The District

Population: 411 [2006 Census]

The community of Tai Tapu is situated in the Selwyn Ward and spans from Osterholts Road to the Ahuriri valley, and the Summit Road out to Rainey’s Road. The area is predominantly rural, with the Tai Tapu village located 15 minutes south of Christchurch on State Highway 75 (the main highway to Banks Peninsular).

The name Tai Tapu is derived from the words wai tapu, which means sacred or solemn water.

Within the central hub of the village there is ‘The Store’ and several boutique shops. A walk down Old Tai Tapu Road will take you past the charming St Pauls Anglican Church and Library. A golf course, tennis courts, a rugby field and an outdoor bowling green are some of the Rhodes Park Domain amenities. These are currently being upgraded.

Tucked away on the outskirts of the village there are cafes, vineyards and an art gallery Tai Tapu Primary School is one of the oldest schools in Canterbury dating back to 1876.

Sir Heaton Rhodes

Robert Heaton Rhodes, 1861–1956

Robert Heaton Rhodes, 1861–1956

Sir Heaton is remembered as a Victorian country gentleman and benefactor known for his enthusiasm for life and kindness towards others. He was a long-term parliamentarian, a military officer, stockbreeder and keen horticulturist whose contributions are integral to the history of Canterbury.

Robert Heaton Rhodes was born in New Zealand on 27 February 1861 at Purau, on the shore of Lyttelton Harbour. As he had the same name as his father, the family always called him Heaton. Completing his MA in 1887 from the University of Oxford, he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple, London, but in 1888 returned to New Zealand, where he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court in Christchurch.

Rhodes married Jessie Clark, at Bulla, near Melbourne, on 20 May 1891. His father’s death in 1884 made him an exceptionally wealthy young man, enabling him to give up the law and adopt a new career as a farmer and country gentleman.

From about 1893 Rhodes bought farmland near Taitapu, the farm eventually comprised some 5,000 acres. Rhodes commissioned the architect Frederick Strouts, to design a grand country house. The result, completed in 1895, was a three-storeyed 40-room timber and slate house, Otahuna.

Sir Heaton Rhodes had a long and illustrious career in which he amassed an impressive list of achievements, distinctions and benefactions. He was the recipient of two knighthoods, corresponded with King George VI about their shared interest in stamp collecting, donated land, served on many boards and councils, and was crucial in helping Nurse Maude to set up her district nursing scheme, the first in New Zealand, in 1896. His most significant humanitarian work was with the St John Ambulance Association.

Heaton Rhodes enjoyed a long and happy marriage, but Jessie’s health was always delicate and they had no children. The greatest blow Rhodes ever suffered was Jessie’s sudden death in 1929. He commissioned Cecil Wood, the architect, to design a church in her memory, and St Paul’s, Taitapu, was consecrated in 1932. This lovely little church was built with stone from Mt Somers and the Otahuna estate, and from Australia. One wall incorporates a stone from St Paul’s Cathedral, London. This was not Rhodes’s first or only benefaction to the Taitapu district. In 1904 he gave £200 and the land for a new public hall, and in 1921 he donated land for a new sports ground, the Rhodes Park Domain. The new Tai Tapu School which opened in 1931 was largely a result of his quiet generosity, and the new library opened in 1932 was financed from the proceeds of Daffodil open days at Otahuna.

Rhodes obviously enjoyed the role of benevolent country squire. Each year on prize-giving day he sent buckets of cherries to Tai Tapu School, and on Christmas Day he visited all of his employees on the Otahuna estate, with a leg of lamb for the wives, cash for the men and sweets for the children. Otahuna was the venue for one of Canterbury’s first demonstrations of aerial top-dressing in 1949.
Although confined to a wheelchair in his final years, Heaton Rhodes retained good health and a lively mind. Always an energetic individual, he enjoyed riding, golf and swimming well past middle age. He usually started the day with a cold shower or swim. He died at the age of 95, at Taitapu on 30 July 1956.

Few New Zealanders have achieved such prominence or popularity, received such high honours, or been more sincerely admired and respected in their own lifetime than Heaton Rhodes. Blessed with intelligence, talent, good looks and wealth, he made the most of his advantages. He excelled at many things, and is remembered in Canterbury as the province’s outstanding public figure of this century.

Adapted from: Geoffrey W. Rice. ‘Rhodes, Robert Heaton – Rhodes, Robert Heaton’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012



Otahuna was built in 1895 for Sir Heaton Rhodes and his wife Jessie. The estate would remain his home for more than 60 years until he passed away at the age of 95.

The Maori name “Otahuna” popularly translates as “little hill among the hills.” The homestead sits atop a small hill, between the rocky outcrops of the Banks Peninsula, providing commanding views of the gardens and across the plains to the Southern Alps.

Otahuna is an enduring testament to Sir Heaton Rhodes’ love for the finer things in life. The homestead is considered one of the best examples of unspoiled Queen Anne architecture in Australasia. Praised for its irregular shape, romantic rooflines, extensive use of New Zealand timber, and elaborate architectural detail, Otahuna is now protected by a Category One listing from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

As the period and location required, the estate was mostly self sufficient. The woolshed, animal pens, orchard, apple shed and surrounding gardens all contributed to the kitchen and larders of Otahuna.
The spectacular gardens of Otahuna were established and maintained under the direction of a gardener who had trained at Kew Gardens in London. A unique blend of New Zealand natives and English colonial planting, the original gardens feature many rare and exotic trees, many of which are now protected by law.

Otahuna became famous for its endless garden parties amongst fields of daffodils. Every September they still bloom resplendent throughout the grounds. Sir Heaton donated surplus bulbs to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens and they now form the nucleus of the famous daffodils that line the Avon River, as it meanders through the garden city.

Adapted from