While returning to England from a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 1835, naturalist Charles Darwin – who had broken his journey at Paihia in the Bay of Islands – was invited to visit the Waimate North mission station by missionary William Williams. The property’s English-style rural landscape, laid out in the nature of a model farming village with fields of wheat and corn, fruit trees and vegetables, led Darwin to enthuse that it had been “placed there as if by an enchanter’s wand”.

St John the Baptist Anglican Church

This is just one of the fascinating tales that Heritage New Zealand property manager Alex Bell relates as we sit on the verandah of the historic Georgian dwelling in the weak winter sun. We’d driven past the house often enough, but although we’d been to the neighbouring St John the Baptist Anglican church, where our son was married and my husband’s 101-year-old aunt was laid to rest, we’d never called in at what is New Zealand’s second-oldest building, and only had a vague idea of its history.

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