Tag Archives: New Zealand history

Stepping Back in Time – Howick Historical Village.

Tucked away in east Auckland is the suburb of Howick, here you can find a gem of living history – the Howick Historical Village.

Over the years the family and I have visited the village on numerous occasions, it is pleasant escape from the technology and mass produced entertainment which so very much a part of our lives today.  Although the bones of the place are immovable the addition of monthly live days and special events makes every visit different in some way.

By Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26380935

The Village depicts life as it was in nineteenth century New Zealand with particular emphasis on the fencible settlement of Howick.  Colonial Howick was originally founded by Governor George Grey who concerned about the potential threats from both Maori and the French. He established a chain of settlements around the southern part of Auckland as both an early warning system and a line of defence for the burgeoning new town.

Governor Grey originally requested troops to man these settlements however, it was decided to send retired soldiers to settle the area as members of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps, these were men who had served in the wars of Britain in the 1830s and 1840s.  To be eligible to emigrate under the scheme the veterans had to be under 48 years of age and of ‘good character’ with ‘industrious habits’.  If they qualified they were given free passage to New Zealand with their families, a cottage and an acre of land.  In return they were required to partake in certain military activities and after seven years the land and the cottage would be theirs. Although they were given a small pension they were also expected to undertake work of some kind in the new colony.

Between 1847 and 1854 some 2500 fencibles and their families arrived in New Zealand, doubling the population of Auckland at the time.  Other fencible villages included Panmure, Otahuhu and Onehunga.  The live days at the Village have volunteers dressed in costume doing activities you might see on any given day in a fencible/colonial village including soldiers parading, wood turning, blacksmithing, ladies doing the chores such as washing, sewing and baking.  There are also special themed days such as ‘A Colonial Christmas’ or an Easter egg hunt or a summer fete.

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The Village today is based around Bell House which was given to the Howick Historical Society in 1972, negotiations at the time then secured a further five acres of land which later became the seven acres it is today.  It took eight years of fundraising and working bees by many volunteers to turn it into a living museum.  Many of the cottages on site were donated and transported to the village, of which there are now thirty buildings.  It was officially opened on the 8th of March 1980.

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Today the village is enjoyed by school groups as part of their education outside of the classroom modules and students on school holiday programmes – children are encouraged to dress in period appropiate costumes, leaving technology behind.  Having attended during a school visit with my sons class, I can vouch for it being throughly enjoyed by all.  On that occasion, the students learnt how to churn butter, played games of the times, baked bread in a wood fired oven, drew water from a well and attended a session in a nineteenth century school.

A school group playing skip rope.
My son and daughter trying their hand at walking on blocks.
“Seriously?! This was the only way to get water?!” All round disbelief from the tweens.
Practising writing in cursive made doubly hard by using a ink pen.

One of the striking aspects of the village are the gardens which have in themselves become an important heritage project with links to the Heritage Tree Crops Association and Auckland Seed Savers.  Vegetables, herbs and eggs from the free range chickens are often available to buy at the main entrance.  Another less well known part of the village is its research library which contains many documents and photographs for the early days of Howick – a vital resource for those who interested in the history of the area or those researching family trees.

A traditional cob and reed roof cottage.
Inside the cob cottage.
A soldiers camp with two very unlikely looking soldiers…
A view of the village, looking over the green.


For more information on The Howick Historical Village go to:-


or for information on their collections you can search at the following link:-




An Auckland Icon – One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park.

During the last school holidays the kids and I decided to venture beyond the safe confines of the North Shore. Our destination? The well known and much loved Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill.  What follows is a brief description and overview of the history of this iconic parkland in the heart of Auckland.

Essentially the parkland most people know is in fact two parks, Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill, are separate entities under different management but with very similar objectives. At the heart of the area is the volcanic cone, the largest and most recent of the forty eight which make up the Auckland isthmus – it last erupted around 20,000 years ago.

