From the outside you'd never guess the rich history and story behind Ōtaki's Rangiātea Church. It took 1000 men to build it 170 years ago, and that was just the first time around. Kāpiti News reporter Rosalie Willis goes inside a local icon.

Situated on the aptly named Te Rauparaha St, in Ōtaki, the oldest settlement in Kāpiti, Rangiātea Church is steeped in rich Māori and European history.

It was the celebrated Ngāti Toarangatira chief Te Rauparaha who commissioned the building of the church alongside firm friend and English missionary Octavius Hadfield.

The church was finished with help from Samuel Williams.

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First built in the 1840s, and the oldest Māori church in the country, the outside of the building resembles a normal Anglican church devoid of many embellishments, but the inside shows its true Māori heritage, resembling a traditional wharenui.

Boasting magnificent Māori carvings complete with ornate kowhaiwhai patterns on the rafters and tukutuku patterns on the walls, the design of the church building is unique in that its architecture incorporates and represents a unique blend of Māori and English church designs.

Ōtaki's Rangiātea Church

The original construction was delayed several times because of a breakdown in communication between the pair. Land battles elsewhere in the country were also a distraction for Te Rauparaha, and Hadfield was ill.

The inside of the church shows its Māori heritage. Photos / Rosalie Willis
The inside of the church shows its Māori heritage. Photos / Rosalie Willis

A huge labour force was used to build the church; it was estimated more than 1000 men were employed during the construction process.

The first service at Rangiātea was held in 1849 to celebrate Hadfield's return to Ōtaki after his illness forced him to convalesce in Wellington.

Unfortunately, the church was not completed until 1851, meaning Te Rauparaha was unable to see it to completion as he died in late 1849.

While not a member of the church, the Otaki Historical Journal states "Te Rauparaha was much more than a builder of Rangiātea".

"He was also the patron whose energy influenced others."

Carved and woven patterns can be seen. Photos / Rosalie Willis
Carved and woven patterns can be seen. Photos / Rosalie Willis

While he sometimes accompanied Hadfield to church, he never professed a belief in Christianity despite sitting through whole services.

The building stood for 146 years until 1995 when a fire destroyed it in an unprecedented act of vandalism in the early hours of the morning on Saturday, October 7.

The fire came after restoration work had just been completed on the building.

Rangiātea vestry committee member at the time John Moffatt said seven years' labour of his forebears had "all been undone in a night".

The church was quickly rebuilt using traditional methods and materials. Both the interior and exterior were true to the original design.

The rebuild was completed in 2003 and the church building is still an icon of Kāpiti and represents an important part of New Zealand history.