Tea time . . . Ready to deliver the ultimate country hospitality at Totara Estate are (from left) Annie Baxter, Kuna Chow, and property lead Keren Mackay. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Totara Estate wants to make stronger connections with Oamaru’s people and history.

Property lead Keren Mackay hoped the estate would become more associated with Oamaru’s Victorian precinct this year, because it often felt left out of the equation.

As a solution to this, last year it introduced tea-time specials and learned lectures as a way to link locals to the historic site.

Head of kitchen Annie Baxter said the lectures were a great way for people to engage with local history.

“There are many learned people in Oamaru that sit under the radar and don’t have a chance to express their knowledge,” Ms Baxter said.

After running Annie’s Victorian Tea rooms, she brought her love for “living history” to the estate, where she led the high tea experience.

During tea times, Victorian maids wheel around a cake trolley.

“It’s not quite a cafe, and not quite a museum – it’s a heritage experience,” Mackay said.

“It’s never just plonking tea on the table.”

Ms Baxter used fruit and vegetables grown at the estate’s heritage-style garden, and guests dined where the original estate workers would have eaten.

Like many institutions around New Zealand, the estate had enjoyed the increase in domestic tourism due to border closures.

Ms Baxter particularly valued the connection New Zealanders could make to the site, reminiscing about things they may have learned in school.

The whole experience was about keeping local history alive, and celebrating what made a community special.

“We don’t have to recreate our buildings. We just bring them to life,” Ms Baxter said.

On Valentine’s day, rose expert Alison Ludemann would discuss the history of heritage roses in North Otago, the perfect primer for the tea time of the same theme.

As a Heritage New Zealand site, on Waitangi day the estate would offer free entry to Clarks Mill, a historic four-storey granary with fully operating refurbished machinery.

To commemorate the national day, there would be a display of the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand flags, Mrs Mackay said.

The lectures and corresponding tea times would continue until the end of May, when the estate would close for the three months of winter.