history of the estate

Donald grandchildren 1920


from butter factory to wedding venue…

How surprised Wairarapa pioneer James Donald would have been to learn that the barn he built at Tarureka Estate in 1868 would become a romantic wedding venue in the 21st century.

James and his wife Elizabeth had emigrated to Wellington from Melbourne in 1856, and settled in Taita. From there James regularly walked over the Rimutakas on land-buying missions until he gathered 2650 acres on the north eastern side of Lake Wairarapa. In 1868 he and Elizabeth moved to Tarureka (its name means ‘sweet herbs’) in Featherston to run five dairy farms and to build a barn to house the farms’ Clydesdale horses and the family ponies and their equipment downstairs and their food in the loft above. One of James’ great granddaughters recalls her mother recounting the children often being told off for ‘taking the good trays from the house and sliding down the shutes used to get the oats and the chaff from the loft down to the horses’. Two years later the Donalds built the homestead, a cottage for the single men’s quarters and further stables. In the same year they built a dairy factory – the Tarureka Butter Factory – the first of its kind in the Wairarapa. Milk from the five farms was transported to the factory by horse and brake and calves and pigs were raised in an area behind the building. There were train tracks running from the dairy factory to the pig farm, carrying whey on a wagon pulled by a mule. By 1901 over 600 cows were supplying the factory, which had been taken over by James’ daughter Bessie after his death in 1899. Amazingly, Bessie travelled alone to Denmark in the 1880s to learn how to operate a large dairy factory, and later imported the first Topliss combined churn and separator into New Zealand.

The factory closed in 1916 (the family then introduced a house cow which was milked in one of the barn’s pony stalls) and the factory was pulled down in 1924, but the remaining historically listed buildings are still at Tarureka today, thanks to the care and attention of the four generations of the Donald family who lived there until the estate was sold to the present owner. The two-storey barn was converted into a top class restaurant ‘The Loft’ in the 1990s and since 2001 it has been run as a wedding venue.

The Loft is one of the oldest and largest existing barns in New Zealand, its survival helped by James’ innovative reinforced concrete that makes up its floor and the heart Totara used in its construction. Sensitive restoration has transformed the historic building into a stunning setting for wedding ceremonies and receptions, with a magical contrast between old beams and columns, sparkling lights and glittering mirrors.


Tarureka history in pictures. All photos copyright Robyn McConachie and Tarureka Limited