Trust plans $10m centre for 'forgotten history'

By Peter de Graaf

A private trust is planning a $10million visitors' centre and gathering place near the site of New Zealand's first European settlement.

Reverend Samuel Marsden arrived at Rangihoua, in the northern Bay of Islands, on December 23, 1814, on the brig Active, accompanied by a small group of missionaries, craftsmen and high-ranking chiefs Ruatara, Hongi Hika and Korokoro.

Two days later, Reverend Marsden led New Zealand's first Christian service at Oihi, a small cove in Rangihoua Bay, which is marked today with a stone cross.

In the 1820s, Rangihoua was eclipsed by Kerikeri as the centre of missionary activity and in the 1830s most of the settlers moved to Te Puna, in the next bay. Rangihoua mission finally closed in the 1850s.

With the bicentenary fast approaching, the Marsden Cross Trust Board is planning an ambitious building project near the site of the first settlement.

Chairman John King, a namesake and great-great-grandson of one of those first European settlers, told a recent Far North District Council meeting the trust was developing a heritage centre to share the knowledge that New Zealand as a nation of Maori and Pakeha living together started in 1814, not 1840.

"We want to ensure a forgotten piece of history comes to light," he said.

The trust had acquired 15ha of land between the Marsden Cross historic reserve and Ruatara's pa. Architect Pip Cheshire of Auckland had designed an interpretative centre and a larger building called the Gathering Place, to be built on a ridge near the road overlooking the bay. The trust had decided it could not be a church or a marae, but would be a "significant piece of architecture".

Mr King said the trust was making good progress. It had a resource consent as well as support from hapu, iwi, the Historic Places Trust and the Department of Conservation. He hoped building would start in March.

"We haven't got a lot of time because we want to have it ready in time for the bicentenary. It's been a challenge to bring the parties together and to raise funds in this environment," Mr King said.

Far North Mayor Wayne Brown welcomed the trust's plans.

"We've been waiting 200 years for someone to spend some money out there," he said.

Rangihoua is at the far end of Purerua Peninsula, 40 minutes' drive north of Kerikeri. Marsden Cross is then a 15-minute walk across farmland. A monument nearby is dedicated to Thomas Hansen, New Zealand's first non-missionary European settler.

- Northern Advocate

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