A WAIKANAE HOUSE, MALL, AND GALLERY.
Mahara House was built in 1902 by A.A. Brown for Hemi Matenga Waipunahau, brother of the paramount Chief Wi Parata Te Kakakura of the Ngati Awa & Ngati Toa. It provided luxury accommodation for guests that included Admiral Jellicoe, Richard Seddon, Lord Plunket, Herbert Kitchener (First Lord Kitchener), and Alexander Turnbull. The name Mahara, meaning remembrance, was chosen possibly out of respect for victims of the Boer War. The house was frequently used for hunting and fishing groups, and the frequent New Year parties were memorable.
Waikanae was originally called Parata Township having been established formally by the Native Township Act of 1895, but Waikanae became the preferred name through common usage
Mahara House was located on the Main Highway, the front entrance being next to the large Pohutukawa tree on the south border of the present service station. Next door, on the Ngaio Road corner, was the Parata homestead where Hira Parata the son of Wi Parata and his son Tohuroa (Tom) resided. Hira managed Mahara House for a short period after its official opening.
Hemi Matenga and Wi Parata were both born on Kapiti Island, the sons of Waipunahau of Ngati Awa and Ngati Toa descent. Their father was George Stubbs, an Australian whaler who in 1838 was drowned off Kapiti
Hemi Matenga died in May 1912, just six years after the death of his brother Wi Parata who had been residing in a house next to the Whakarongotai Marae. This house was demolished to make way for the Waikanae Hotel bottle store and car park.
Hemi Matenga had built another house at 48 Winara Avenue which is still standing. Known as ‘Kildoon House’ its stables can be seen from the Road, unfortunately Hemi never lived to see its completion.
Hemi Matenga sometimes used an anglicised form of his name, James Martin, when on official business not connected to Tribal interests. His wife Huria aka Julia Martin was known as ‘The Grace Darling of New Zealand’, for an heroic rescue of the crew of the brigantine Delaware which had been wrecked close to the Pa at Wakapuaka near Nelson.
In 1907 the land to the south of Winara House was auctioned off by Hira Parata in 100 quarter acre sections. These sections were opposite the railway line facing the Main Road and would have included much of the existing Main Road shops; the sections were later further subdivided to better suit the purpose of small shops.
In the early hours of 19th January 1937, the daughter of the absent proprietor of Mahara House, sleeping in her upstairs bedroom, was awakened by the noise of the crackling of flames; on investigating she found smoke pouring up the stairwell; the electric lights would not function. Keeping her head, she managed to alert the few guests and staff, who escaped in their night clothes, just as the entire staircase exploded in flames and collapsed. The flames soon reached 50 feet in the air and the glow could be seen up to 20 miles away. There was a 500 gallon water tank at the rear of the building but its supports were alight, causing it to overturn, spilling the water. There were no fire brigades at the time and nothing could be done to prevent the total loss of Mahara House.
In more recent times, on the area behind the shops facing the road, town planners agreed to incorporate a square, accessed by a pedestrian mall. In recognition of the history of the site it was named Mahara Place. Paved in a red shade of tile it became known affectionately as ‘Red Square’. In the last few years the paving had lifted in places and was not considered safe. It was re-laid in a different shade of brick that made the nickname obsolete.
A small art gallery run by local artists was established in the square, which has over the years, with the help of private benefactors and the local council, been developed into a professional gallery respected by artists and public for its exhibitions and presentations of the works of local and nationally recognised artists. It maintains a strong commitment to the promotion of many highly regarded Maori artists. The Mahara Gallery’s reputation is about to be further enhanced by plans for an extension that will enable it to have a permanent display of the works of Frances Hodgkins and her sister Isabel Field, who had family associations with the Kapiti area.
2. The Kapiti Coast by W.C. Carkeek. A.H. & A.W. Reed 1978
3. The Kapiti Museum, Waikanae.
4. Wai Cook (G.Granddaughter of Wi Parata)
5. The Evening Post (Papers Past)
6. The Colonist (Papers Past)