A gracious homestead believed to be the second two-storey property ever to have been built in Taupo and now the only early 20th century one still standing on its original site, is for sale.
The current owner of Hilltop in Ngamotu Road, Taupo, hopes that a family or an empathetic boutique hotel operator will be just as captivated by the property and its history as she has been.
Hilltop has been home to Valerie Penlington since 1995 when, having holidayed in Taupo for many years from a Hong-Kong base where her late husband was a Court of Appeal judge, they purchased this property with its stunning lake and mountain vistas.
“The first time we visited the property, it was a wedding and function venue and I could see that it would have originally been a lovely home with its high ceilings, beautifully proportioned rooms and wonderful grounds,” says Mrs Penlington.
“Plus the history is intriguing with the home originally built for Edith Milburn, widow of one of the directors of the Cunard Steamship Company.”
Cunard gave free passage to English woman Edith Milburn to travel wherever her heart desired after the death of her husband in the early 1920s, and she chose Taupo. As an asthma sufferer and a keen fly fisher, Taupo’s clean air and abundant waters appealed, so Mrs Milburn decided to build a house where she could spend several months of each year.
“To find the perfect spot for her home, she flew over Taupo in a bi-plane and discovered this land,” says Mrs Penlington, who has enjoyed delving into the history of her home.
“She then had some Maori guides clear a track through the bush to the top of the hill so she could get an idea of the view and later employed a Napier builder – Henry Holder – to construct a home on the-then 50 acre site.”
Entrusting the project to Mr Holder, Mrs Milburn returned to England and came back to New Zealand two years later to a completed residence. Reputed to be rather wealthy and quite austere, Mrs Milburn would be seen being chauffeur-driven around Taupo in her Rolls Royce. She was in Taupo when World War II broke out and unable to return to England, while ill health later prevented her returning there after the war. Edith Milburn died in 1951 and is buried in Taupo cemetery.
The property was then bought by Jack Edlin who, in 1953, opened Hilltop as a five-star private hotel with the property later divided and becoming a private house again until 1968 when Jack and Joy Morris purchased the house, cottage and one acre of land turning it back into a hotel called Colonial Inn. In the 1980s, the property was owned by Mr and Mrs Cryer who, at great cost, restored the home and later sold it to Judge and Mrs Penlington in 1993.
The home is reflective of a bygone era with impressive timber panelling throughout, formal living and dining rooms with French doors leading to an expansive lawn, a snooker/billiard room lined with old photographs of the home and early Taupo, four spacious bedrooms, impressive bathrooms, a separate cottage, and a tennis court with views towards Mount Tauhara – all on a 3515sq m landscaped site.
Hilltop is being marketed by Maureen Bayley of Bayleys Taupo who says the property would be ideally suited as an upmarket boutique hotel or a function venue (subject to the usual Council Resource Consent process) with the self-contained separate cottage on site perfect for a manager’s residence or as staff accommodation.
“In that way, more people would get the opportunity to enjoy the grounds at Hilltop and gain a different perspective of the lake from this elevated position,” says Mrs Bayley.
“The property would also be attractive to an off-shore buyer who will recognise the inherent value that an elegant home in a prime position such as this holds. Certainly from a global perspective, properties like this in a key year-round recreational area like Taupo are very special – especially when overseas buyers see what sort of property their British pound or US dollars can buy.”
Whilst the home does not have a New Zealand Historic Places Trust heritage rating because of modifications made to the house over the years, three trees on the property are protected under the Taupo District Council’s District Plan. These are a magnificent copper beech along with two cypresses featured in original photographs of the property and which are landmarks when looking towards Hilltop from the lake.
“An elderly Taupo gentleman once told me that as a child he’d be taken fishing on the lake and if they returned in darkness, the lights from the homestead would guide them home if Mrs Milburn was in residence while during the day, they would set their course by the two cypress trees on the hill,” says Mrs Penlington.
Mrs Penlington will not be moving far away once Hilltop has sold. She has built an eco-friendly home just next door on land which was once the old homestead’s orchard.
“As much as I love Hilltop, it is far too big for me to rattle around in alone.”
Expressions of Interest on Hilltop close with Bayleys Taupo on 12 February.