Auckland couple buy huge historic 67-room mansion in Hawke’s Bay – an unseen sight


“We took a leap of faith,” says Rob Lauder, to put it mildly.

Lauder and his wife Erica have pledged to blindly buy Oruawharo, a 67-room mansion in central Hawke’s Bay. But that wasn’t what they intended to buy – they went online looking for a four-bedroom house in Napier.

Next, Rob spotted the Bayleys’ list for the Category 1 Historic Places property near Takapau on Trade Me, and passed it on to Erica, her son Will, and partner Bianca Du Toit.

Erica and Rob Lauder of Devonport, Auckland are set to become the new custodians of the Oruawharo property, a historic Category 1 property in central Hawke's Bay.

Lawrence Smith / Stuff

Erica and Rob Lauder of Devonport, Auckland are set to become the new custodians of the Oruawharo property, a historic Category 1 property in central Hawke’s Bay.

“We all laughed because we thought it was a joke,” Erica says. “I remember it was my birthday, and we loved it, but we never thought about it. But it turns out he wasn’t kidding.

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* House of history: the incredible restoration of the Oruawharo farm
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Because Auckland was on lockdown, they asked two friends who lived in Masterton to go take a look. “They said it sounded like us,” says Rob.

The couple, who live in Devonport, already own a beautiful villa, which they have put up for sale. And they’re not afraid of hard work. Rob is a former IT professional, currently working in property maintenance, and Erica is a GP working in Takapuna – she may also be the last GP to give birth.

Oruawharo, built in 1879 from kauri, totara and rimu, has over 10 bedrooms and a large ballroom.  During World War I, a territorial military camp was established here, and it is said to be the birthplace of the lemon squeezer hat.

BAYLEY

Oruawharo, built in 1879 from kauri, totara and rimu, has over 10 bedrooms and a large ballroom. During World War I, a territorial military camp was established here, and it is said to be the birthplace of the lemon squeezer hat.

A long veranda faces the view and the sun.

BAYLEY

A long veranda faces the view and the sun.

In a touch of synchronicity, the current owners, Peter and Dianne Harris, also lived in Devonport before undertaking the restoration of Oruawharo in 2000, when the property was empty and in danger of demolition.

Both couples have a love for old houses and history. “They were looking for someone who would feel home the way they did,” Erica says. “We will only be caretakers who will take care of it. “

And they know the work will never stop. But the Lauders wouldn’t agree to the project without Will and Bianca’s partnership. Will is a builder and also a chef – he has been a chef in countries all over the world. He and Bianca will run Vincent’s, the on-site venue, which is used for weddings, corporate functions and other special occasions.

07122021LAWRENCE SMITH / STUFF NZ LTD Erica and Rob Lauder pictured for Homed at their recently sold property on Callioppe Road, Devonpoprt.

LAWRENCE SMITH

07122021LAWRENCE SMITH / STUFF NZ LTD Erica and Rob Lauder pictured for Homed at their recently sold property on Callioppe Road, Devonpoprt.

Snacks and a visit are also organized in the house, so that the young couple will take care of that as well.

Historical information indicates that the house was built in 1879 for Sydney Johnston and his wife Sophia Lambert. They had 12 domestic workers and eight gardeners.

The Lauders say the 67-room figure is disputed – it’s been cited historically, but they think it might look more like 40 rooms in the main house (they didn’t count). There used to be an annex that no longer exists.

But there’s also a separate cottage, a beautiful disused church with a commercial kitchen – and 22 restrooms.

Oruawharo covers 15.74 ha, although it was originally part of a 9,307 ha (23,000 acre) resort.  Part of the land is fenced, with sheep and cattle grazed by a local farmer.  The neighboring township of Takapau was founded by the first owner, Sydney Johnston.

BAYLEY

Oruawharo covers 15.74 ha, although it was originally part of a 9,307 ha (23,000 acre) resort. Part of the land is fenced, with sheep and cattle grazed by a local farmer. The neighboring township of Takapau was founded by the first owner, Sydney Johnston.

Doesn’t that baffle the Lauders? How do you clean 22 toilets and vacuum a 1,200 m² two-story house, not to mention the upkeep, further restoration, event organization and upkeep of the gardens?

The answer is, with help, “Our understanding is that ownership is a very important part of the community, with people working there in different roles, and we will seek to maintain those relationships,” Will says.

