Omatua Guiding Centre - History

Omatua, at Rissington, inland and north of Napier, has quite a colourful history.
 
The land in the area, then known as Peka-Peka, was settled in the 1840s and 1850s by pioneers. Access from Napier, itself only a primitive settlement, was by boat across the lagoon and inland by bullock cart or horse. Much work was required to turn the natural bush into pasture, build houses to replace tents and sod huts, and manage livestock.
 
Colonel George Whitmore was sent there to protect the settlers, and eventually bought them out. A Captain Anderson obtained what is now Omatua at the end of the land wars, when soldiers were given a tract of land. He built his home in 1861, which survived the 1863 earthquake and was badly shaken again in 1931. The house changed hands several times and became unoccupied until it was purchased in 1907 by Mr Frank Hutchinson.
 
Omatua, which in Maori means "first home" was a homestead filled with the atmosphere of age, historical happenings, and of people who surrounded themselves with beauty. In its heydey the large laid-out grounds were filled with rare shrubs, natural stone paths and a terrace went down to the river. Various additions were built to the homestead over the years. After the death of her brother, Frank Hutchinson, Mrs J.N. Absolum bought the Omatua block and homestead in 1940.
 
Miss Jerome Spencer, who lived with the Hutchinsons, started the first Country Women's Institute at a meeting in the Garden Room in 1921. From 1956 the local Women's Institure met monthly at Omatua, and still does today.
 
Omatua's relationship with Hawke's Bay Guides began in 1953 when a group of Napier Guides used the property for training. From then, it was leased to the guides for a peppercorn rental, with a committee formed for management, including Mrs R. Absolum. In 1961, the Absolum Family generously gifted Omatua and five acres for the use of the Province.
 
The Provisional Commissioner, Mary von Dadelszen was active in the Management of Omatua from the 1960s and had a strong vision for the development of the property. She oversaw the clearing and levelling of the grounds to create a site to host 150 people in the first Provincial Camp in 1964.
 
Omatua became a busy guiding centre with many gatherings, camps , Sunday services, visitors days and other ceremonies taking place.
 
Over time, the existing facilities in the Homestead were updated, however new fire and safety regulations meant the upstairs could no longer be used for sleeping. In 1977, Mrs Eve Riddell (a stalwart Omatua worker) began fundraising for the construction of a new block with activity space, kitchenette, sleeping and storage. Riddell Lodge opened debt-free in November 1979.
 
At this stage, it was declared that the old house could no longer be used, so a two-stage development plan began.
 
Stage one saw the fundraising and construction of Mary von Dadelszen House, with a new kitchen, open plan dining area and living room with an open fire. Every effort was made to retain the original flavour of the old house, whcih sadly had to be demolished. This building was officially opened in December 1982.
 
Stage 2, a dormitory block to sleep 32 with a walkway along the front, was built within the next 18 months and named the Absolum Wing. At the time the building was opened in 1984, Mr & Mrs Absolum marked the occasion by gifting a pair of garden gates on the drive.