Kororareka, now known as Russell in the Bay of Islands, was once known as the "hellhole of the Pacific".

By the mid-1800s an influx of whalers, sailors and traders and a gaggle of grog shops turned what was originally a Maori settlement into a town known more for its madams and mariners than for being the first permanent settlement and seaport in New Zealand.

What started as an event during the Rugby World Cup in 2011 has now become an established annual part of the Bay of Islands' calendar.

On Anniversary Weekend, later in January, actors from Russell and Kerikeri Theatre Company will bring those unruly times back to the streets of Kororareka.

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Director Cris Aronson said the Hell-Hole Street Theatre version is a parody of the town's most infamous years.

"It's based on history, but we take a few artistic liberties and have a great deal of fun.

''The entire concept of street theatre is entertainment and audience interaction."

There are three performances daily starting at 10.30am on Saturday and Sunday, January 27 and 28.

The event is backed by the Russell Business Association as a drawcard for the township.