Robert & Lorraine Smith
Okuku Country Estate, formerly known as Rakahuri Homestead was originally part of a 3000 acre farm, willed to J.D.Milton in 1889 and had previously been part of a much larger run which included Birch Hill Station of the Ford-Milton Estate.
Milton's inherited portion situated between Loburn and Oxford included the flats near the Ashley River and looked out to Mount Thomas. It was here that Milton decided to build the original Rakahuri Homestead for his large sheep and cattle farm. The name Rakahuri was taken from the Maori name for the Ashley River which bordered the property.
The property was sold to Hugh Ensor in 1903, but unfortunately for the Ensor family the original homestead burnt down in 1917. Inspiration for their new home came from a family holiday in Europe and America and upon their return to New Zealand, Mrs Kathy Ensor provided Christchurch architects Guthrie Brothers with an entire floor plan and details for the facade.
The new homestead was completed in 1920 in an Italian Renaissance style, which was popular in the United States between 1890 and 1935. This greatly admired new building featured two stories, grand sweeping verandahs supported by large wooden columns, a Welsh slate roof and full length arched French doors on the lower storey. It presented an interesting blend of a Southern mansion and European villa.
The Ensors had 6 children and are reputed to have led an elegant and privileged lifestyle, hosting many hunts and parties with the assistance of Chinese servants.
This era of the homestead's history ended abruptly when it was sold to Thomas Pearce in 1946. Pearce a bachelor, treated the homestead very much like a farm building. He stored hay in the billiard room, heaped coal on the floor of the dining room and hung sheepskins in the entrance hall. According to local legend he was an enthusiastic patron of the Oxford Hotel and was often loaded into his cart at closing time, leaving his horse to find its own way home.
There were two subsequent owners to Tom Pearce, the Harris' and the Gallaghers who did much to restore the homestead, but had not been able to bring it back fully to its former glory until Michael and Jenny Malthus purchased it in 1985 and began the immense task of total refurbishment opening Okuku Lodge in 1990.
The former owners, Ian and Debbie Riach, purchased the property in 1993 and continued to maintain and redecorate the homestead as well as restoring the 30 acres of grounds and gardens surrounding the house.
The new owners, Lorraine and Robert Smith, originally from Christchurch, have returned to New Zealand after 20 years of living overseas working in Education and Pharmacy respectively.
"It is with great excitement that we take up the mantle of responsibility of caring for this grand country estate and sharing its beauty and heritage with our guests".