Exterior of Hurworth Cottage across the lawn situation in native bush

An introduction to Hurworth Cottage

Looking out towards the coast from a bush-clad ridge in the midst of Taranaki farmland, lies Hurworth Cottage.  Open by arrangement for guided tours, it has links to many significant stories in Taranaki, from political leaders, to conflict over land, and even to the well-known Govett Brewster Art Gallery.

Harry Atkinson, future four-time Premier of Aotearoa New Zealand, was a callow 20-something when he handbuilt his first home 10 kilometres from New Plymouth. Christened ‘Hurworth’, it was one of six dwellings in a settlement of the same name established by four intertwined pioneering clans – they styled themselves ‘The Mob’, and included Harry’s brother Arthur, and various members of the Richmond, Hursthouse and Ronald families – and was as basic an early settler’s cottage as you’ll find. Rectangular in shape, and clad in pitsawn board and batten, it had three small downstairs rooms and ladder access to an upper level.

But what it lacked in House & Garden flair, Harry and Jane’s little cottage made up for in dumb luck. During the Taranaki Land War of 1860-1861, when the families abandoned ship for the relative safety of New Plymouth, all but two houses were burned to the ground. James Richmond’s place seems to have been retained by Māori as a resting place for travelling parties. As for Hurworth, it only escaped destruction by chance. When the Atkinsons returned, they found their furniture stacked into a pyre in the kitchen, but somehow the fire hadn’t taken hold.

Today, it’s the last one standing – the Richmonds’ house only survived until 1865, when it was destroyed in an accidental fire. Many of the additions and changes made by the Atkinsons and subsequent owners were removed during a major restoration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga) in the 1960s. The process uncovered some hidden gems to look out for on your visit, including graffiti from the war period scrawled in charcoal on Hurworth’s walls by members of The Mob checking on the state of their settlement. Among them is an invitation to someone’s leaving party, complete with date and location.

Hurworth is open by arrangement, which means you have the privilege of being shown around by a guide who is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the property. You’ll find a charmingly simple cottage set in a picturesque garden, with views across farmland to the sea. Inside, the parlour/dining area, master bedroom and upstairs room are furnished with period pieces, artwork and mementoes from the extended family. Harry Atkinson’s parliamentary desk and pince nez reading glasses are there, too.

Hurworth Cottage is located between two of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most incredible community-owned gardens. To make a day of it, stop first at Tūpare, a beautiful Arts and Crafts-style garden and restored Chapman-Taylor-designed house on the outskirts of New Plymouth. Drive on to Hurworth, then head to Pukeiti, 26 hectares of plantings in a setting of virgin and regenerating native forest on the slopes of Mt Taranaki. A garden of international significance, Pukeiti has one of the world’s finest collections of rhododendrons, magical trails to explore through gardens and rainforest and an interpretive Rainforest Centre. Grab a bite at the Rainforest Eatery, or get something to take away and have a picnic in the gardens.