Appreciating the privilege of owning one of Hawke's Bay’s most splendid examples of early colonial architecture, Peter and Dianne Harris have sought to restore rather than renovate, to stay as true as possible to the vision of Oruawharo’s founders.
The 30 years’ neglect that preceded their purchase in 2000, were in some respects fortunate. Although the house bore the scars of poor upkeep and was at risk of demolition, very few structural alterations had been made. The kauri, totara and matai construction had weathered the years intact and required only a freshen up, however in order to equip Oruawharo for present day use as their home, and to host visitors and large special occasions, the couple have devoted huge efforts to bring the invisible infrastructure to modern standards.
Oruawharo is a New Zealand Historic Places Trust category II listed building and the owners have worked closely with the trust for advice.
The roof, leaking badly and in serious need of repair, was an early priority, and one that yielded a surprise bonus – an investigation of the roof cavity revealed a cache of Royal Doulton and other good china which former occupants had used as ‘buckets’ to catch drips.
With the roof repaired and insulated, new heating, water and sewage systems were installed, power and telephone upgraded and the cables undergrounded to preserve the house’s uncluttered silhouette. A start has been made on the brick-by-brick process of relining Oruawharo’s 23 chimneys.
Today, Oruawharo stands as fine as the day it was completed in 1879, a spectacular testimonial to both the role it has played in the history and development of the district and the foresight of its founders, Sydney and Sophia Johnston. Apart from absence of the servant’s wing which once housed 12 domestic staff and eight gardeners and was removed in the 1950s, the Johnstons would notice few differences.
Outside, the farm buildings which served their 17,000-acre station are well on the way to restoration, detailed work requiring hand making each weatherboard just as the original builders did. An implement shed, abandoned on its side, has been resurrected, and with the help of a German craftsman joiner, one of several Wwoofers who’ve assisted at Oruawharo over the years, the coach house is ready for another century. All that remains now are the stables where a graceful arched entranceway leads between the six loose boxes that once housed horses for station work and traditional country sports like hunting.
In one of the Harrises’ biggest projects, the surrounding gardens and grounds have also been faithfully restored and once again provide Oruawharo with an appropriate park-like setting.