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Cheese and Cream Empires


Dairy farming on the Otago Peninsula was an important 19th century industry

Today the New Zealand dairy industry is worth approximately $18 billion dollars in export earnings and produces around 20.7 billion litres of milk per annum. It has become one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners and dominates our landscape and economy. However, the dairy industry began in a more humble manner during the 19th century colonial period in places like Hereweka on the Otago Peninsula.


Farm ownership at Hereweka and the site of the Cheese Factory

Hereweka was divided into nineteen farms varying in size from 10 – 115 acres. Some were probably no more than subsistence properties, while larger farms were developed into economic units for the period. As the Hereweka bush was cleared and developed into pasture, dairying became the dominant type of farming on the property. With this development, Hereweka farmers began to look for opportunities to sell their milk and cream further afield to make important farm revenue.

In September 1877 a group of farmers on the Hereweka property met and decided to build a cheese factory. The building was to be situated on Captain William Leslie’s property adjacent to Highcliff Road. Very little is known about what the building looked like, though we do know its dimensions were 14 feet x 24 feet. Water was drawn from a natural spring and fetched through pipes from a wall built above Highcliff Road. The founding shareholders of the Hereweka Cheese factory were;

  • Capt William Leslie Snr
  • William Leslie Jnr
  • Robert Forbes
  • Robert Dick
  • William Allan
  • William Roger
  • Thomas Scott
  • William Hunter
  • James Rutherford
  • George Bates

Site of the Hereweka Cheese Fact

Cheese factory site today

The cheese factory was not without its difficulties especially due to the steep terrain. Each farmer had different methods for getting milk to the factory. Robert Dick had special milk cans with flat sides that could be attached to a horse, William Hunter used a wheelbarrow while James Rutherford used a bullock with a sled. The first cheese maker at the Hereweka factory was Edmund Ward who began learning the trade under supervision from the experienced cheese maker John L McGregor. McGregor was the first cheese maker at the Springfield site near Pukehiki. Hannah Scott, the daughter of Thomas Scott assisted Ward in making the cheese at the factory. The cheese was sold directly to the George Street grocery store of Esther & Low, and the Otago Daily Times reported that the factory had produced 2.5 tons of cheddar cheese in 1879 valued at 6.5 pence/pound. However, disaster struck the factory in October 1881 when a massive bush fire destroyed the factory and many other farmsteads in the area. The Otago Daily Times gave a dramatic report on the 17th of October 1881 of the Leslie family and their attempts to save the factory.


“…the Harbour Cone Company’s Cheese Factory succumbed to the flames, though great exertions were made by Mr and Mrs Leslie, and Mr Leslie, jun., to save the building. Nothing with the exception of some bacon and a saw could be got out, and the whole building became a total wreck within a few minutes’ time. Mr Leslie’s dwelling-house was twice on fire, but was put out, though in one place the weatherboards were burned through. The dairy also had a narrow escape, one of the piles being burnt completely through before it was noticed. Mr Leslie’s byre and sheds were also destroyed. The factory, in which there were three cheese presses and other machinery, was insured in the Norwich Union Company’s office for £150, but the building was valued at £50 above this sum.” 


Mad About Kanuka

Otago Campus Greens with Lala and Ian

Over recent weeks the Hereweka Trust have had a range of volunteers planting trees on one of the steep slopes above the Smiths Creek Catchment. Supervised by our Chair Lala Frazer and her husband Ian, many hands have made light work of this ambitious re-vegetation project. On Sunday 28th the Trust were very pleased to host the Otago Campus Greens on the site who have added further planting to the area. 

Kanuka Planting Area

Annual General Meeting

Nigel and horse at the AGM

On Sunday 28th the Hereweka Harbour Cone Trust held its first Annual General Meeting. The meeting was held “al fresco” at the Bacon Street entrance to the property. After the usual reports all trustees expressed their wish to remain on the committee and our officer holders will remain in place for another year. One of the more interesting aspects of today’s meeting was the arrival of one of our members by horse. It would be doubtful that many organisations have a horse at its AGM. Its worth noting that the horse does not have voting rights!


Hereweka Annual General Meeting


Annual General Meeting Agenda

The Hereweka Project


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Working on the Rogers Farm

Brolly needed!On a blustery day punctuated by a few showers, students from the Otago University Anthropology Society worked at the Rogers farmstead on Hereweka today. With expertise provided by archaeologist Dr Peter Petchey, the team mapped the byre, barn, house and surrounding farm structures. The largely intact but heavily modified byre has a beautiful brick floor and stalls that would have been part of  the Rogers’ family dairy operation. One of the tasks of the Society was to produce a floor plan of this building that would give the Hereweka Trust a better understanding of its historical use.

The work of the Society members is invaluable to the Trust. It provides further insight into the farming activities and the lives of the families that settled and worked in the Hereweka landscape. The Trust are looking forward to having the students visit the area again and are excited about what more they can tell us about this site.

Society Members

Planners and Architects

Architects heading uphill from RutherfordsAn interesting day of visitors at Hereweka with planners from around the country visiting the Larnach Model Farm and getting a feel for the many values of the site. The planners were part of the New Zealand Planning Institute 2016 conference held in Dunedin.

In the afternoon a group of Landscape Architects from the NZ Institute of Landscape Architects spent a sunny afternoon visiting the slopes of Hereweka and walking out to Rutherfords. This was part of their annual conference and a further opportunity to showcase some of the special values of the property.

It’s always great to be able to show the area off to people who have never visited the area and the visit stimulated some interesting thoughts on cultural landscapes and their management from both groups.

Planners 2016

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Hereweka Admin

Hereweka Admin

Kiaora, welcome to the Hereweka website. if you have any questions or want to make any comments please free to contact the trust through our contact page.

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Article Dates

March 2018
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