand are considering how best to preserve the find. Options and possible funding ideas will be presented to the city councillors next month for direction. Some private sector companies have already expressed interest in assisting with funding.
The site is currently closed to the public. Heritage New Zealand and Council proposed to host a public open day to talk about the history found there.