Pompallier Mission.© Nick Thompson

Tohu Whenua: Pompallier Mission and Printery


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Located in a picture-perfect waterfront setting in the Bay of Islands, Pompallier Mission is New Zealand’s only surviving pioneer printery and tannery. 

Built in 1842, it’s also our country’s oldest Roman Catholic building, oldest rammed earth building and oldest industrial building.

Pompallier Mission is an easy five minute walk from the wharf at Russell which was formerly known as Kororāreka. 

These days it’s a charming seaside town but back in the early 19th century Kororāreka was infamous as the ‘hell-hole of the Pacific’ for its drunken and raucous behaviour. It was against this colourful backdrop that a group of French Marist Brothers – led by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier after whom the building is named – arrived to set up a Catholic Mission. 

Pompallier firmly believed that the power of the printed word could be used to help convert Māori to Christianity, and the Brothers promptly got to work translating Latin religious texts into Te Reo Māori, then printing and binding them for distribution. They were incredibly prolific, whipping up 40,000 publications in just eight years.

These days the property is run by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga whose enthusiastic guides provide an incredibly engaging tour, taking you through each step of 19th century printing and book-binding. 

From having a go at setting print to tanning leather hides, the tour is hands-on and great for the whole whānau. Afterwards you can enjoy a picnic or a game of pétanque in the award-winning heritage garden. There’s also a quirky literary-themed gift shop and a delightful French coffee shop with all sorts of delicious pastries and views of the beach.

Pompallier Mission and Printery is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences. The property is proudly cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

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