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Keirunga Homestead

The Homestead and surrounding buildings continue to provide a community-based venue for arts and crafts groups, as well as being available for hire. The buildings can be booked as individual rooms or the whole facility, for a range of events including meetings, conferences, weddings, and family celebrations.

Homestead banner

To make a booking in the Keirunga Creative Arts venue including Homestead and Cottage, email or call (06) 875 8585. The venue manager will then reach out with a customised quote to ensure your event at Keirunga Creative Arts Venue is a memorable and seamless experience.


Early 20th century

The building now known as the Homestead was built by Robert Holt around 1907 for Reginald and his wife Ruth, who called it Stadacona. The timber, heart kauri and tōtara, was hauled up Joll Road by bullock dray. Although Reginald was born in Australia, the Gardiners had come from Canada to Havelock North, and the name Stadacona referred to a 16th Century Iroquois village founded in 1608, near Quebec.

The nearby cottage was built around the same time for Emily Rose, Reginald Gardiner’s sister. The Gardiners brought a spiritual dimension to Havelock North, sparking a cultural movement that became known as the ‘Havelock Work’, for people interested in music, theatre, literature, and fine art. They installed printing presses and, in partnership with Harold Large, produced the magazine Forerunner to promote the Havelock Work. Reginald and Harold’s leadership contributed to spiritual awakenings among the townspeople that culminated in the establishment of the Smaragdum Thalasses temple, Whare Ra, by Dr Robert Felkin in 1912.

The arts and crafts aspect of the Havelock Work was spread from Britain around 1880 to the Commonwealth countries, as well as Europe and America, with Stadacona constructed in Arts and Crafts style. The Keirunga Gardens Homestead and Cottage Conservation Plan, prepared by Matthews and Matthews Architects (2021), states:

‘Consistent with Arts and Crafts ideology, both the exterior and interior are without ornamentation; the house is designed with a simplicity which reflects the ideas of beauty based on utility, and an honest expression of structure and materials, adapted to suit the local site, context, and climate. It incorporates multi-panel bay windows as well as tall double-hung sash French windows to the verandah.

‘The interior, with high sarked timber ceilings following the gabled roof form is distinctive for the time. Features such as the built-in bay window seats, adzed brickwork to the fireplaces, timber panelled dado to the hall and timber door handles and latches reflect Arts and Crafts ideas and craftsmanship.’

The Cottage is a mix of Arts and Crafts and bungalow style and was used as a dwelling from 1907 until the mid-1980s when a new caretaker’s flat was built as part of the new Keirunga Gardens Society building. The buildings are listed as Category II Heritage Buildings in the Hastings District Plan.

Charles Tanner, son of Thomas Tanner, the founder of Hastings, purchased Stadacona in 1910 from the Gardiners and renamed it “Keirunga” – which translates to “The Place on the Hill”. Charles lived there with his wife Mary and two sons. Charles planted a scarlet gum tree during his time at Keirunga, which is now a notable tree in the Hastings District Plan. Historical photos show ‘picking gardens’ around the Homestead to provide flowers for use in floral arrangements inside.

George and Elizabeth Nelson era

In 1929, at the age of 57, George Nelson purchased Keirunga. George was a civil engineer and involved in flood management projects across Hawke’s Bay, as well as being one of the original directors of the Hawke’s Bay Tribune and a founding member of the Hawke’s Bay Automobile Association. His wife Elizabeth, a nurse, served in Egypt during World War I and ran a convalescent home in Napier. Following her marriage, she maintained her interest in nursing, as well as painting and was a member of the NZ Women’s Writers and Artists Association.

The Nelsons transformed the land into a park, inspired by George’s love of Kew Gardens in England, laying the driveways, paths, drainage and constructing extensive rock walls which are a beautiful feature today. Given his knowledge of flood control, planting would have been undertaken with consideration of environmental management, as well as amenity and beauty.

Gum trees were planted to attract tui, with Elizabeth naming song thrushes she tamed. A large vegetable garden and compost heap were located where the carpark is now, with remnant fruit trees located on the eastern corner of the carpark, as well as in front of the Homestead.

The path through the woodland area on the western side of Keirunga Gardens is named Arthur’s Path for Arthur Morris, who drained the lower part of the gully and formed the path along a woodland of oak trees that George had planted with oaks collected from all over Hawke’s Bay.

In 1956, George and Elizabeth Nelson decided to gift around seven hectares of garden to the Havelock North Borough Council, with the area containing the Homestead sold to the Council for a nominal sum following George Nelson’s death in 1964, aged 93.

The Nelsons are commemorated in the Garden of Memories next to the Cottage, as well as in the naming of Nelson Theatre within the Society’s building.

Keirunga Gardens Society Inc.

In 1966, Frank Bacon approached the Council with an idea to turn the property into a cultural centre. A public meeting attended by 60 people founded the Keirunga Gardens Society Inc, with Elizabeth Nelson, George’s widow, as patron. This group would lease the property from the Council. Volunteers cleaned up the gardens and began fundraising to fix up the house. A wide variety of groups began to use the Homestead, music, drama, painting, pottery, rock and mineral clubs, spinners and weavers, garden circle, the film society and floral art group.

The history of Keirunga Gardens reflects a rich tapestry of cultural, artistic, and community contributions over the decades.


Community use

The Homestead and surrounding buildings continue to provide a community-based venue for arts and crafts groups, as well as being available for hire. The buildings can be booked as individual rooms or the whole facility, for a range of events including meetings, conferences, weddings, and family celebrations.Keirunga Homestead lounge

The flexibility of the space allows for configurations that cater to different event styles, whether it be a theatre setup, a classroom arrangement, a cocktail setting for standing events with refreshments, an intimate dinner and dance setup, or a banquet-style space. 

SC Keirunga Homestead 27 Medium

In addition to its spacious and flexible design, the homestead is equipped with a fully functional kitchen that is suitable for catering purposes, toilets, and modern audiovisual equipment (including ultrafast Wi-Fi), providing the necessary amenities to enhance the overall event experience.

Building capacity

Building 63 people
Lounge 36 people
Dining room 14 people
Study 11 people

SC Keirunga Homestead 28 Medium

Furniture layout options in main lounge

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