Lacewood Wedding Venue & Accomodation

The Tuhitarata story

Both the location and the name of the estate is Tuhitarata.  The translation of the name in Maori means “Decoration of sweet smelling Lemonwood” or alternatively, ‘The mark of Lemonwood’.  Lemonwood is a sweet smelling small native tree with beautiful wavy leaves.  Wairarapa means “The Land of Glistening Waters”.


The South Wairarapa area has a fascinating and complex Maori and European history. Maori first settled on the coast of Wairarapa in 1200 AD, making it the longest-settled regions of New Zealand. The close by townships of Greytown and Masterton were the first planned inland towns in the country. Tuhitarata Estate was one of the first four original sheep stations to be established in New Zealand, once covering up to 26,000 acres.

The current homestead was built in the 1860s, however the estate has a fascinating history that dates back to the 1840s and includes historical figures such as South Wairarapa’s Paramount Chief, Te Hiko Piata Tama-i-hikoia, Governor Grey and Donald McLean.

Tuhitarata’s intriguing recent history began with the arrival of Angus McMaster and Mary McKenzie in the ship Blenheim, in Port Nicholson (Wellington) New Zealand on 27 December 1840.

Angus and Mary married soon after their arrival. Although there had been some earlier settlers, 1840 marked the beginning of the organised settlement of New Zealand. Mary’s family and Angus were therefore some of the first settlers in the ‘new land’.

Wellington was still a very small settlement at the time of their arrival. Angus’s first ‘whare’ was pitched in a spot near Evans Bay which for a time was known as McMaster Bay. In about 1843 he cut his way on foot over the Remutuka range and leased land at Tuhitarata from Te Hiko Piata Tama-i-hikoia, one of the leading Wairarapa chiefs from the 1840s to the 1880s. The south Wairarapa was Te Hiko’s ancestral homeland.

To attempt to settle and make a living in areas outside of the small European settlements in New Zealand at that time required the assistance and protection of local Maori. Te Hiko acted in that capacity to Angus, leasing land to him which allowed him to build his whare at Tuhitarata. McMaster became Te Hiko’s client, living under the protection of his ‘mana’ (status), and known to the Wairarapa people as ‘Hiko’s Pakeha’.

Once Angus had completed his bark whare of 12 by 13 feet, he then walked back over the Remutakas to collect his wife Mary. Over 11 days they journeyed by foot, into the South Wairarapa, then covered by swamp wetlands, dense bush and tall stands of Kahikatea. They arrived at night. Mary was already pregnant with their first child Hugh. Family tradition has it that when she woke in the morning she found several baskets of potatoes left for her by the local Maori community who lived close by, to welcome the first ‘Pakeha’ (European) woman to settle in the Wairarapa.

The birth of Hugh, their son, the first Pakeha child to be born in the Wairarapa, was the cause of much interest and celebration by Te Hiko and the Maori community. He was brought presents of corn and potatoes that were heaped at the door of the McMaster’s whare. A Maori name was insisted on, and for many years Hugh was known by the Maori community as Tuhitarata.

Initially their main meat source was goat. They owned some cattle that had been driven around the coast from Wellington which allowed them an early income of making butter which fetched a good price in Wellington at the time. Given there was no roads to their remote settlement, goods were transported around the coast beaches by mules from Wellington.

Later an old life boat from a ship that had gone ashore in Wellington was used to ferry butter and wool from Tuhitarata and produce from the Waitapu (Sacred Waters) Pa up and down the Ruamahanga and across the lake. The boat was vital to their survival and because of this the boat anchor for many years occupied a place of honour on a veranda at the Tuhitarata.

When the government began buying land in Wairarapa, Te Hiko, like many chiefs who had ‘adopted’ a Pakeha, would not sign any deed of cession unless he had an absolute assurance that McMaster’s interests would be protected.

The two men’s close friendship endured and extended to their families. The small Maori community at Te Waitapu would come to the McMaster’s home at Tuhitarata and they would sit and make their mats and taniko cloth and learn each other’s language.

The descendants of the McMasters and Te Hiko adopted each other’s names. Interestingly in recent renovations of the Barn, carved above one of the doors is the name Hiko McMaster. The same carved name apparently can also be seen in another smaller McMaster barn now on the Weatherston’s neighbouring property.

The McMasters later built a home of four rooms (likely to be the present day cottage on the estate). The McMasters prospered and became well known for sheep breeding. The McMaster family eventually built a number of large homesteads for their sons. John McMaster lived at the Tuhitarata homestead. At one stage there was a school and teacher housed on the estate.

Mary, though much younger than Angus died, like so many women of her time, in childbirth. Angus married again before retiring to Greytown to a house that still stands today in what is now known as McMaster Street. Angus died in 1888.

Te Hiko and Angus had made a pact that they and their families would be buried together. Te Hiko and his wife were both buried at Tuhitarata, in a private cemetery shared by the members of the McMaster family and Te Hiko’s family (the only known private cemetery shared by a Paramount Maori Chief’s family and a Pakeha family in the country). Te Hiko and his wife Mihi Mete are buried at the highest point and Angus and Mary close by. Also in that cemetery can be observed the continued use of Te Hiko’s family names on the grave stones of the McMaster family members. The peaceful cemetery knoll close by the Tuhitarata homestead seems an apt resting place with its broad views of the lower Wairarapa Valley.

The family eventually lost their estate in the 1930s great depression when the banks foreclosed on many small holdings in South Wairarapa. The family had generously acted as guarantors to many of the small holders in the district, and consequently were forced to sell off land to meet obligations. When they left, one of the family members took the anchor of the boat that had meant so much to the family in the early days to be placed in the family cemetery to act as a memorial to Angus and Mary and what they had created.2


[1] Extract from a written account held at Tuhitarata compiled by Barbara Mason

[1] Sources: A written account held at Tuhitarata compiled by Barbara Mason, article in the Wairarapa Times Age, June 9, 1981, Page 6; article Dominion, 26 November 1910, Page 18, ‘Pioneering Experiences’.


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