Howick Historical Village: A Living Museum of Settler New Zealand

In the midst of the vast suburban sprawl of New Zealand’s largest city sits a small oasis of tranquility, the Howick Historical Village. Entering this outdoor museum dedicated to preserving New Zealand’s settler heritage is like being transported back in time, particularly if you visit during one the ‘Meet the Settlers’ days.

Over the years the family and I have visited the village on numerous occasions, it is pleasant escape from the technology and mass-produced entertainment which is so very much a part of our lives today. Although the bones of the place are immovable the addition of monthly live days and special events makes every visit different in some way.

The village depicts life as it was in nineteenth century New Zealand with particular emphasis on the fencible settlement of Howick. The early settlement of Howick was originally founded by Governor George Grey who was concerned about the potential threats from both the Maori and the French. He established a chain of settlements around the southern part of Auckland as both an early warning system and a line of defence (the word fencible is derived from ‘defensible’) for the burgeoning new town.

Governor Grey originally requested troops to man these settlements, however, it was decided to send retired soldiers to settle the area as members of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps. These were men who had served in British wars during the 1830s and 1840s. To be eligible to emigrate under the scheme the veterans had to be under 48 years of age and of ‘good character’ with ‘industrious habits’. If they qualified, they were given free passage to New Zealand with their families, a cottage and an acre of land. In return they were required to partake in certain military activities and after seven years the land and the cottage would be theirs. Although they were given a small pension, they were also expected to undertake work of some kind in the new colony.

Between 1847 and 1854 some 2500 fencibles and their families arrived in New Zealand, doubling the population of Auckland at the time. Other fencible villages included Panmure, Otahuhu and Onehunga. The live days at the Village have volunteers dressed in costume doing activities you might see on any given day in a fencible/settler village including soldiers parading, wood turning, blacksmithing, ladies doing the chores such as washing, sewing and baking. One of the more amusing moments during a visit was when my teenage son was accosted by a villager to do the washing, the settler way. Needless to say, he was horrified at the work involved…

The village also has a working forge - here two volunteers demonstrate blacksmithing skills.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Toni-maree Rowe

The village today is based around Bell House which was given to the Howick Historical Society in 1972, negotiations at the time then secured a further five acres of land which later became the seven acres it is today. It took eight years of fundraising (mainly from selling Christmas cards and hosting cake stalls) and working bees by many volunteers to turn it into a living museum. Many of the cottages and buildings on site were donated and transported to the village, of which there are now thirty buildings. It was officially opened on the 8th of March 1980.

A reconstructed cob and raupo hut.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Toni-maree Rowe

The buildings include numerous fencible cottages of varying sizes, the Howick Arms, a general store and post office, the Howick Courthouse, a church, several school buildings (in one of which visiting children can get a taste of early education), a blacksmiths forge, a flour mill, a charcoal burners camp and kiln, a raupo hut, a sod hut (often these were the first homes of many of NZ’s early settlers), a reconstruction of a militia campsite complete with canvas tent, to name a few. All of the buildings are set within gardens filled with heritage plants and vegetables (the seeds of which can be bought in the shop), there is a large pond complete with ducks and chickens roam freely around the village. Everywhere there is something to catch your eye. There is also a Children’s Museum where children are encouraged to play with the toys of yesteryear and dress up if they wish.

Bell House - the one that began it all.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Toni-maree Rowe
A view of the duck pond - the village is arranged around this feature - a perfect place for a picnic on sunny day
PHOTOGRAPH BY Toni-maree Rowe

Apart from the everyday visitor, the village is enjoyed by school groups as part of their education outside of the classroom modules and students on school holiday programmes – children are encouraged to dress in period appropriate costumes, leaving technology behind. Having attended during a school visit with both of my son’s and daughter’s schools, I can vouch for it being thoroughly enjoyed by all. There are a variety of activities on offer such as, learning how to churn butter, playing games of the times, baking bread or scones in a wood fired oven, drawing water from a well and attending a class in a nineteenth century school. They even have the chance to act out an actual session from the historical records of the Howick Court House.

As the village is owned and managed by the Howick and District Historical Society which is a charity. All entrance fees are used for the maintenance and upkeep of the village. In addition to this revenue stream, the village also hires itself out for events like weddings, conferences and television filming. There are also special themed days such as those for Christmas, Easter, summer/school holidays, Halloween and so on.

The Practicals

Address – 75 Bells Rd, Lloyd Ellsmore Park, Pakuranga, Auckland.

Opening Hours – 10am-4pm (last admission 3pm) daily except Christmas Day.

Prices – Adults $16, Chiildren $8, under 5’s are free, Seniors/students $12 (family tickets are available).

Although there is a café at the entrance to the village (and a very good one it is) you are more than welcome to take a picnic to enjoy in the grounds if you prefer.

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Toni-maree Rowe

Toni-maree currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand where she volunteers for the Auckland War Memorial Museum. You can usually find her in depths of the basement helping/hindering the archaeology department, where it's always time for coffee. Museums have always been her happy place. Beyond her love of museums Toni-maree's other passions include archaeology, writing, storytelling and long dog walks. Feel free to check out her blog - for a range of articles about the past. PS The photo is me enjoying Holi festival...I don't normally go around covered in paint...