Defining Historic Heritage

Historic heritage are places of significance to people on account of historical, physical (ie, technological, archaeological, architectural) and cultural values. Historic heritage is often referred to as cultural and historic heritage or simply ‘historic places’. Essentially, all historic heritage has the following common elements:

  • Is a geographical ‘place’ which may include a variety of types. For example, structure, monument, house, road, property, site or area.
  • Is associated with heritage values and has heritage significance.
  • Is associated with, or connected to, a person, group or community (the connected people).

In simple terms, a heritage place is a place with a ‘story’ (the heritage values) about the interaction of people with the place. For example, a particular ‘rock’ may have certain geological values – but what makes the rock of historic heritage value will depend on how the rock has been associated with people – it may be of value to tangata whenua or it may be associated with settlement of the district or a particular historical personality.

Historic heritage is defined by the RMA (s2):

Historic heritage:

(a) means those natural and physical resources that contribute to an understanding and appreciation of New Zealand's history and cultures, deriving from any of the following qualities:

  1. archaeological:
  2. architectural:
  3. cultural:
  4. historic:
  5. scientific:
  6. technological; and

(b) includes -

  1. historic sites, structures, places, and areas; and
  2. archaeological sites; and
  3. sites of significance to Māori, including wahi tapu; and
  4. surroundings associated with the natural and physical resources.

Relevant definitions are also provided for in the Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 including:

  • Archaeological site
  • Historic place
  • Historic area
  • Site of interest to Māori
  • Wāhi tapu
  • Wāhi tapu area
  • Wāhi tūpuna


Plans and policy statements developed under the RMA can adopt these definitions to ensure integration between the RMA and the Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.

There can be uncertainty about ‘notable trees’ and whether these trees should be treated as historic or natural heritage. Essentially, the majority of notable trees are significant for amenity-related matters (eg., size and age of tree). These trees should not be recognised as historic heritage. However, some trees do have a ‘story’ – they may commemorate an important event, of significance to tangata whenua, or have an association with an important historical personality. These trees may be included as historic heritage. Further information about trees is available from the NZ Notable Trees Trust and MfE guidance ‘Tree protection in urban environments’.