The Māori name Kororekera reflects a wounded chief’s passion for healing soup made from “sweet” blue penguins, and the town with its bittersweet history is undeniably worth visiting.In the early 19th century sailors, traders and escaped convicts visited the town to resupply their ships and enjoy some drunken recreation. John Bidwell a botanist and world traveller at the time described it as ‘The Hell Hole of the Pacific’ was well earned.
Christ Church, on the edge of town, really does have musket ball holes in the weatherboards behind the main altar. My great-great uncle Gilbert Mair oversaw the church’s construction under the direction of Reverend Henry Williams – he and his son worked through the night in 1840 to translate the Treaty of Waitangi into Māori. Today, the church radiates a peaceful energy. Inside there is a Bible written in Māori, carefully embroidered prayer cushions – including one dedicated to Gilbert Mair and stained glass windows depicting Russell’s history.
The church’s history is not so peaceful. It was one of two buildings left standing after Russell was burned because of a combination of a smoker’s stupidity, friendly fire, and warring Māori warriors in March 1845. Chiefs Hone Heke and Kawiti proved their military expertise with a three pronged raid on Kororekera. They stormed the barracks on Flagstaff Hill, chopped down the offending flagstaff for the fourth time and took control of the township. One of the town’s survivors accidentally dropped his lit pipe near a gunpowder barrel in the stockade. The resulting fireworks caused an inexperienced Lieutenant in command of HMS Hazard to rake the town with cannon fire.
A tour through Pompallier’s Mission house was also enlightening. Rua Paul, a resident artisan, works part time as guide at the Catholic Western Pacific mission headquarters. He took us through New Zealand’s first factory with its rammed earth walls and ink stained floors.
With an artist’s dexterity, Paul demonstrates how to tan leather that can cover books and uses the unwieldy printing presses to produce thousands of religious documents. These processes were incredibly labour intensive and thanks to Paul’s anecdotes I now know that the sayings “mind your p’s and q’s” comes from the mind-bending printing process where all the letters were laid out backwards.
Just another adventure in paradise - the winterless North at it's best.