Two people using a magnifying glass to look at a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi

An Introduction to Māngungu Mission

The Weslyan missioniaries of the Hokianga were a nomadic lot. From the mission station at Māngungu in the upper reaches of the harbour they undertook epic journeys through Northland and beyond the Hauraki Gulf, proselytising and forging relationships with Māori. The mission house itself has racked up serious mileage: in 1855, tugged by the gravitational force of a fast-growing Auckland, it was dismantled and shipped to Onehunga to serve as a parsonage. Returned to its original site on the Hokianga in the early ’70s, it was restored by the Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga) and opened to the public in 1977.

Visit Māngungu Mission at the moment and you’ll find the simple Georgian building still in motion of a sort, with specialists engaged in extensive conservation work. Think of it as a work in  progress, a rare opportunity to see heritage conservation in  action.

It’s a soulful spot, off the beaten track – albeit not quite so remote since the advent of the popular Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail, an 87-kilometre ‘Great Ride’ from the Bay of Islands to nearby Horeke. But in the 1820s when the Reverend William White established Māngungu Mission  under the protection of Ngāpuhi rangatira, this part of the  Hokianga was a busy trading post and the site of Aotearoa New  Zealand’s first shipyard. It produced one of our first pubs, the Horeke Hotel, which is still providing accommodation, and hosted the country’s first murder trial. More auspiciously, Mary Bumby, the visiting sister of one of the early Weslyan missionaries, introduced Aotearoa New Zealand’s earliest beehives at Māngungu.

The 1839 mission house, which replaced one destroyed by  fire, was similarly bustling, with missionaries coming and going on their North Island treks or being reassigned to the Pacific Islands. The only ‘stayer’ was the Rev. John Hobbs, who resided with his family at Māngungu Mission from 1840 until 1855. A former carpenter’s apprentice who had served as a lay preacher in Tasmania, Hobbs designed the house and  oversaw its construction.

The mission’s location on the harbour fringe and at the confluence of rivers reaching far inland allowed it to develop as a point of cultural convergence. No surprise, then, that it was the site of the largest ever signing of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi), when, on February 12, 1840, a crowd of nearly 3000 watched over 60 rangatira (Māori chiefs) ink the document. Hobbs, who among his many talents was a natural linguist, translated for Governor Hobson.

The 12th is still a big day for the Hokianga community. Commemorations in previous years have included waka sailings and historical re-enactments, as well as plenty of korero and kai. Whatever day you’re visiting Māngungu, make sure you see the little parlour table on which Te Tiriti was signed. It’s a humble piece of furniture, the mahogany top marked by ink stains, but it provides a very personal and  tangible connection to a significant historical moment.

The rest of the collection is modest but intriguing. The Wesleyans established a printing press at Māngungu, and the collection includes a handful of religious pamphlets and books in Te Reo Māori dating to the 1830s. You’ll find photographs, linen, books and clothing, as well as furniture that was possibly crafted by John Hobbs. Reflecting the mission’s ties to the  Pacific, there are also tapa cloths, shells and furniture brought back from the islands. You’ll see evidence, too, of the house’s evolution over the years, including remnants of wallpapers added during its time at Onehunga, when it was transformed from a fairly rustic rural dwelling into a smart urban abode.

When you’ve finished exploring, check out the nearby Wairere Boulder Nature Park (wairereboulders.co.nz). The centrepiece of this private reserve is a unique cluster of basalt rock, carved into fluted formations by rainwater that must have picked up acids from the surrounding kauri forest. You can wander the reserve’s many bush trails, take a dip in the swimming hole, hire a kayak and paddle out through mangrove country to the harbour. Or tour the Hokianga on board the terrific historic launch Ranui (see ranuionhokianga.co.nz).