The place where New Zealand began as a nation of Maori and Pakeha 200 years ago today has finally been put on the map with the opening of the Rangihoua Heritage Park in the Bay of Islands.

Sunday's opening by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae marked the arrival on December 22, 1814 of the brig Active with the Rev Samuel Marsden and his missionaries at Rangihoua Bay.

Under the protection of chiefs Ruatara and Te Pahi they established New Zealand's first European settlement, paving the way for later mission stations at Kerikeri and Paihia and the Treaty of Waitangi 26 years later.

Up to 1000 people made the trek to the isolated Purerua Peninsula, about 35km northeast of Kerikeri, for the opening. As well as the Governor-General, a bevy of government ministers and Anglican Church hierarchy, the crowd included descendants of Chief Ruatara and the King and Hansen families who arrived on the Active. Also present was the Rev Samuel Marsden, the namesake and great-great-great-grandson of the pioneering missionary, who had travelled from the UK.

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After a powhiri, more than two hours of speeches and a service, Sir Jerry opened Rore Kahu (Soaring Eagle), a rammed earth and carbon-fibre building marking the start of a pilgrim's way from the roadside to the bay where Rev Marsden first landed and, a few days later on Christmas Day 1814, led New Zealand's first recorded Christian service.

Despite dire forecasts the weather was glorious, encouraging guests to linger for picnics and walk to the bay for kapa haka and music performances. The new park is a three-way partnership bringing together land owned by the Department of Conservation, Ngati Torehina's Rangihoua Pa Native Reserve Board, and the Marsden Cross Trust Board. A heritage trail tells the story of the site and its main players; three painted panels depict the settlement in three phases of its brief but influential history.