Old Forest School

The Most Loved Place


In the tranquil haven of Old Forest School, nature sits comfortably along sophistication. This exceptional destination transcends the ordinary, pushing boundaries in creativity, curation, and service, a subtle tapestry engages the senses and encourages contemplation. It stands not merely as a physical space but as an enclave of aspiration. 

A McMahon Family Odyssey

Over a 15-year journey, the McMahon family, led by Su-an and Alistair, has transformed a modest former country school into an iconic and famous destination. Their narrative, woven with threads of imagination and dedication to nature, integrity, and familial bonds, unfolds across two generations. In the heart of it all—where camaraderie intertwines with celebrations of love, a respite from urban clamour, and a communion with nature—exists a space that defies mere description. This place is unequivocally a family affair, shaped by the inventive spirit, individuality, and fervour of the McMahons. A dynamic crucible of vitality and innovation, it stands as a testament to a collective commitment to heritage conservation and the art of positive living.

The Unanticipated Rise of Old Forest School

In the early 2000s, the intrepid McMahons, Su-an, Alistair, Holly, and Rose, acquired a dilapidated school, never fathoming the joyous and extraordinary journey it would set them upon. Leaving behind their suburban lives in Auckland they moved to the Bay of Plenty. Unwittingly embarking on a trajectory that would transform it into a celebrated heritage property and a distinguished events venue, they faced initial skepticism from family and friends, who questioned the sanity of their endeavour. Phrases like “foolhardy,” “reckless,” and “barking mad” echoed in the air. Undertaking the meticulous restoration of buildings and grounds, they crafted, restored, and created, always embracing the unexpected. Skipping the arduous journey filled with sweat, tears, and laughter, fast-forwarding reveals a meticulously revitalised property. Su-an and Alistair, informed by their global travels, have woven a narrative of heritage and whimsical garden aesthetics into the fabric of Old Forest School. It has evolved into a destination, an embodiment of their values, historical appreciation, and personal collections. 

As Holly establishes herself in Wellington, having earned a double Science Degree from Victoria University and immersed herself in healthcare, Rose has found her niche in the Film and Broadcasting industry in London.

The Other Residents of Old Forest School

Adding a touch of charm to this idyllic setting are the residents of Old Forest School, a captivating ensemble of furry and precocious friends. Porto and Bello, sibling cats, share the grounds with Teddy and Tim, the miniature donkeys, and Barley, the amiable Golden Retriever.

So, settle in, just like the McMahons did in 2007, you are about to go on a journey as you discover a uniquely special gathering place. Old Forest School had humble origins as a country school in 1933, survived many years shuttered and forgotten, but is now gently restored to have a new life. From the elegant white backdrop of the original schoolhouse to the whimsy and charm of the 1943 built tennis court to the iconic heritage buildings, Old Forest School feels like a wee village waiting to be explored, where the most unforgettable and joyful memories are about to be made. A living testament to the McMahons’ journey, it stands as a harmonious blend of nature, history, and familial devotion, a narrative that unfolds with grace and elegance amid the serene landscape.

Old Forest School Ethos

Be Present

We’re a collective of kindred spirits united by a lifelong love for gardening, authentic connections, and the simple beauty that life offers. Our shared passion extends to fostering a space that not only inspires but also celebrates and shares an abundance of knowledge, boundless creativity, and unwavering dedication.


Old Forest School is proudly local, woven into the fabric of the surrounding community. Our team isn’t just staff; they are an extended family, we ardently support local businesses, we have strong ties with our neighbours and deep lasting connections with our visitors. We take pride in supporting charities and initiatives, both in our local sphere and beyond. We believe in doing our bit for the community, Old Forest School is a proud supporter of The Rotoehu Ecological Trust. A community based organisation to protect the endangered Kokako and other native birds in the Rotoehu Forest.


At Old Forest School, we’re champions of the slow living philosophy. Our commitment to minimal environmental impact guides every decision we make, from conscientious waste reduction to thoughtful recycling practices to repurposing items around the property. Each step is a deliberate stride toward a sustainable future.

A very brief timeline of Old Forest School

1933 Pioneer tobacco farmers requests Department of Education to build a school in the valley
1933 Department of Education takes steps to erect a temporary school
1933 Temporary school building used with a role of 24
1933 School building completed – Pongakawa Valley School
1934 First School Committee meeting
1936 First Arbor Day celebrated and Headmasters cottage built
1937 NZ Forest Service plants 24,000 acres in Pines surrounding school
1939 Government abandons tobacco farming scheme
1941 School Building extended
1943 Pool and tennis court build – cost 90 pounds
1947 School temporarily closed with a Polio epidemic
1952 Electricity installed at school
1958 Cartwheel merry-go-round, old motorbike & car installed in playground
1958 Telephones installed
1960 Football posts erected
1962 New toilet block and storeroom addition
1962 Garage at Headmasters cottage built
1963 School trip to Tauranga Domain to see Queen Elizabeth II\
1963 Extra classroom built
1964 Rural mail deliveries start at school
1977 School library open to public
1979 Pool resurfaced with fibreglass shell
1983 50th Jubilee celebration
1986 School closed and sold by tender
2007 School purchased by McMahon family
2013 Opens as a venue