The Maori Story
The Maori name for the hill is Maungakiekie which can be translated as ‘the mountain of the kiekie’. The kiekie or Freycinetia banksia is a type of vine which once grew on the slopes of the volcanoe and is better known as the fruit salad tree. Its fruit is edible.
However, this name seems to be a recent attribution as traditional histories dating from around the 16th century, do refer to the hill as Te Totara i Ahua or ‘the totara that stands alone’.

It is said that a branch of the Ngati Awa who were migrating from Northland to Taranaki had stopped for awhile in Tamaki (Auckland). During this time the chiefs’ son was born and was named Korokino. The cutting of the umbilical cord has great significance in Maori culture and Korokino’s was cut using a sharpened totara stick. The cord was then buried on the summit and the totara sprig was planted in the soil used as backfill. It took root and grew into a magnificent and tapu tree.

Unfortunately, it was gone by the late 1700s and no European ever saw it. Early colonists would often write of a large pohutakawa on the summit in the early 1800s and this is what gave rise to its modern name – One Tree Hill. However, the story of the tree then goes ‘pear-shaped’ as in the mid 1800s it is felled for firewood. In 1875 Logan Campbell replanted – possibly a puriri – within a stand of pines which served as a wind belt. But the native tree did not survive and all but one pine tree survived until 2000 when it too fell to an axe when the City Council deemed it unsafe.


One Tree Hill, in the 1990s when the lone pine was still standing, (to the right of the obelisk). From wikimedia commons.

What most people will notice as they make their way to the summit is the how uneven the ground is, dips, hollows, banks and seemingly random humps and bumps will catch the unwary walker. These landscape features are the remains of the Maori settlement. There are at least one hundred and seventy terraces covering approximately forty five hectares and it is regarded as one of the largest pa (hillfort) in New Zealand. The traditional occupants of the site were the Wai O Hua tribe and their histories refer to it as the head pa of their paramount chief Kiwi Tamake in the early 1700s.

IMG_0244An example of some of the many terraces and platforms.

Perhaps one of the more unusual archaeological features in the park is the Rongo stone. Rongo stones are carved stones which are regarded as manifestations of a god and are used ritually to aid the growth and harvest of crops. This particular Rongo positioned on plinth near the BBQ area is not in it’s original context. It was originally rescued by Logan Campbell from the side of the road where it had been unceremoniously dumped and taken back to the Park. It is known as Te Toka i Tawhio or ‘the stone which has traveled around’.


Humps and bumps in the landscape…


The eroded edge of a shell midden.

More terraces and platforms.

IMG_0248One of many defensive banks.


IMG_0243Building platforms overlooking one of the volcanic craters

IMG_0242My daughter standing in one of the many hollows – possibly a storage pit for kumara.

IMG_0239A large midden suffering under modern footsteps.

Terraces, defensive walls, storage pits, boundaries and middens are all part of the archaeology on One Tree Hill and attest to a well populated landscape. Which perhaps is what makes the next phase of the story even more unusual…

The Early Settlers
In 1840 Governor Hobson chose the Tamaki isthmus to be the capital of New Zealand. There were several reasons for this, the good harbours and fertile soils not withstanding however at the time it was a mostly deserted landscape.

“Terraced volcanic cones and numerous abandoned plantations testified, in 1840, to dense habitation in the days of old. But, paradoxically, so few Maori were living there in 1840 that Tamaki could almost be regarded at the time as a population void…there was no well-established tribe to be displaced” (R.C.J. Stone, 2007, Logan Campbell’s Auckland. Tales from the Early Years).

Into this early settler world came John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) for whom much of the early history of Auckland and Cornwall Park is intricately tied to.

John_Logan_Campbell,_ca_1880sJohn Logan Campbell c.1880

Logan Campbell was born in Edinburgh and in 1839 graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, later that year he set sail for New South Wales, arriving in New Zealand in 1840. On that ship was also a William Brown who became Logan Campbell’s business partner. The two men built the first house in Auckland – Acacia Cottage – which still stands and they opened the first shop. Both men quickly took advantage of being ‘in at the ground floor’ as the new settlement of Auckland took off. Logan Campbell in particular rose in prominence rapidly and was/is regarded the ‘father of Auckland’.

The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland
The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland – Acacia Cottage.

In 1853 Logan Campbell and William Brown bought what was then known as the Mount Prospect Estate and renamed it One Tree Hill. By 1873 the partnership with Brown was dissolved and Logan Campbell became the sole owner. In 1901 he gifted the land to the city of Auckland during a Royal visit by the then Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) and it was renamed in their honor as Cornwall Park.
In 1903 the park was formally opened. 

When Logan Campbell died in 1912 he left instructions and funds for the construction of a monument to the Maori people whom he admired a great deal. However, it was not until the late 1930s that work began on the obelisk. It was completed in 1940 but the unveiling was not held until the 28th April 1948 after WWII was over in keeping with the Maori tradition of not holding ceremonies during times of war.

IMG_0150 - CopyJohn Logan Campbell’s memorial to the achievements of the Maori people.

The obelisk is 33m high and was designed by Atkinson Abbott. Logan Campbell is buried at the foot of the monument under the flat paved forecourt.

Today both parks are well used by Auckland residents and it is still farmed with sheep and cows wandering the slopes of the hill. It is a place where people meet, families picnic, dogs walk, joggers jog and children play. Every city needs its green spaces in order to breath and here in Auckland we are lucky to have this and so many other such spaces…


Playing in the crater of an extinct volcano…



The Buried Village of Te Wairoa – some photos.

On June 10th 1886 Mt Tarawera erupted along a line of craters that extended sixteen kilometres and the space of a few hours the nearby village of Te Wairoa and the world famous Pink and White Terraces were covered in over a metre of volcanic mud and ash.

The death toll for the area was believed to have been as high as 153 – Te Wairoa at the time was a bustling village with two tourist hotels serving visitors to the Pink and White Terraces, two stores, a school, a blacksmith and a bakery.   By the end of the day not a single village house was left standing.

Today the site of Te Wairoa consists of several hectares of fields within which the visitor can walk amongst the excavated remains on the village.  There is also a lovely river walk and a musuem dedicated to the Maori and Victorian artefacts recovered from the site.  The following are a few of the photos which I  took during a visit in 2015.

Some of the displays from the museum

The remains of the Rotomahana Hotel.
and the bakers oven…

The unexcavated remains of two of the many houses in the area.


A reconstruction of a simple Maori house – all of these were destroyed by the mud and ash.  Today their remains are marked by wooden frames and the stones of fireplaces. 


The hearth inside the above reconstructed house.


A Maori storehouse found under the ash layer beside the stream.  It is a rare example of the use of stone in building practices.


A close up of the carving to the side of the storehouse.


The above is the house of Tuhoto, a 100yr old tohunga (tribal priest) who bore the brunt of the blame for the disaster.  He had openly condemned the people for their decadent lifestyle and had predicted that disaster would fall on the community.  When the mountain exploded, he like so many was buried in his hut and local Maori were so angry they refused to dig him out.  He was eventually rescued by the Europeans (four days later) but died not long after in a sanitorium.


Inside an excavated house – showing the depth of the mud and ash that fell on Te Wairoa.

For more information on visiting The Buried Village of Te Wairoa go to http://www.buriedvillage.co.nz/

Another article from NZ Geographic on the Tarawera eruption can be found here

The cover photo is of Lake Tarawera with the mountain in the background.






A Tale of Two Pa

The Coromandel is a place rich in Maori history, the most obvious archaeological site are the many pa found on the coastal headlands.  The following are a few photos taken during a weekend in the coastal township of Whitianga.

Before we get to the photos, it is probably necessary for me to give you a brief explanation on what a Pa is, particularly  for those of you who are not familiar with the term.  The word ‘pa’ can refer to any Maori settlement, defended or otherwise, but most commonly it is used to refer to a type of site known as a hillfort – fortified settlements with palisades and defensive terraces.  The majority of pa sites are found in the North Island from Lake Taupo northwards – over 5000 have been recorded to date.  You can read more about Pa here.

