The main home of New Zealand’s Head of State, the Governor-General, Government House is one of the most important buildings in the country. It’s where new prime ministers are sworn in, visiting heads of state, ambassadors, and other dignitaries are received, and many public events are held. It is easily accessible, with regular two hour free tours run, though the weekend ones book up fast.
Dating from 1910, the current building in the suburb of Newtown, is the third government house after the first in Auckland (which was the capital between 1841 and 1865), and second in Wellington (which was commandeered by Parliament after the Parliament Buildings burnt down in 1907). It was designed by the Government architect of the day in the style of a large English country house, and took two and a half years to build. It fell into disrepair but a three year $44m programme 2008-11 restored and improved upon the original with the best of New Zealand represented in the furnishings, fittings and artwork inside.
The interior is more impressive than the extorior, and far larger than expected, at about 4,200sqm, it’s the size of 38 normal houses. The largest room is the Ballroom where two rather uncomfortable looking thrones sit at one end, elaborate chandeliers hang overhead, and a large portrait of King George V is on the wall.
More homely is the Blundell Room, which includes a beautiful folding screen by Peter McIntyre.
Next door is the Bledisloe Conservatory, which was a glasshouse nursery until the 1960s.
Governor-Generals are the representative of the British monarch in New Zealand, and serve for five years. It wasn’t until 1967 (15 years after the Canadians) that a local became Governor-General, but since then there have been three women, two Maori, and one of Fijian / Indian ancestry.
Six months after Governor-Generals leave office they have their coat of arms designed, carved, and displayed by the main entrance.
Bilateral meetings with visiting Heads of State are held in the Liverpool Room. As with all bilateral meetings the host (the Governor-General) always sits to the left of the guest, for reasons made clear when they shake hands as the host extends their hand, while the guest has to cross their body.
The lengthy main hallway is lined with portraits of previous Governor-Generals, and has a cosy meeting space underneath the main staircase.
The Norrie State Dining Room can seat up to 26 people, surrounded by paintings of British monarchs, and unexpectedly one of Oliver Cromwell (which unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of, so here’s Henry VIII instead).
To end with the gardens, which cover much of the 12 hectare site. Originally it was planted with 30% natives and 70% non-native species, but the ratio has now been reversed. The walls are from a mental asylum that occupied the site before Government House.