Kororareka – the first permanent seaport and European settlement in New Zealand, lying far north of the North Island. Indigenous Maori enjoyed an ideal climate encouraging an abundance of fish, food and fertile soil.
Early European explorers noted the prosperity of this small settlement. In the early 1800s, European and American ships anchored at their shores. Seizing a good trading opportunity, Maori supplied food and timber to the explorers. In return, they hoped for respect, alcohol, European goods and firearms.
Unfortunately, there was no sound law to keep this thriving community together, resulting in a place filled of riff raff, drunkards and prostitution. Earning the notorious nickname ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’, despite the actual translation of Kororareka as “How Sweet is the Penguin.”
Fighting broke out on the shores between tribes, European and Maori laws seldom enforced or respected.
Beginnings of Waitangi.
Governor Hobson read his proclamations on the 30thof January 1840 at the Christ Church, starting the proceedings that lead to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Forty witnesses were present to confirm the accounts of everything that had occurred so far. Moka, a Maori chief was the only Maori signatory. Whether this was a purposeful attempt to exclude Maori, or whether it was because written language was not all that common to the average indigenous Maori, it is hard to say.
Nonetheless, the proceedings continued. The following week, the official proceedings moved to Waitangi.
Hobson was reluctant to name Kororareka the capital due to its tarnished reputation. Instead, Hobson purchased land in Okiato, 5km to the south of Kororareka, and renaming this place what we now know as Russell, in honour of the Secretary of State for the colonies.
Eventually, he realized this place was not suitable, and selected Auckland not long after.
Kororareka became part of the port of Russell; however, when Okiato eventually was deserted, Kororareka gradually merged into Russell as well, becoming part of its township.
Okiato is still known by its original name, or Old Russell.
Religion and Press.
Russell played a central role in New Zealand history. A Roman Catholic mission was built there, containing a printing press for the production of Maori language religious texts.
Wars for land battled throughout the years, the townships sacked by the infamous Hone Heke. Yet his warriors were directed to not commit any vandalism or damage to Christ Church and Pompallier Mission.
For the Future.
Nowadays, Russell is known as a little seaside township set over a romanticized view of the sea.
The Duke of Marlborough hotel was the first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant in NZ, located on the waterfront with gorgeous views out to the ocean.
Strolling along the quaint township filled with little cafes and art galleries, the ocean lapping at the rocky beachside, seagulls flocking around the picnic tables where people can enjoy a NZ classic – fish and chips.
You might even be able to spot the little penguins hiding near the shore.
The colonial history has been preserved in the buildings of the town. A step back in time to the day’s women wore elaborate dresses, men in their classic attire, horse-drawn carriages trotting through the town.
Little boutique wineries like Paroa Bay offers local wines and tasting platters at their Mediterranean-inspired estate.
Step Back in Time.
Strolling through the streets will take you to Pompailler Mission, NZ’s oldest
surviving Roman Catholic building, and the place where 40,000 Maori language books were printed.
Maiki Hill or Flag Hill was the place where Maori took their stand against British rule. Hone Heke brazenly chopped down the British flagpole four times in protestation of British rule throughout the infamous Flag Hill wars between the Maori and Europeans.
Overlooking the expansive pacific, enjoying panoramic views of Russell, Waitangi Paihia and the rest of the Bay of Islands. Walking tracks allow for sweeping views of the Bays while you make your way to the historic destination. Although a little shy to venture out, kiwis lurk in the bush waiting for nightfall.
Quaint museums are dotted around the little township for historic exploration. Russell Museum and Maori Museum display the town’s history and Maori culture.
Making the most out of your visit.
After all the exploring, there’s a little spot about half and hour from Russell offering a subtropical escapism at Helena Bay Hill. Sit back, sip on a latte, and bite into some local cuisine at Gallery and Café at Helena Bay. A lush subtropical garden surrounds the small establishment, palm trees shadowing the pond, fish swirling about the waters.
The Gallery offering a beautiful array of Maori and Pacific art.
Tours and walking tracks all over the bays provide a fun day out to explore the locations you can’t see in a car, or locations only tour guides know about.
The area around the Bay of Islands is of course most noted for their water adventures. Beaches, cruises, coves, swimming with the dolphins, fishing, wine tasting and penguin spotting cover everyone’s fancies.
Russell is a town seeped in history, Maori culture, and European-influenced architecture. It is a town with a carefree attitude, exploring at your leisure. Cafes and restaurants jump on board to liven up history, to deepen our understanding of other cultures, and to bask in the stunning simplicity of Bay life in Russell.
What was your experience at Russell? Where did you go?
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