Heritage buildings are a big responsibility for their owners and councils across New Zealand. Legislation put in place under the Historic Places Act to guard their integrity means looking after them comes at a premium.
Whanganui is home to more than its fair share of these historic buildings. Local heritage expert and Whanganui Heritage Trustee Kyle Dalton, estimates Whanganui has 1 per cent of New Zealand's population with 2 per cent of the heritage buildings. In other words, twice as many as elsewhere. But why is that?
"We had too much money at one stage," Dalton said. "Between 1919 and 1940, Whanganui was the fifth-largest municipality in the country, so starting at about 1900 we began replacing all our old wooden buildings with new brick ones."
"We had this great building boom in Whanganui. Then the depression comes along, and from that time on, Whanganui doesn't really grow. There's no money to replace the existing buildings so we've been left with a set of heritage buildings ranging from 1900 onwards and certainly some earlier than that."
It's a nice problem to have, as many buildings in the district are unique for a variety of reasons.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The Royal Whanganui Opera House is the only opera house in the Southern Hemisphere allowed to put "Royal" in its title and just down the road Heritage House is arguably the first purpose-built gentlemen's club in New Zealand.
Our rich Māori heritage ensures plenty of pā sites and whare are an important part of our heritage worth preserving as well. And while much of our heritage, Māori and Pākehā, has been done up, much is still waiting.
"The big problem is of course with the earthquake strengthening, it's finding the money. That's where the issue is coming up," Dalton said.
An enormous amount comes from private enterprise and fundraising but there is also funding available for heritage building owners. Lobby groups like Whanganui Heritage Trust provide guidance in navigating options and councils are increasingly coming on board, too.
"The council now have a heritage adviser. He liaises with Heritage New Zealand and Heritage Equip, which provide the funding to do up these buildings. We try and encourage all of that to go on and offer any services we can as a heritage trust to make that happen."
October is Heritage month for Whanganui and districts, a celebration of the hard work that goes into saving and maintaining old buildings and sites for future generations. And while there are plenty of extra activities this month, much of Whanganui's Heritage can be seen at any time.
Made with funding from