A new heritage park commemorating the first chapter in New Zealand's history as a nation of Maori and Pakeha was officially opened in the Bay of Islands on Sunday.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae performed the honours at Rangihoua Heritage Park, 200 years almost to the day since the arrival of Rev Samuel Marsden and his missionaries, under the protection of Chief Ruatara.

The park is centred around Rangihoua Bay, on the Purerua Peninsula, about 40km north-east of Kerikeri. Rangihoua Mission Station was New Zealand's first planned European settlement, predating Kerikeri by five years and Paihia by nine.

The new park is unusual in that it brings together land owned or managed by three different bodies - the Department of Conservation (16ha), Ngati Torehina's Rangihoua Native Reserve Board (8ha around Ruatara's pa), and the Marsden Cross Trust Board (20ha). The trust board is made up of descendants of the first European settlers plus Anglican Church representatives.


DOC ranger Andrew Blanshard said the new park, and the partnership between the three groups, meant the public would now have a cohesive view of the site of a key chapter in New Zealand history. It also meant the Crown and the descendants of chiefs Ruatara and Te Pahi, and the first European settlers, all had a say in how the park was run.

"There are not many places in the world where an indigenous group, a European settler group and the government can all sit around the table and work harmoniously together.

"Throw in the church as well, and it's one of those wonderful feel-good projects," Mr Blanshard said."

Rangihoua had been a "foot in the door" that paved the way for later European settlements, and ultimately the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also the place where te reo was first written, he added.

A new heritage trail leads visitors from Rore Kahu (Soaring Hawk), an entranceway made from rammed earth and carbon fibre, to Marsden Cross, the site of New Zealand's first recorded Christian service, via a series of panels telling the stories of the settlement and its key players.

Mr Blanshard said there was previously nothing at the site to tell visitors about its importance, or that it used to be a bustling settlement complete with school, brick works and "ropewalk" for making rope. Three large panels show how Rangihoua looked in 1814, the mid-1820s and 1830s.

The opening began with a powhiri followed by a formal ceremony, after which everyone was welcome to explore, picnic, and learn about their history.

Choirs sang and the tall ships R Tucker Thompson and Breeze sat at anchor in the bay to add atmosphere.

Rangihoua can also be accessed by boat. Go to www.rangihouaheritage.co.nz for more information.

Meanwhile an Anglican-led service at Rangihoua on Christmas Day will commemorate the 200th anniversary of New Zealand's first recorded Christian service.