Rawene and Clendon House

A couple of months ago an email arrived from the social media manager of Landmarks Whenua Tohunga who had come across my blog on various motorhome sites and asked me if I would like to write about some of the lessor known places that Landmarks Whenua Tohunga look after in Northland. Thinking that this would also be a great excuse to get away and visit some spots we might not have visited I agreed to take the assignment.

The plan was that I would visit these places and write my usual blog about what we experienced in the area, where we stayed and what we thought of each of the historic places that we visited. History was never my strong point at school so that’s perhaps why some of these places were never on my radar to visit. Some of them I had driven past the road sign pointing to the place numerous times and never thought to stop. Now after these visits I wish I had taken that side road and experienced these places.

The first site we visited was Clendon house in Rawene, but before we get too there we need to backtrack a little. After leaving Dargaville NZMCA Park I suggested to Sarah that we stop at the Trounson Kauri Park and have a wander around the Kauri trees. Almost everyone that heads north up the west coast will stop at the Waipoua forest to see Tane Mahuta but very few people even know the Trounson forest exists.

Managed by DOC there is also a small camping ground here. It is one of the few excluded year round from the DOC pass however the camp is well set up with power, water, toilets and a kitchen @$18 per person per night with power. The guest book showed that the last person had stayed here four days previously so it’s fairly lonely this time of the year.

At the back of the camp is the start of what is about a 40 minute walk through the forest. These days there is the obligatory cleaning station for your shoes to help try and prevent Kauri dieback. Because of the dieback issue there are also numerous signs along the track telling you to stay on the track.

The track has been seriously upgraded since our last visit maybe 15 years ago when it was nothing more than a dirt track. These days it’s either road metal or wooden walkways to keep those shoes away from the Kauri roots.

Sadly Kauri dieback is prevalent in the forest with a number of trees in various states of decline and a couple that have completely died. Some of these trees are more than 500 years old almost bringing a tear to my eye to see them like this. Nothing can be done to save the trees currently once they succumb to the disease.

Hopefully the measures they are taking to protect these magnificent trees will be successful and that they will not have to close the forest walks, like they have done in the Waitakere Ranges in Auckland as every New Zealander should see this place at least once.


If you are staying here make sure you bring a torch as there are Kiwi in the forest. Taking a night stroll through the park you might be lucky enough to get the chance to see a Kiwi in the wild. Even if you don’t catch sight of a Kiwi the birdsong during the day in this place is something special.

It’s not all about the Kauri trees here there are plenty of other things along the walk to capture your interest including the creepy weta, slimy snails and some horrific information about the damage dogs can do to the Kiwi population in places like this.

From the forest is was north to Rawene to visit Clendon house. The first stop in my mission for Landmarks Whenua Tohunga. With more time on your hands there are so many other places you could stop along the way, but as we had a limited amount of time before we needed to be back home we decided to only visit places we hadn’t been before.

The little village of Rawene aside from being home to our destination of Clendon House is also the southern end of the Hokianga vehicle ferry. Which you could catch should you wish to save time and a huge drive around the coast to reach Kohukohu. I was a little surprised at the cost with most motorhomes being $40 each way and for one like ours $45 based on the number of axles. Still if you do make the journey I guess it’s all about the experience.

Coming down the main street of Rawene you need to make a very tight right into the road that leads to Clendon house. Or if like me you are driving a large motorhome then you will need to turn left as the right hand turn is just to tight. Then use the large turning bay by the ferry to do a U turn and then proceed straight ahead along the narrow coastal road.

Clendon house is one of a number of properties administered by Heritage New Zealand and sits just across the road from the Hokianga harbour. It’s not hard to miss with the pair of impressive carved Maori Pouwhenua at the gate. These represent James and Jane Clendon who started building the house in 1862. There is a large parking area right outside the entrance right on then harbours edge.

Lindsay
Lindsay @ Clendon House

We arrived at Clendon house not really knowing what to expect and where met at the entrance by the local custodian Lindsay who asked us to take a seat in the original kitchen so he could explain a little of the history of the place to us.

