Rangihoua Heritage Park is one of our nation’s most significant heritage sites.
It’s here that Māori and Europeans first learned to live side by side, making Rangihoua a place of many of our nation’s ‘firsts.’ Allow at least a couple of hours to explore this site – you’re going to want them.
The most prominent landmark you’ll see from the welcome shelter is the terraced hill where Rangihoua Pā was once located. In the early 1800s this pā was home to entrepreneurial chief Ruatara. Ruatara had travelled to England and Australia where he learned about European agricultural practices.
Seeing an opportunity to be a major trade centre with Europeans, he invited Reverend Samuel Marsden to establish our country’s first mission station at the base of his pā.
On December 22 1814, three missionary families stepped ashore here to start a new life. But it wasn’t easy. Although they were under Ruatara’s protection, the surrounding area was unsuitable for agriculture and the settlement only lasted for 16 years.
These days the site of the mission station is easily accessed by a 20-minute walk down a well-interpreted track. Although the missionaries’ houses are long gone, it’s still easy to make out the terraces on which they were built. Among them was our first European-style school, where both European and Māori children were educated. The Marsden Cross memorial marks the place where Reverend Marsden held New Zealand’s first Christmas Day sermon. And the lemon trees that can be found in the bush just behind the beach are very likely the oldest in the country – and amazingly they still bear fruit!
Rangihoua Heritage Park is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most treasured heritage sites. It’s proudly cared for by the Marsden Cross Trust Board in partnership with the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai.