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The Burkes Pass Heritage Trust was established to save and preserve St Patrick’s Church – one of New Zealand’s oldest union churches and a significant historic landmark in the village.

Built in 1871, the church stands as a monument to the strength, resilience, courage, and spirit of the early pioneers who settled the vast Mackenzie Country. St Patrick’s will be restored and preserved by the trust for future generations.

The threatened loss of the church has provided the community with the catalyst to acknowledge the wealth of history within the village. The trust has began work on developing a heritage trail that will meander through Burkes Pass, providing a valuable insight into the village’s rich history which dates from 1855 when Michael John Burke discovered the passageway into the Mackenzie, known by Maori for its plentiful food supply.

The Burkes Pass Heritage Trust is a charitable organisation that needs support to achieve its work and preserve Burkes Pass, which played an important role in shaping the early settlement of New Zealand.


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Burkes Pass is named after Michael John Burke, a graduate of Dublin University, who discovered the passageway leading into the Mackenzie Country in 1855. This was an alternative route to the Mackenzie Pass which the notorious sheep stealer, James Mackenzie, had used to take his sheep into the Otago goldfields.


A dray track was cut through Burkes Pass in 1857-58. Settlers and bullock teams soon found The Long Cutting was the easier of the two passageways to negotiate, becoming the main thoroughfare for travellers in to the Mackenzie, a vast land known by Maori for its plentiful supply of wekas on the plains and eels in the streams and lakes. With travel slow and arduous, the need for a resting place for weary travellers soon became evident.


A 640-acre site, on the west side of the top of The Long Cutting, was set aside in 1859 to establish a central depot for coal, wood, and food supplies. It was a bleak, exposed site, between Sterickers Mound, near Sawdon Creek, and the foot of the spur from Mount Burgess. John Burgess ignored the official township site building the first hotel in 1861 at Cabbage Tree Creek in the valley behind where the remains of the hotel built in 1869 are today.


A town, first known as Cabbage Tree Creek, then Clulee, and finally Burkes Pass, sprang up around the hotel. For more than half a century a colourful cavalcade passed through the town, Burkes Pass becoming the social, business, and sporting centre for the Mackenzie Country pioneers. Its heyday was 1890 to 1910 when there was a population of 143 and a three-teacher school.


However, the promised railway, which was to cement Burkes Pass’s future as the capital of the Mackenzie, never arrived. It stopped at Fairlie in 1883, displacing Burkes Pass as the business centre and ringing out the death knell for the town. The final blow was in 1891 when the Mount Cook Road Board, in a 4-3 vote, decided to relocate to Fairlie. Burkes Pass became the town time forgot