The South Pacific Packard Car Club decided to motor to the Bay and visit The Elms Te Papa Tauranga.
A couple of committee members had visited about 12 months ago and were so impressed with what they saw, they wanted to bring the club down from Auckland and enjoy a tour with Devonshire teas.
“The Elms is open to group visits,” says manager Andrew Gregg, “and this is an example of the kind of groups we like to attract – those who have a passion and an interest in all things heritage.
“Visitors receive a tour around the property with our guides and then the opportunity to have Devonshire teas afterwards. The whole package is really fantastic.”
Andrew is originally from Wellington, and his wife was born and raised in Tauranga.
They were living in Auckland, with Andrew working at the museum there.
“We had a young family and wanted to move closer to the grandparents, so I looked for a job in the arts, culture and heritage sector. I was delighted to see this job come up.”
Andrew worked at the Waitangi Tribunal for seven years and started at The Elms in December 2015.
In late 2016, the name changed to The Elms Te Papa Tauranga.
“Our new name reflects the totality of our history,” says Andrew. “For a long time this site has been known as the Mission House or Mission Station.
“But in actual fact the history is much broader than just the mission period.
“There's centuries of Maori history prior to the arrival of the missionaries, and then following the missionary period, the site became a private family home. We try to represent all of those different periods.”
Some 22 months into the job and Andrew is thrilled with the Devonshire tea parties that Shirley Barr-Smith and Lyndsay Bluck, two of the volunteers, initiated around four years ago.
“Gertrude Maxwell used to put on Devonshire teas to help the family finances,” says Lyndsay, who is keen to continue this tradition.
“In the past we have hosted Devonshire teas on the front lawn and had the doors open with somebody playing the piano from the dining room.”
The original piano is still there. Visitors were able to order afternoon tea by ringing a bell and Gertrude would bring out tea and scones.
Shirley has been a volunteer for 17 years, and Lyndsay became involved in 1997. There are about 45 volunteer guides who take groups on tours through the grounds.
“We have all types of groups,” says Bev Corbett, who has been guiding for five years.
“We have heritage garden tours, school visits and special interest tours like the South Pacific Packard Car Club.”
The tours are run all year round with a focus on the summer cruise ship season. Cruise ship tours are 45 minutes long, with the visitors continuing on to see kiwifruit in Te Puke.
The car club group was split into two, each receiving a one-hour tour ending with Devonshire tea in the Fencible Cottage, which was built in the 1840s and brought down from Auckland in 1872.
“The cottage was built for use by the Royal New Zealand Fencible Regiment during the early colonial period,” says Andrew. “‘Fencibles were retired soldiers sent out to New Zealand as a defence force.
“A lot of them were housed in cottages like this one.”
“Duff Maxwell bought it,” says Bev. “He was going to have a museum in Tauranga which we haven't yet got, and this is part of his collection.”
Nearby, two old houses have been removed from the corner of Chapel Street and Mission Street.
“We're developing a new garden of historical significance there,” says Bev, “designed by garden historian John Adams. It's going to be a garden of serenity. We are just finalising the design.”
Troy Edgecombe and Rosie Burr are the grounds' custodians. Troy points out the flowerbed next to the coach house. “Edith and Alice Maxwell used to grow a lot of violets here,” says Troy. “They'd take them into the market to sell to help with the war effort. Eventually we're going to look at developing a Soldiers' Garden here to acknowledge this part of our history.” The main room in the Fencible cottage is set out with tables and china ready for the members of the car club. Delighted to be able to park their mostly pre-war 1930s and 40s classic cars on the front and back lawns, some donned bonnets before enjoying the tea party. One of the couples own the Packard and Pioneer Museum in Maungatapere near Whangarei.
“A lot of us are interested in history,” says club chairperson Leyton Chan. “Many people have been to Tauranga numerous times and just driven past this. It's great to see one of the most historic places in New Zealand.”