Rangihoua Pa and Oihi Mission Station and the Marsden Cross

In 1814 Samuel Marsden held the first Christian service and established a mission station here. The pa was on the hill above the mission station. But it was almost two decades before the missionaries made a convert. The Church Missonary Society (CMS) stayed in this unfortunate place until 1832 when a move was made to Te Puna,on the other side of the pa. John King, one of the 3 original missionaries, worked there continuously until he died there, 1854. There is a walking track to the Marsden Cross It leads off Rangihoua Rd 36 km from Kerikeri. It is a 40 min walk (2.3 km)

Rangihoua Pa and Oihi (Hohi) Mission Station (1815)
Christianity's detention camp
By Gavin McLean

Picturesque on a sunny day, bleak at any other time, south-facing Hohi (long known as Oihi) provides an object lesson in the importance of geography and topography. Getting there is a breeze by water, but by land, even with modern roads, it is wearying - boats have always worked better than cars in the Bay of Islands. Trek down the farm road, though, and you immediately understand. In 1815 several hundred Ngāi Tawake crowded the now deserted stronghold of Rangihoua, a coastal ridge that looked commandingly out over the Bay, then bustling with whaling ships and Māori traders. Rangihoua also looked down on Christianity’s beleaguered first beachhead in New Zealand.

Local chief Ruatara was an adventurous young cross-cultural traveller. He had visited New South Wales and, willing to chance his arm, invited ‘the flogging Parson’, Samuel Marsden, to establish a mission in New Zealand. Marsden came ashore from the ship Active in December 1814 to celebrate New Zealand’s first Christian service. It has been honoured by stamps and by penny-­dreadful historiography ever since, but fewer have dwelled on the fact that Marsden’s missionary mechanics had to wait almost a decade to make a single convert. Māori wanted European trade goods, not their superstitions.

If you look hard enough beyond the hefty Celtic ‘Marsden Cross’ in the grass you will see the archaeological platforms of the cottages erected on Hohi’s lower slopes by the Church Missionary Society’s disputatious pioneers. Here Thomas Kendall, William Hall and John King bickered and schemed against each other and sold guns while their Maori overlords looked down on them, literally and metaphorically. ‘Touched by God but otherwise not all that strange’, conservator Fergus Clunie notes, ‘the missionaries wanted to forsake this barren, claustrophobic cove.’ You cannot blame them, especially if you visit on a wet, windy day. Marsden, as usual, thought he knew better and kept them cooped up here until 1832.

An archaeological investigation was undertaken here in February 2012. On 21 December 2014 an Heritage Park was opened here. Architect Pip Cheshire of Auckland has designed an interpretative centre and a larger building called the Gathering Place, built on a ridge near the road overlooking the bay.

Chris comments: the track from the carpark to the beach and Marsden Cross takes no more than 15 minutes going down, 20 minutes coming back. Exposed grass and clay track, exposed to sun in summer, could be slippery when wet. But a wonderful place which deserves more attention as it is one of the most historical places in NZ associated with the coming of Europeans.

Image Credit: An engraving from the Missionary Register showing the mission station at Rangihoua, Bay of Islands, Sir George Grey Special Collection Auckland Libraries