On Lambton Quay, opposite Parliament Buildings, stands the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere.
With imposing facades, sweeping staircases, cast iron fireplaces and kauri clad interiors, the Government Buildings is an important part of New Zealand's architectural heritage. Like many colonial buildings of last century, it was built to resemble an Italian stone palace in an attempt to convey strength and stability in the expanding empire.
The imaginative use of kauri, one of New Zealand's premier native timbers, could never be replicated in any present day building because New Zealand's remaining kauri forests are under permanent protection. Kauri is recognised for its strength and resilience, as well as its beauty. When polished, the honey-coloured grain comes alive to radiate a warm, satin-like glow.
In 1990, in a rather run-down state, the Government Buildings ceased its role as the once proud workplace of public servants. Fortunately, the government approved funding for a major restoration project, to be managed by the Department of Conservation, and the official reopening took place in 1996. During the restoration, over 500 cubic metres of recycled kauri was sourced for the old-school craftsmen who painstakingly recreated the building's original splendour.
Today, there is public access to the grounds, which feature gardens containing examples of New Zealand's flora, including many rare species. Inside the Government Buildings, visitors may view historical displays and interpretation rooms on the ground floor, and the Cabinet Room on the first floor. The remainder of the building is leased to the Victoria University School of Law. There is also a Department of Conservation Information Centre, which is open to the public 9am to 4.30pm weekdays and 10am to 3pm Saturdays.