Fans of early Auckland European settler history know about the "rock star" residences such as Kinder House, Overton and Highwic, but dig a little deeper and you'll find some wonderful off-the-radar houses, mostly staffed by passionate volunteers who enjoy telling visitors lots of good stories. Here's our pick of the "best of the rest".
Couldrey House, Wenderholm
You don't expect a direct link to acting royalty, let alone British royalty, when you pitch up at Couldrey House. But the luminaries who have crossed the threshold include legendary beauty Vivien Leigh of Gone with the Wind fame and a certain Queen Elizabeth II. Couldrey, which dates from 1857, is a total treat and beautifully put together by the dedicated volunteers. This is no rickety cottage but a wonderfully restored building, for which much credit goes to the hard work of the Couldrey family. It even has underfloor heating to keep winter visitors warm while you enjoy browsing the nine rooms, all lovingly furnished to capture the eras - and owners - the house has held in her charms. The fact that Couldrey and Wenderholm exist at all as public assets we can enjoy today is remarkable. In the late 19th century, detailed plans were drawn up to hock it all off as a sub-division but a depressed economy meant no takers for the choice seaside properties and the development failed to launch. All that remains of that enterprise is a large advertising poster showing the lots available, which you see as you enter the house, a curious reminder that happily, for Couldrey and Wenderholm Regional Park, fate had other plans. Couldrey House is operating with reduced opening days under red light setting: weekends and public holidays only: 1-4pm
McNicol Homestead, Clevedon
The wonderful Farmer's Market at Clevedon is a Sunday morning must-do, so it makes sense to head over to the nearby McNicol Homestead afterwards, which throws out its 19th-century welcome mat at 1pm. This pretty two-storey home is set in lovely, picnic-worthy grounds (the beautiful, giant macrocarpas are some of the oldest in NZ). Inside, the local historical society has curated an intriguing collection of artefacts. I particularly liked the switchboard from the old telephone exchange, complete with Morse code machine, while the war memorial room to fallen soldiers, young Māori and Pakeha men from the Clevedon area taken in their prime, is especially poignant. You'll also learn the locality was formerly called Wairoa but with too many places of that name around New Zealand, a change was desired. Apparently, enthusiasm for Clevedon was lukewarm but nobody had a better idea, so the name stuck.
Open Saturday and Sunday: 1pm - 4pm
Vaughan Homestead, Long Bay
Up on the hill behind Long Bay beach is the historic Vaughan Homestead, which dates from 1863. The Vaughan family lived in the house for approximately 100 years then gifted it to the people of Auckland. However, it had become extremely run down until a dedicated team of retired locals from the Torbay Historical Society, led by project manager Ron Edgar decided to get stuck in and do a full restoration, which took three years. They worked on the smell of an oily rag to save a house facing demolition, and all for the love of history. Upstairs is a mini-museum curated by the late Fay Edgar, while the surrounding area offers many historic traces to explore, including sites of Māori middens, and early winemaking and tobacco-growing operations. Vaughan Homestead will be open next summer from October to April; for visits outside this, contact the Torbay Historical Society who will be happy to help.
Located in Long Bay Regional Park. Gate access: Open 6am - 9pm during summer.
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Ewelme Cottage, Parnell
Just a few yards down the hill in Parnell from the much-celebrated Kinder House is the delight that is Ewelme Cottage. I have to admit, I've been past it a million times and never knew it was there, tucked away down a detour where the old Ayr St once ran. To see the remarkable photos of the place when it was surrounded by farmland and the outlook took in the Hauraki Gulf - now obscured by trees - is to be plunged back to Auckland as a fledgling settlement. The house, built by Vicesimus Lush, dates from 1864 and is remarkable for belonging to the Lush family until the 1960s when it was bought by the city council. Thanks to that heritage and the fact that, aside from some 1882 changes, alterations were minimal over the years, it's a stunning time capsule. The rooms are filled with the family's possessions and the original kitchen is amazing; but a more subtle highlight is the original 19th-century wall-to-wall fitted carpet in the Drawing Room, which must have been the pinnacle of luxury at the time and is extraordinary to have survived to this day.
Red light setting opening hours: Sundays from 10.30am.
Massey Homestead, Māngere
The traffic rushing by on Massey Rd seems to pay no heed to this charming if slightly eerie survivor of times past. This two-storey Victorian-style red brick house, with some Georgian flourishes, was built by farmer and merchant Daniel Lynch in 1852 (and described at the time as a "mansion"). Apparently, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh holed up here in 1869, when his shooting party were doing a spot of hunting in the vicinity. Lynch sold up in 1890 and his luck must have abandoned him because he moved to Ponsonby, cut his finger on a plant and ended up having his hand amputated. The new owner was a farmer called Bill Massey who, 22 years later, would become Prime Minister of New Zealand, more formally known as William Massey. The house stayed in the family until it was sold to the council by the estate of Frank Massey, William's son, in 1975. Originally set in 316 acres of land, this is now reduced to a pleasant hectare of gardens (open daily) and resplendent with stunning mature trees, most notably an extraordinarily grand pōhutukawa. The property is home to a Niuean community group who offer it as a venue for weddings and occasions but not generally open to the public - best to hunt them down online if you fancy organising a visit to this one.
Red light setting opening hours: Monday-Saturday: 9am - 3pm
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz