Hinemihi and other wharenui from the Rotorua area

During a visit to England over the Christmas holidays, I was given access to Hinemihi, the wharenui (Māori meeting house) at Clandon Park in Guildford, Surrey. The whole complex is usually closed to the public at this time of year, so I was very lucky to be given special permission to see Hinemihi.

Clandon Park is an example of a Palladian mansion and was built by a Venetian architect for Lord Onslow in the 1720s. The house contains period interiors and impressive collections. Set in acres of stunning parkland, this mansion, which became National Trust property in 1956,  also contains a surprise. Located at the back of the house is a wharenui (Māori meeting house) from Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Clandon Park house, January 2014, photograph by Natasha Barrett
Hinemihi was built in1881 in Te Wairoa, Rotorua. The name of the wharenui comes from Ngāti Hinemihi's ancestress, Hinemihi. Aporo Wharekaniwha commissioned the carving and erection of this wharenui, which was undertaken by expert carvers, Wero Taroi and Tene Waitere. Unusually, instead of using pāua shells for the eyes of the ancestral figures on the inside and outside of the wharenui, gold sovereigns and half sovereigns were attached instead. This explains why Hinemihi is sometimes referred to as the 'House with the Golden Eyes'.

During the Tarawera eruption in 1886, Hinemihi provided refuge and shelter for local people and was one of the few structures to survive despite being half buried by ash and volcanic debris.

Hinemihi, January 2014, photograph by Natasha Barrett
Subsequently, the wharenui was purchased for £50 as a souvenir by the then Governor of NZ, the 4th Earl of Onlsow (who was at this time at the end of his term in NZ). As a result of this transaction, the wharenui was dismantled and shipped to the UK in 1892. 

The resonance of Hinemihi for Ngāti Hinemihi and Ngāti Rānana (expatriate Māori living in London) was explored in the film 'Between Humans and Other Things' by Cecilie Gravesen. You can read more about Hinemihi and more generally about Rotorua carving in the range of publications held in the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries. The Te Maru O Hinemihi website – the virtual marae for this wharenui, gives an array of information including about the Te Maru komiti (committee) and their work caring for and keeping Hinemihi warm through various events and activities.

Below is a selection of other wharenui from the Rotorua area drawn from the heritage collections here at Auckland Libraries.

Wharenui at Ohinemutu:

Ref: AWNS-19050323-5-1, the wharenui Tamatekapua at Ohinemutu, Rotorua, 1905, Sir George Grey Special Collections 
Ref: AWNS-19360304-49-2, Native Schools teachers at a conference held at the wharenui Tamatekapua at Ohinemutu, Rotorua, 1936, Sir George Grey Special Collections
 Wharenui at Whakarewarewa:

Ref: AWNS-19100210-6-3, the opening of a new wharenui at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, 1910, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Wharenui at Tarewa Road:

Ref: AWNS-19220316-40-1, the new wharenui opened at Tarewa Road by the Attorney General, 1922 Sir George Grey Special Collections


  1. Kia ora, just to let you know that the wharenui Kearoa is located at Tarewa Road, Horohoro and not Lake Tarawera.

    Nga mihi
    Pamela Lovis, Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa

    1. Kia ora Pamela,

      Thanks for your comment! Good spotting. I have corrected the location details.

      Nga mihi,



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