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SIGNIFICANT: The former Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp – a heritage report notes it is “a place of outstanding significance”.            

Photo Ian Carson


A just-released Heritage New Zealand review of Ōtaki’s former Children’s Health Camp has recognised its huge significance – nationally and locally – and concludes that all the buildings, structures and spaces should be included in an extended heritage listing.

The present heritage listing is for the historic rotunda only, but the review says a new Category 1 listing should include everything on the site because they all contribute to and extend the understanding of the site’s historical significance.

Chair of the Friends of the Ōtaki Rotunda Trust Di Buchan says she’s delighted with the report.

“The classification of the whole site as having A1 heritage values will help ensure that any future use of the site will need to be sympathetic to its nationally significant social and architectural values, which now must be protected,” she says. “Otaki should be very proud to be the home of this nationally important facility.

“In the future it could be added to the other historically important aspects of Ōtaki that bring visitors to the town.”

Di, who in 2017 released a book about the health camp, Sun, Sea and Sustenance, says that the facilities have been subjected to several incidents of vandalism recently. The Department of Conservation is currently looking after the property.

“It’s distressing that the limited funding DoC has to maintain the buildings and grounds is having to be spent repairing the damage caused by a few people,” Di says.

The camp was opened as New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp in 1932. The review report says it is a place of outstanding significance, featuring an integrated complex of play spaces, buildings and structures.

The review assessed the site against all criteria  and found to qualify under a, b, e, and h and considered that it qualified as a Category 1 historic place.

The report noted the criteria:

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The health camp movement, which began after the First World War, matured through the creation of the first permanent camp at Ōtaki in 1932. The movement and associated health camp services have made an important mark on the lives of generations of children whose parents permitted their attendance in the hope of building their physical and mental health and resilience. Between 1932 and when it closed in 2018, the camp was a key contributor to these nationwide preventative healthcare efforts of health camps and was arguably the most prominent in the public’s minds, especially in its early decades.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The camp has special importance because it is directly associated with significant people who made the idea of developing child welfare organisations to aid those in need a reality. The children’s health camp movement built on the ideas and efforts of people such as Sir Truby King and those involved in the Plunket Society to reduce infant mortality. Indeed, Truby King was a notable supporter of the Ōtaki camp’s creation and served on its committee.

It was recognised that preventative care for children, such as ensuring good nutrition and hygiene, as well as exercise and fresh air, would reduce instances of diseases and ill-health. Dr Ada Paterson, instrumental in the establishment and early running of Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp, was a leading figure in the movement and public health at the time, tirelessly advocating for better support for children. The successes at Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp Camp legitimised government spending in this area, which was formalised under the first Labour Government’s King George V Memorial Fund, launched in 1937. Therefore, the Ōtaki camp was instrumental in the spread of permanent health camps around the country.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

Generations of health camp children were sent to the camp and many of them have a strong connection with the place and the uniquely ‘‘Ōtaki experience” of playing in the sand dunes and pines trees, swimming in the ocean  and being in and around the camp’s distinctive rotunda.and being in and around the camp’s distinctive rotunda.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp is a meaningful symbol of the rise, evolution and importance of New Zealand’s health camp movement. Because it was a high profile facility, in many ways the Ōtaki camp became symbolic of the wider movement and loomed large in the public perception, especially in the mid-20th century, because it was consistently featured in newspaper articles and other forms of publicity. The commemoration of the camp’s establishment on the gates reflects the significance of that moment in New Zealand history, as well as Byron Brown, the prominent local businessman and philanthropist who donated the land for the camp.

NOTE: Category 1 historic places are “places of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value”. Category 2 historic places are “places of historical or cultural heritage significance or value”.

Health camp significance recognised



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