A re-enactment was held peacefully yesterday of Lt James Cook's 1769 landing at the pa site where he and members of the HMB Endeavour were greeted in the first formal welcome between European and Maori.
At Wharetaewa Pa, a headland to the southern end of Wharekaho (Simpsons Beach) north of Whitianga, the replica Endeavour was among three tall ships and a sailing waka from Tahiti that journeyed to mark the occasion.
Hundreds of visitors (manuhiri) joined the crew of the Endeavour and other sailing vessel crew in a hikoi down the beach to be greeted with a wero (challenge) by the iwi, Ngati Hei. The three-man challenge was performed as part of the protocol of welcome to ensure visitors come in peace and it established the prowess of the challenging warriors.
This was followed by a karanga (call) onto the marae by the women, a haka powhiri or haka of welcome, speeches, a gift offering by the Endeavour captain, and kapa haka performances from local school children of the Coromandel.
The event is part of the Tuia 250 commemoration marking 250 years since Cook's navigational feat.
His secret instructions from the Admiralty were to explore for the Southern Continent, charting New Zealand and "with the consent of the Natives, take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain".
Cook, botanist Joseph Banks, artist Daniel Solander, Herman Sporing, and astronomer Charles Green were among the Europeans who rowed ashore to the pa site 250 years ago, where they were greeted by Ngati Hei.
Unveiling a plaque with the names of chiefs from this and other local tribes, Ngati Hei kaumatua Joe Davis said what followed was diseases, land confiscations, armaments, alcohol, and then condemnation for Maori using these evils.
"You had no scruples in your own transactions with us ... they [the iwi] abandoned your teaching and opposed it with their heart's blood, and then the gap between us started to widen.
"We have had to overcome this mistrust and suspicion in these hearts of ours."
Maori Crown Relations Minister/Minister of Tourism Kelvin Davis was among the dignataries along with Dame Jenny Shipley, Patron of the Tuia Encounters 250, and Coromandel MP Scott Simpson.
Simpson said it was an auspicous day. "We think of those that have gone before, those that are with us today and those that will come tomorrow. We travel together in harmony, sometimes debate and discussion. Today is a significant, important day."
Wharekaho Beach is now lined with holiday houses and is commonly known as Simpsons Beach, named after a settler family who farmed there for around 100 years.
Margaret Simpson, who, with her late husband Peter, placed their beachfront land into a QEII covenant for the enjoyment of others, was among the hundreds that watched the Endeavour's arrival and the unfolding powhiri.
Her brother, Walter Russell, who's lived in Whitianga since 1941, was at the 200th Cook commemoration held at Shakespeare Cliff at Cooks Beach, where Queen Elizabeth and her children, Charles and Anne, were present, and the Royal yacht Britannia was anchored offshore.
"History gets lost so easily," he said. "It's absolutely fantastic and you are part of history here today."