A little of the history turned out to be 15 or so minutes of fascinating stories relating to both the house and the Clendon’s who lived here. Lindsay has been looking after this house for over 20 years and his passion for the place and the way he tells the story are infectious, dragging you in so that you feel the history of the place.

The story of Clendon house begins with James Clendon and his arrival in New Zealand in 1829 aboard his ship the City of Edinburgh that he had brought with money borrowed from his parents. James spent 20 months sailing in and around Northland getting to know all the harbours and gathering Kauri spars to take back to England as cargo. It was during this time that he began establishing friendships with local Maori.

During the 1830’s Clendon established himself as a leading merchant in the Bay of Islands even becoming the Trade Consul for the USA in 1839 . It was in this capacity that he witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Later that year he sold his substantial property just out of Russell to the new Governor of New Zealand William Hobson for $15000 pounds (a kings ransom in those days) only to stiffed on the deal by the government in New South Wales who were administering New Zealand at the time. He ended up with just a couple of thousand pounds and 10,000 worthless acres in Auckland. Imagine owning that today, but in those days it was the back of beyond wanted by nobody.

It’s rather a sad tale but with the death of Clendon’s first wife at the age of 49 he at the age of 55 married Jane the 18 year old daughter of one of the local Maori chiefs. This as you could imagine caused a real sensation in the local community both for the age difference and the mixed marriage. When he passed away at the age of 72 he left behind 8 children under 16 to his second wife and thousands of pounds of debt with the only asset being the house worth around 300 pounds.

Jane Clendon
Jane Clendon

Lindsay then went on to explain that the story of this house is also really the story of Jane who after being saddled with this debt left the house in the care of her 16 year old son and headed to Auckland to deal with the creditors. Reaching sufficient satisfaction to retain the house she then used the skill learnt from her husband to begin trading in timber, Kauri gum, garden produce in fact anything that would keep the family fed.

With the house remaining in the family right up until they sold it and it’s contents in 1972 to the then Historic Places Trust. So possessions within the house are those of the family and not a hodge podge of odd bits and pieces put together. The dining table is set with a dining set that belonged to the family. The top hat is believed to be the one that James Clendon wore to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

As you wander around the house the sense of history is everywhere but it’s not like a stuffy museum it’s a real house that probably looked like this when the last of the family moved out. I am not going to spoil your potential visit with heaps of photos of all the rooms as I think this is one of those places that all New Zealanders should visit.

Upstairs are the kids bedroom where it was up to three to a bed given the number of children and how small the house actually was. There was also a school room that catered to both the family and children from the local community. I just love the dunces hat!

The original Kauri clothesline
The original Kauri clothesline

Outside the house is the largest clothesline you will ever see made of Kauri it has to be seen to be believed. Although I guess if you have 8 children you need a fairly large one.

All in all the visit to Clendon house was much more than either Sarah or I expected it to be. A truly fascinating glimpse at life in one of the oldest houses in New Zealand. From here we are off to visit the Mungungu Mission followed by Te Waimate Mission with blogs to come from these visits.

Clendon House is open 10am to 4pm Sundays only during winter (May to October) and 10am to 4pm Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months (November to April) with extended hours during school holidays. You can visit the Landmarks Whenua Tohunga and the  Heritage New Zealand website for further information. or you could view the Facebook page for Landmarks Whenua Tohunga or Heritage New Zealand

Clendon house is not the only historic building in Rawene with a number of others including the old courthouse that is now used as the local library. Also in town is one very busy fish and chip shop where we grabbed lunch and then admired the views parked up next to the harbour.

After fish and chips it was time to walk off lunch with a stroll along the Mangrove walk this is a boardwalk that cover just over 1km through the mangrove swamps. Sadly the battery died on the phone just as we started the walk so no photos other than the signboard. There is a really nice looking B&B in the old homestead near the entrance to the walk.

Make the visit here we can well and truly recommend it!

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.


To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here 

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4 thoughts on “Rawene and Clendon House

  1. Thank you for the detailed blogs which are very informative and encouraging to increase the desire to also visit these places.

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