A little Bay of Islands history
The Bay of Islands is considered the birthplace of modern New Zealand, and the history of Kerikeri, Waitangi and Russell reveal stories of European encounters with the Maori people.
Events here and around the Bay shaped the famous Waitangi Treaty, and early European engagement with Maori. We suggest starting with the Waitangi Treaty Grounds & museum, followed by a visit the many heritage sites and buildings throughout the Bay of Islands area.
Rangihoua Heritage Park
About half an hour’s drive north-east from Kerikeri is the site of Rangihoua Pa, and the Marsden Cross memorial This is where the first settlement of Europeans was established in 1814 in a unique partnership with the local Māori people.
The cross itself commemorates the first Christmas service held on the shoreline.
At first there appears to be very little evidence of the settlement, but a well marked trail and excellent signage soon leads you through the park and a gimpse of history. The park was esgtablsihed in 2014 to mark 200 years.
Note that the hillside is quite steep so wear good shoes for exploring!
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds & Museum
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are one of the most significant sites in New Zealand. Located with a commanding view over the Bay and across to Russell, ‘Treaty House’ was the home of New Zealand’s official ‘gentleman in residence’ James Busby, and was built with its strategic location in mind.
The impressive Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi opened in 2016, and reveals the early interactions between Dutch, French and British and Maori, culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; New Zealand’s founding document in February 1840.
The interactive exhibitions include the treaty itself, and many Taonga (sacred treasures) and is worthy of at least a 3+ hour visit. Entry includes an excellent guided tour of the grounds and cultural performance in the magnificent Whare Nui – the carved meeting house.
The recently added Te Rau Aroha museum tells the story of the commitment of the famous 28th Māori Battalion during the first and second world wars. It is not usual for visitors to dedicate an entire day to exploring the treaty grounds.
Kororipo Heritage Park, Kerikeri
The Church Missionery Society’s settlement at Rangihoua found the land unforgiving for cultivating crops, and was abandoned in favour of the rich fertile soils found a short distance to the south on Kerikeri River. The Mission House was established in 1819, and later the Stone Store was built as a grain store in 1832, while the local Māoris lead by famous leader Hongi Hika observed with curiosity from the other side of the basin. The entire area is now known as the Kororipo Heritage Park and a must see for visitors.
Guided tours depart from the Stone Store and you are also free to explore the area. Across the basin you’ll also find Te Ahurea which recreates the Māori fishing village that stood here, allowing you to reflect from a different perspective.
Kororipo Hertiage park is also the starting place for walking trails to four of Kerikeri’s five waterfalls.
No visit to the Bay of Islands would be complete without a stroll through the streets of ‘Romantic Russell‘. Now a charming waterfront village, in its past it was known as ‘the hell-hole of the Pacific’, full of bawdy and unruly sailors, escaped convicts, prostitutes and traders from across the Pacific region.
Chief Hōne Heke famously cut down the British flag raised on the hill here, in protest of the behaviour of the town’s people, the way Maori were being treated and the Treaty of Waitangi increasingly ignored. There were many attempts to burn the town down, and as a result very few of the original buildings remain, Pompallier Mission being a notable exception
Te tiriti o Waitangi and beyond
Surrounding the Bay of Islands are many day trips to unique experiences that aren’t on the radar of many tradition touring itineraries.
- To complete your ‘Waitangi Treaty’ journey, visit the Te Waimate and Horeke Missions, the latter being the site of the largest gathering of Maori chiefs to sign the treaty, and sitting serenely at the edges of the Hokianga harbour.
- The engagement at Ruapekapeka Pa (bat’s nest) so frustrated the British, that they constructed a model of the pa to present to parliament in London. It was considered to be the forerunner to ‘trench’ warfare in future European wars.