There is a large entrance and a staircase, with a carved balustrade.  The house has a myriad of character features including stamped metal ceilings, sash windows, decorative fireplaces, hardwood floors, and solid wood joinery.

BAYLEY

There is a large entrance and a staircase, with a carved balustrade. The house has a myriad of character features including stamped metal ceilings, sash windows, decorative fireplaces, hardwood floors, and solid wood joinery.

The two couples joke that they will have to separate parts of the house, so all bedrooms and toilets are not used, to save on cleaning.

“The village is pregnant with impatience”

Erica says a recent letter they received from Peter said, “The village is impatient with the new owners.”

And the new owners say they can’t wait to move in. Recently, Rob and Erica were able to leave Auckland, obtaining an exemption at the border for a pre-settlement inspection. They got off their retro trailer to go to the farm and saw it for the first time since they signed up.

One of the many beautiful reception areas.  This room opens onto the veranda.

BAYLEY

One of the many beautiful reception areas. This room opens onto the veranda.

“It was dusk when we arrived,” says Erica. “It was amazing to walk up the aisle and see the big house. But when we got closer, we could see that there was still work to be done.

“I couldn’t sleep that first night. I was so excited to think about all the different pieces and what could be done. But the next day it didn’t seem that intimidating – just a bunch of projects that could be done over time.

“Peter and Dianne did an incredible job restoring the house and saving it from demolition, and now it’s up to us to continue that work. “

“There were squatters”

The Oruawharo Homestead sale was negotiated by Tim Wynne-Lewis of Bayleys Havelock North for a figure that has yet to be disclosed, but it is “between $ 3 million and $ 4 million”. Wynne-Lewis also says Peter and Dianne Harris did an exceptional job bringing the property back from “the brink” 21 years ago.

“There were squatters in there – it’s a wonder the place didn’t catch fire. They had to get rid of a lot of possums and cut down all the ivy that covered the house.

The ballroom is the most decorative room - it was added in 1899.

BAYLEY

The ballroom is the most decorative room – it was added in 1899.

The stage is set for a formal dinner - there is still canvas on some walls.

BAYLEY

The stage is set for a formal dinner – there is still canvas on some walls.

Wynne-Lewis says he met Lauders’ friends Nick and Sophie when they came to visit the property, and they all spent a lot of time together inspecting the property.

“It was a giant leap of faith for Rob and Erica, but there was goodwill on all sides and the transaction was very transparent – they developed a great relationship with Peter and Dianne.

“It felt good. Rob and Erica will be excellent stewards of the property – they will continue to do what Peter and Dianne do and evolve it. And I think that thought was very comfortable with them.

Although the settlement is not until the end of January, Will and Bianca will be moving to the chalet on January 10. During the week, Bianca will continue to work remotely in her work as a Creative Human Resources Partner for The Warehouse Group.

A commercial kitchen and a sanitary block have been added on either side of the disused St Vincent church on the property.  The church, purchased for $ 1, was moved from Takapau - it was built on land that was originally part of the estate.

BAYLEY

A commercial kitchen and a sanitary block have been added on either side of the disused St Vincent church on the property. The church, purchased for $ 1, was moved from Takapau – it was built on land that was originally part of the estate.

The interior has beautiful exposed frames.

BAYLEY

The interior has beautiful exposed frames.

“We have a list of questions, and it’s huge,” said Will. “There is so much that we have to find out. We’ll help with a function while we’re at it.

Will says he’s been considering moving to the country for some time, and that’s exactly the kind of project he was considering. Rob says his first project will probably be to paint the front of the house. Erica, meanwhile, will continue to work in Auckland, commuting for a long weekend every two weeks.

Another son James and his wife Karly will move to Napier in January. “That’s why we started looking for a place of our own there,” Erica explains. “They also bought an invisible house in Te Awa. “

Rob and Erica Lauder took the opportunity to move their trailer to Oruawharo, but they were guests of the owners in the big house.

PROVIDED

Rob and Erica Lauder took the opportunity to move their trailer to Oruawharo, but they were guests of the owners in the big house.

The couple have two other children – Robbie who lives in Canada with his wife and family, and Sophie in Auckland.

In the meantime, the two Auckland couples continue to make lists as they count the days until their new venture becomes a reality.

You can read more about Oruawharo’s story here, and see a Youtube video of the church move here.


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