The biggest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was in the Hokianga. Liz Light visits the site that will host an alternative Waitangi celebration next month.
Horeke and Mangungu are forgotten-about places quintessential to New Zealand's history. The biggest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place here on February 12, 1840, when 2500 Maori arrived on foot and in waka, from all over the Hokianga, and 70 chiefs signed the Treaty. It was, says Mita Harris, a descendent of some of these chiefs, something that was not done lightly.
Harris and I sit on the veranda of the Mangungu Mission House and watch the Hokianga Harbour change from duck-egg green to tawny brown as clouds block the sun.
"These were times of turmoil, with traders, brigands and missionaries all influencing Maori who felt they were losing their land, power and the life they knew," Harris explains.
"They were spiritual people and were fully aware of the gravity of the situation. Their world was changing fast and it was not easy to see a way forward so they gathered here to talk to the Queen's people, to agree to a treaty that would protect them."
On Saturday, February 12, 171 years after the signing, a celebration will be held here, an alternative to the bigger deal at Waitangi, which many Hokianga people feel is too political and commercial. "There are 10 waka confirmed and more likely to arrive on the day," Harris says. "They will come from all over the area, as their ancestors did, and will join a celebration at the Mission House. It will be a day to honour these rangatira and the decisions they made."
The Mangungu Wesleyan Mission was established in 1827. The Historic Places Trust now owns the Mission House and the church and settlers' cottage nearby.
In the front room a copy of the Treaty sits on the table on which it was signed, although on the day, the table was outside so the crowds could watch. Hobbs acted as an interpreter for Governor William Hobson and Ngapuhi chiefs Tamati Waka Nene and Eruera Maihi Patuone convened the long meeting.
The following day, with the speeches and signing procedures over, the crowd adjourned to Horeke for a feast - Queen Victoria's shout. Horeke is close enough to the mission to be neighbourly, but not so close that the good reverend and family had to be confronted by the town's ungodly goings-on.
The Hokianga Harbour laps at the edge of the lawn of the Horeke Hotel, just as it did in 1832 when this pub started selling liquor. It's the oldest hotel in New Zealand and has seen a lot of liquor, laughter, fights, and fun. Yarns have been told, deals made and sorrows drunk away to the tide's endless ebb and flow.
It's Lion Red territory now but back then tougher men drank harder stuff. Jack Marmon, known as Cannibal Jack, supplied the pub with a gasping fermented brew made from potatoes and kumara.
Marmon arrived in the Hokianga in 1819. As a lad in Sydney he got into strife selling a stolen watch and his sentence was to crew one of Her Majesty's vessels.
The ship was wrecked on the Hokianga bar but Jack survived to became a Pakeha Maori and marry a chief's daughter. Hundreds of his descendants still live in the district.
Other Pakeha began arriving and a shipyard was established (New Zealand's first). The schooner Enterprise was launched in 1827 and a 140-tonne brigantine, New Zealander, was next off the slip. By the late 1830s Horeke was the principal town of Hokianga and the original one-roomed pub sprouted extensions to cater for five working women who served the mostly male shipbuilding and flax-processing settlement and the endless stream of passing sailors.
We leave the Mangungu Mission for Horeke Hotel where a dozen locals are passing time. We have a beer to Pasifika reggae; it's easy listening mixed with the crack of cue hitting ball, balls hitting each other and occasional rumbles as one tumbles down a pocket. There are mutters of "good onya mate" and laughter.
The waka will come here on Waitangi Day after the ceremonies at the mission. The late afternoon and evening will be devoted to remembering the history, people and good times had in this hotel over the years and no doubt a toast or two will be made to Cannibal Jack and his fiery brew.
IF YOU GO
Everyone will be warmly welcomed. The celebrations at Mangungu start at 8am on February 12, last until mid-afternoon and include waka ceremonies, kapa haka performances and prayers. Bring a picnic, drinking water, sun hat and sunscreen. There will be food and craft stalls. Event is alcohol-free.
Where to stay: Night Sky Lodge, Kohukohu. Better than backpackers' and cheaper than a boutique lodge. A delightful place with magnificent views over the Hokianga. Ph (09) 405 5841.