In 1945 Harold Kidson, Rector of Otago Boys High School, asked Dunedin architects to get to work on plans for a Cottage to be built from river stones. With retirement in mind he had chosen a large block of land at Bremner Bay which had panoramic views of the lake and mountains. On his regular treks around the Wanaka region Harold hand picked boulders for their shape, colour and texture until he had amassed a pile big enough to begin building. The specialised task of construction fell to stonemason and builder, George Burgess, an Orkney Islander who lived in Wanaka through the years of the Second World War. He worked on several other character cottages in the district and time has only added to the beauty of his work. The quaint look of Clee Cottage is enhanced by white painted metal frame windows, a stone porch and old imported roof tiles. Somehow it seems fitting that nestled in a corner of the grounds is an old dynamiter’s hut from the Haast Pass. (Nowadays the hut is put to good use as a toolshed.)
Harold Kidson named the Cottage after Clee Hills in Shropshire, England, where his family lived before moving to New Zealand in the 1880s. Clee Cottage would become his family’s home for fifty-five years.
Careful planting of the grounds was undertaken by Harold and his wife, Laurie who shared a passion for nature. Their vision was for the planting to follow the natural contours of the land. Magnificent tree specimens were chosen for their autumn colour. Flowers were allowed to seed so that new plants would spring up where they fell. Today the original concept remains – simple and natural.
Harold Kidson was also a keen vegetable gardener, a fisherman and a budding writer. He once wrote “Wanaka is a place where nature still overshadows us humans. The gaunt hills and rock-strewn valleys seem not yet ready for us. We come to realize that we are permitted guests.”
He was recognized for his efforts to beautify Wanaka and his name was proposed for what would eventually become Pembroke Park near the town centre.
In time the Kidson’s daughter, Hilary Taylor, was to inherit Clee Cottage. She, in turn, passed it on to her four children.
It was in 2001 that the cottage left the family. We, Shona and James Willis, were fortunate enough to buy it and since then have undertaken various renovations. We wanted to make it bigger and to bring it up to modern standards of warmth and comfort, but without detracting from its original charm.
Something we are really happy about is that the Kidsons’ grand daughter-in-law still tends the grounds.