One of the Far North's (and Northland's) most committed heritage supporters, who has made a bit of history herself over the years, has retired from Heritage Northland Inc.

Heather Ayrton QSM, a longtime resident of Kaikohe but now living in Kerikeri, served as a committee member of Heritage Northland Inc since it was created in 2015, and before that as a member of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Northland Branch Committee since 1984.

Involved with a number of community initiatives over the years, she was instrumental in the creation of the Hōne Heke Memorial Park in 1993, these days a green space in Kaikohe, which was once disused and overgrown with gorse.

"I'm quite proud of the project, and the way in which Māori and Pākehā volunteers worked together to make it happen," she said.


"People serving their periodic detention often worked in the park, and they also felt a strong sense of pride in the work that they did there. On one occasion we even organised one of the judges to visit the boys on-site."

Helping to establish Begonia House at the Pioneer Village Kaikohe, one of the best collections of begonias in the North Island, which attracts visitors from all over the world, was another highlight. While she chaired the board of trustees that managed the house it was renamed the Lindsay and Mary Johnson Begonia House, in recognition of the work the couple undertook to develop it, including securing funding for a temperature-controlled greenhouse.

And if facilitating the development of two significant amenities in Kaikohe wasn't enough, Mrs Ayrton filled whatever hours in the day that remained with supporting ventures like the Kaikohe Pioneer Village, working as a coroner for 27 years, chairing the first Northland Conservation Board and the Northland District Health Board's Ethics Committee.

For many years she was also the Northland correspondent for the New Zealand Herald, a role that enabled her to form a strong friendship with Dame Whina Cooper. She took the iconic photograph of Dame Whina firing a rifle, which was picked up by media around the world.

"The object of Whina's attention was a possum. She taught me how to fire a gun on that occasion," she said.

"Whina contacted me whenever she wanted to make any comment on anything through the Herald, and we got to know each other quite well over the years. She was a very good woman at heart, who really felt for her people. She achieved all her objectives. She had a vision in life and stuck to it."

A love of history from a young age, plus her own deep family connections to the Hokianga and other parts of Northland, drew Mrs Ayrton to become involved with Northland's heritage. Living in Northland, where some of the earliest Māori-Pākehā interactions took place, and where modern New Zealand began, stimulated that interest.

"I worked with some wonderful volunteers who had a strong connection with the NZ Historic Places Trust, including Fen Barrett and the historian Jack Lee.


"Both men had a real passion for Northland history in particular, and made tremendous contributions in different ways."

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland manager Bill Edwards, who has known Mrs Ayrton for many years, and worked with her on Heritage Northland Inc, acknowledged her own significant contribution to heritage and the wider community.