I wonder how many times I have driven to Kerikeri and beyond along State Highway 10 or north to Kaitaia on State Highway 1 and driven past the signs that point to the Waimate Mission just a few kms up the road. Thinking to myself that one day I must go there but in reality being so focused on my destination that I would probably never have got there had it not been for the media manager at Landmarks Whenua Tohunga who contacted me through my blog asking me to write a series of articles on some of the sites they help promote in Northland.
Landmarks Whenua Tohunga connect a number of historic places on behalf of Heritage New Zealand, DOC, local councils and private owners. They are charged with promoting these mostly lessor known sites to encourage both Kiwi’s and tourists to take the time to come visit. As I have said in the previous blogs the places we are visiting in Northland all have an important part to play in the history of New Zealand but all are tucked away off the main road.
This blog is about making that side trip, off the main road, and getting to visit some of these places. Having already visited Clendon House and the Mangungu Mission both located in the Hokianga. As well as the Rangihoua Heritage Park this visit to Te Waimate was probably also the most accessible of all the places we intended to visit.
First though we had to leave our wonderful stopover for the night at the Wairere Boulders. If you haven’t already done so you really need to read the blog I wrote about this place and our time there. It’s one of the nicest places we have found on our travels around New Zealand and we have certainly stayed in a few places!
The road to the Mission house takes us through Kaikohe which is the half way point if you are riding the new cycle trail from Mangungu to Opua. There are a number of places around here that you could stay with the trusted and well thumbed Travel Directory showing 5 options with a few kms of the town. As however we where meeting a friend in Kerikeri we chose not to stay anywhere here.
Arriving from the west the first thing you notice is the historic church sitting on the small hill. There are a number of old churches in the Hokianga some of which have fallen to wrack and ruin. This one however is much more imposing and well preserved. More about the church a bit later.
The day we arrived there was plenty of parking in the huge driveway with only a couple of other people there. The first thing to notice where the magnolia trees in bloom with a riot of pink flowers really very pretty.
Straight ahead at the end of the drive is the old Sunday school house that dates to around the late 19th century. It has been through a number of uses during the time the site has been occupied and is not currently open to the public.
This site was the first inland settlement established in the Bay of Islands and was established to teach the local Maori people European farming practices as well as forming the fourth mission station in New Zealand. With all of the missioners coming from England the place was developed along the lines of a small English village with a church, school, mill, blacksmith and houses. Today the place still retains that English feel especially as you walk through the gardens towards the mission house.
Talking about gardens a lot of people probably wouldn’t be aware that the famous botanist Charles Darwin spent some time here compiling his notes as part of the ground breaking voyage around the world on the Beagle.
We were met at Te Waimate by Alex Bell who was busy repairing one of the old farm gates. A man of many talents Alex is actually the man in charge here and also has the oversite of the two missions in the Hokianga. Unlike the two Hokianga sites this place is open Saturday to Monday during winter and Friday to Tuesday during summer so it wouldn’t take so much planning to get there on a day that it’s open.
As you can see from the smile on his face Alex loves his job and that enthusiasm rubs off when he starts telling you about the mission and it’s history. A really informative guide.
Walking through the second oldest standing house in New Zealand history abounds and it was here on the 9th February 1840 that the second signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place although this was a fairly small signing compared to the 70 chiefs who signed at the Mangungu Mission it nevertheless was important in cementing the relationship between the church and local Maori.
Alex told us that the main living area was used as a school room and there are places in the room where the soft kauri paneling has been indented by people writing on top of it. There is also a glass covering over an area that shows ancient “graffiti” from one of the pupils. I tried to photo this but the light just wasn’t right. It is however a really interesting thing to see. Also proving that graffiti has been around for a lot longer than you might think.
Contained within the house and in various different rooms are leftovers from the days when it was a working farm with the lathe and various tools on free display. Although if you are tempted to “borrow” something there are security cameras in abundance. Wondering what the nail bed was I asked Alex who told me that it was used for separating the flax fibers that could then be turned into rope and with the abundance of flax in the area it would have had a lot of use.
Taking the chance to wander what was once the working farm it was interesting to read the information board about just how hard life was here and that eventually the missioners gave up both on the mission and the working farm. Today there was a small flock of Pitt Island Sheep a rare breed of black sheep that they are breeding here. As it was lambing season when we visited we didn’t want to get to close with one pair of lambs born the prior night.
In the background of the sheep photo you can see what was the first Oak tree planted in New Zealand and shortly after we left Te Waimate I read that the tree had died and fallen over. They have however saved cuttings from the tree and hope to plant one of these in it’s place soon.
During the mid 1840’s the house was used as the command post for the British Army during the land wars with a number of soldiers stationed here camping in the grounds. Just inside the entrance way into the church are two of the wooden gravestones that mark the passing of some of the soldiers during the battles, although one was accidentally shot by his own side, rather sad really.
The church and it’s grounds are a must for a wander around whilst you are here and although this is the 3rd church that has been erected on this site it’s still has a very historic feel to it. The cemetery is still in use by the locals today with a few fresh graves evident.
All in all I am disappointed with myself that it’s taken me so long to come and visit here and when I consider that in the late 1970’s I lived not to far from here there really is no excuse. So I write this blog to absolve my sins and suggest that you come and visit yourselves it’s a really interesting place.
That night I wanted to stay somewhere that had good quality cellphone signal so I could upload some photos and continue writing a blog I was working on. Since we had one more place to visit south of Kawakawa I said to Sarah that we should spend the night at the Whangaruru Beachfront Campground. This campground is directly across the water from my favourite DOC Camp, Puriri Bay.
On the day we visited the camp managers were still concerned about how dry the grounds where and given the size of our van they wanted us to park on the driveway, this created the rather embarrassing situation that in an empty campground we had to park right next to someone else. They however were really good about it and we still had 3 metres between us.
At $30 for the night with power using the NZMCA discount it was great value for such a great view right on the water. Unlike Puriri Bay across the water which has great signal however the cell tower here is hidden by the hills so there is almost no signal, there is thankfully free WIFI so I was able to get my work completed.
The following morning we wandered along the beach which also serves as a road when the tide is a little lower to the settlement of Ohawini. It’s here that when we have stayed on the other side that we have watched the car headlights at night working there way along the coastline or watched the fabulous sunset in the hills behind. Put this place on your must visit list.
From here it’s onto our final destination on the tour the Ruapekapeka Pa one of the largest and best preserved Maori Pa sites in New Zealand.
To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.
To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here