Totara Estate. © Grant Sheehan

Tohu Whenua: Totara Estate


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Totara Estate is probably the most important farm in the history of Aotearoa.

It was from here that the first shipment of frozen mutton was sent to England in 1882, marking the start of an export industry that has underpinned our nation’s economic prosperity.

At the time, the whole thing was a bit of a gamble. More than 4,300 sheep and almost 600 lambs were slaughtered and sent by train to Port Chalmers. Here they were packed into a specially built, new-fangled, refrigerated sailing ship bound for the UK. The three-month voyage went well and the meat sold in London’s Smithfield Market in a fortnight for twice the price it would have received back at home. It was the start of New Zealand’s billion-dollar meat export trade which, as then Governor-General Sir David Beattie said during the 1982 centenary, "helped to pay for New Zealand as we have known it, for our social order, our way of life, our security.”

Totara Estate’s farm buildings are now protected for visitors to explore. As you meander through the men’s quarters, stables, granary, cookhouse and slaughterhouse, you can listen to the stories of swaggers, farm hands, the Chinese cook and more.

Kids will enjoy farm activities like feeding the sheep, eating freshly baked scones and playing old-fashioned games. If you’re feeling energetic, climb Sebastopol Hill to the base of the tall monument that stands in memory of Totara Estate farm manager, Thomas Brydone.

For a richer experience, join a group tour led by a farm character for good yarns, billy tea and scones around a campfire. 

Totara Estate is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences. The property is proudly cared for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

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