It was a landmark day at Totara Estate yesterday.

And it was a changing of the guard.

Not only was the birthplace of New Zealand's $1billion frozen meat industry the fourth Otago site to be welcomed into the Landmarks Whenua Tohunga programme, but outgoing Heritage New Zealand Totara Estate property lead Anne Sutherland, welcomed her replacement, incoming Heritage New Zealand Totara Estate property lead, Keren Mackay.

After Northland in December 2016, late last year Otago became the second region in New Zealand to have a Landmarks Whenua Tohunga programme announced.


Part of a joint initiative between the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand, the programme celebrated cultural and historical sites ''essential to our nationhood'', Heritage New Zealand Otago-Southland area manager Jonathan Howard said.

The sites chosen for the programme were selected for visitor accessibility, the ability to ''tell their stories well'', and for showing a community benefit.

''There are sites in New Zealand right now that have visitor access ... are open to the public, have great stories to tell, but they don't tell them well enough yet,'' he said.

Waitaki Deputy Mayor Melanie Tavendale said the history at Totara Estate was ''immersive and tangible'' and praised those who worked at the historic place for ''bringing it to life''.

''It's more than just the buildings, it's bringing life into the buildings.''

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean called Totara Estate ''one of the jewels in our crown'' and said the crowd of about 90 people who attended yesterday's short ceremony on Waitangi Day showed it did ''enjoy a strong amount of community support''.

Ms Sutherland, who was stepping away as the site manager after five and a-half years yesterday, said the staff and up to 25 volunteers at Totara Estate were passionate about the place.

Mrs Mackay, who was taking on the role of property lead after working at the site for the past seven years, said while the frozen sheepmeat that left Totara Estate was ''hugely significant for New Zealand'', the establishment of the frozen meat industry ''created an economic basis for the subdivision of the huge estates''.

''It tells that story of the meat, but also it tells the story of what the early settlement of New Zealand was like. These big huge estates, they operated almost like villages, because everything was done on this property.''

The history celebrated yesterday at the former farm, established near Oamaru in the 1850s, told a different story than places recognised in Northland, Mr Howard said.

Each site would be welcomed into the programme in an individual ceremony, he said.