The beautifully rebuilt and restored Athenree Homestead that stands sentinel on Athenree Road today is a far cry from the dilapidated, crumbling shell that many long-term residents might remember.

It was the vision of a dedicated group of volunteers in the 1990s that saw what was left of the homestead evolve into the beautifully presented property that hundreds of people now visit each year.

Snow Browne, John Rapley, Ellen McCormack and Di Logan led a restoration and rebuilding project, and after much fundraising and hard work, the front part of the house was opened to the public in 2002. Fundraising and construction continued until the rear part of the house was opened to the public last year.

And what you’ll find as you step inside feels like a step back in time. Beautifully polished floorboards, iron beds, sumptuous drapes, intricate wallpaper and a dining table laid out in what looks like a grandmother’s best china. There is also a piano in the sitting room, family photographs, children’s effects, and artefacts we all recognise, such as the metal mincer on the kitchen table. Collectively, it’s a sympathetic nod to 19th Century life on a family farm.

Athenree Homestead Charitable Trust trustee, historian and volunteer, Chris Bedford, shared a potted history with It’s About Time.

“Hugh and Adela Stewart and their seven-year-old son Mervyn arrived at Athenree from Northern Ireland in 1878 as part of the second group of settlers brought to the Katikati district by Hugh’s brother, George Vesey Stewart. Having drawn the 300-acre Athenree section by ballot, Hugh proceeded to build the house and farm, the not very fertile land while Adela developed the garden and organised their busy social lives. She documented their lives over the following 28 years in her now-famous book, My Simple Life in New Zealand. Hugh had been a captain in the engineers of the Royal Artillery, and was responsible for a number of innovations, such as the installation of running water in the house. Adela had been educated in Europe.  They were not people to look back to the comfortable lives they had led in Northern Ireland; they worked hard and involved themselves in the community.

A succession of owners of Athenree homestead followed the Stewarts’ return to England. The most notable were Arthur and Margaret Rapley, who owned the property from 1921 to 1946. By the end of the 1940s the house was no longer lived in and by the early 1990s was derelict.”

Locals and visitors alike visit the historic house, including tours and school trips. The home is open every Sunday from January to April, and on the first Sunday of the month from May to December. It’s during these Sundays that visitors can also visit another addition to the property – the old Athenree Railway Station, which had lived alongside the railway line in Athenree Gorge from 1928 to 1978.

Chris says there’s something else that also draws people to visit the home and station – the “world famous in Athenree scones”. A group of volunteers not only maintain the gardens and greet people when the home is open on a Sunday, but they put on a particularly delicious high tea complete with scones, jam and cream! Guests are seated on the station platform where they can drink in the views across Tauranga Harbour – as well as a cup of tea.

Chris says there is a group of approximately 30 active volunteers but the Athenree Homestead Charitable Trust, which administers the property, is always looking for more.

This summer Athenree Homestead and Athenree Station will be open every Sunday, January to April, from 11am to 3pm.  People are welcome to walk around the grounds of the property at any time.

Entry to the house is a $5 donation; afternoon teas can be purchased at the station. Copies of Adela Stewart’s book My Simple Life in New Zealand and Arthur Gray’s early history of the Katikati settlement An Ulster Plantation, may also be purchased.

For more information about the Homestead visit www.athenreehomestead.org.nz.

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Chris Bedford on 021 173 3979 or email cksrbedford@gmail.com