Tucked away alongside the bustling city centre is part of the rich history of Tauranga Moana, where you can step back in time and experience The Elms Te Papa Tauranga, formally Otamataha Pā. The Elms Te Papa Tauranga is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s oldest heritage sites, with hundreds of years of rich history at the centre of Tauranga’s identity.
Originally home to a thriving Māori community before becoming the place of early contact between Māori and Pākehā. Today, the site is visited by thousands each year as they stroll through the beautiful historic buildings and gardens to learn about those who originally settled at the site and cared for it over the decades. General Manager Andrew Gregg shares that they’ve started seeing more people interested in their local history, becoming more curious and finding ways to learn about the past.
“The recent change in government policy to make it compulsory for primary students to learn about Aotearoa New Zealand’s history has helped increase visitors and more broadly, people are becoming more curious.”
“We see more younger people and families visiting, which is really encouraging,” says Andrew, “We still hear from some older locals that they have never been to The Elms or even heard about the site. With the thousands of school students coming through each year, we are raising the awareness and understanding of our history one person at a time.”
Owned and operated by a charitable trust, The Elms Te Papa Tauranga relies on the support of visitors and stakeholders to preserve the site and continue to lift the profile and understanding of Tauranga’s premier and iconic heritage site and its history. Volunteers provide hours of service to ensure the site’s gardens and buildings are well-maintained. The dozens of volunteers often spend the cooler months of the year focused on gardening and maintenance and the warmer summer months focused on taking groups through on tours.
“Kids get a lot out of visiting us. When they come to a place like The Elms Te Papa Tauranga, and you bring them face to face with the reality of the past, their minds are blown; they just can’t fathom it. It can be very funny sometimes, particularly when you take them into the bedroom and show them the commode or venture into the mangle room and explain there were no washing machines.”
Andrew says, “It’s great for young people to see a snippet of the past and learn about general life at that time and how difficult it was versus today.”
With springtime here, the gardens are in full bloom, making it an extra special time to visit with friends and family. Locals can journey through the grounds, historic house and TECT Heritage Garden as part of the guided tours before relaxing on the grass and enjoying the serenity. Devonshire Teas can be booked for groups of 8 or more and are hosted within the grounds or the historic Fencible Cottage. The site is also popular for private functions and makes for a picturesque wedding venue.
TECT Trustee Bill Holland spent time at The Elms Te Papa Tauranga as a child and has fond memories. “The Elms Te Papa Tauranga is not only a beautiful landmark sitting on our doorstep, but a place that can provide a sense of community through understanding the evolution of our wider bicultural nation.”
“Along with the obvious tourism benefits it brings to Tauranga, The Elms allows for our younger generation to see history in a tangible format and to get a greater appreciation for today’s freedoms and the struggles of people from the past,” says Bill, “Whereas for our older generation, visiting provides clarity for their understanding of what happened during the early contact between Māori and Pākehā.”
Each day leads to more locals and visitors learning of The Elms Te Papa Tauranga’s place in history and aiding in building a sense of pride throughout the community for the significance of this place and the stories it tells.
To learn more about The Elms Te Papa Tauranga, and to plan your visit, check out the website here.