Sitting high on a hill in the Awhitu Peninsula overlooking its dramatic backdrop of farmland, Lake Pokorua and the Tasman sea sits an iconic building dubbed by some as New Zealand’s most photogenic church.
Kohekohe Church was designed in 1886 by Scottish emigrant, Captain Sir John Makgill, the founder of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Waiuku in the 19th century, and a successful mathematician and engineer with many years of experience designing buildings and bridges during his time in the British Royal Engineers. Construction was completed the same year by another local resident, William Douglas, a trained cabinetmaker who lived next door to its leased land owned by his brother and sister in law, Hugh and Jane Douglas.
Constructed to take advantage of its natural setting, the church has a simple traditional style with subtle Gothic influences found in the pitch of the roof and windows. Its interior is almost entirely made of horizontal shiplap Kauri finished with a Kauri gum shellac, although some of its pews are reported to be replacements due to theft of some during the church’s derelict period.
It opened 14th November 1886 and for most of its history served the Franklin community as a Presbyterian church where locals gathered for service, community functions, Sunday School, Bible Study and Temperance Meetings.
However, the church faced declining numbers of attendance in the late 1920’s as the local population began to shift and move away to bigger towns and churches. With the added contribution of two World Wars and petrol rationing throughout the mid-20th century, Kohekohe church was subsequently deconsecrated in 1975.
Although abandoned for the following 35 years, it still attracted plenty of attention even in disrepair and has been the backdrop for many artists and musicians, famously featured in the 2001 romantic Kiwi comedy, The Price of Milk and famous Irish pop band, The Corrs shot their video for their single, ‘What Can I Do’, there in 1997. In 2012 two Auckland teachers bought the church, two days before it was to be auctioned. With plans of restoration, they replaced the church’s fascia and rotting roof, connected it to power, removed rusty nails and re painted at a cost of $30,000–$40,000, bringing it back to its former glory within six months, to the delight of the community.
Since that restoration, the church has been used for small weddings, small picnic events, private services and commemorations.
As of 2017 the church has changed hands and is now back on the market for sale. Although there is no legal or historic caveat stating it cannot be used for a private home the church still stands as a focal point for the community and there is hope that it will remain preserved as it is for years to come.