The two Pa mentioned in the title of this blog are the Hereheretaura Pa and Whitianga Rock – both were Ngati Hei strongholds, although the latter suffered during a raid by a war party of Ngai te Rangi.  The reserve where Hereheretaura Pa can be found is at the southern end of Hahei Beach is one of two pa in the reserve.  The other – Hahei Pa –  is on the ridge above the track (seen below) but with minimal defensive earthworks unlike Hereheretaura Pa.

Walking in the Te Pare Reserve – Hereheretaura Pa in the distance.
Hereheretaura Pa – the lines of banks and ditches can be seen in the early morning light.
One of several bank and ditch earthworks clearly visible at Hereheretaura Pa.
The view from Hereheretaura Pa looking northwards.

Whitianga Rock is on the opposite side of the estuary from Whitianga, a short ferry ride across from town takes you to the start point for a walk around the site.  The site is positioned on a thin finger of land jutting into the estuary harbour with steep cliffs on three sides.  By the time Captain James Cook arrived in 1769 the site had already been abandoned, even so it impressed Cook enough for him to state;

“A little with[in] the entrance of the river on the East side is a high point or peninsula jutting out into the River on which are the remains of one of their Fortified towns,  the Situation is such that the best Engineer in Europe could not have choose’d a better for a small number of men to defend themselves against a greater, it is strong by nature and made more so by Art”.

Information board at the start of the walk.
House terraces on the landward side.
The first bank and ditch earthworks and now a path down to Brick Bay.
Post holes for palisades ground into rock.
More palisade postholes…
An artists recreation of the palisade as evidenced by the postholes in the previous picture.
An artist reconstruction of how the site looked prior to the devastating raid. The line across the middle is the earthwork mentioned above which is now a lane leading to Brick Bay on the southern side.
Artist reconstruction
All across the site are numerous shellfish middens – not surprising given the sites position.
Another midden…
And another midden…
The view from the top over to Whitianga township.

The Thames Museum

For most people Thames is the town you whizz though on the way to the more exciting destinations in the Coromandel and to be honest this is what we often do except on this one occasion when it was decided to stop at the small local museum.

The Thames Museum featured in an episode of ‘Heritage Rescue’ during 2016 and as such was brought to my attention fuelling a quick pit stop along with the obligatory pie and coffee.  The entry fee is $5 an adult or in our case, $10 for a family of two adults and two children.  For this you get entry into an Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia from the 1800s and later.  The early fridge and scary looking dentists chair filled both tween and teen with horror.

An early fridge…
“My bed is bigger than that!” says the tween.
A Victorian kitchen.

The first room was divided into spaces depicting life in a Victorian household.  Leading on from this was a space where a short film would have been shown (but for whatever reason was not on the day we were visiting) and in cabinets along the walls were a variety of early Maori artefacts.  This part of the museum was a little disappointing, there were very few explanatory notes as to what the artefacts were, where they were found or even who donated them.  Unfortunately it did give the impression of being an afterthought which seems a shame given the rich Maori history of the area.

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A third room held a collection of tools and equipment (including several dreaded dentist chairs which I forgot to photograph) whilst the final room where the spaces which were given a make over by the TV show ‘Heirtage Rescue’.




The brillant blue of the painted walls setting off the easy to read maps and displays.  A small side room off this main space was given over to handcrafted models of the towns heritage buildings.

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Like so many of our small town museums this one is run solely by volunteers and as such they should be applauded for their efforts in bringing the history of their town to life.  Having said that it was at times difficult to navigate visually around the museum, particularly as the general feel is one of an overstuffed Victorian home.   There is something to be said for a more minimalist approach.  It was a stark and distinct difference between the areas given a make over by museum professionals and those not yet tackled, perhaps to the detriment of the remainder of the museum.

Thames Museum website



The Karangahake Gorge and its Industrial Archaeology.

Summertime in New Zealand means roadtrips and exploring all that our lovely country has to offer.  Me and mine decided to spend some time in the goldmining town of Waihi and of course as always this meant a lesson in history, in particular the area around the Karangahake Gorge.

The Karangahake Gorge is situated between the Coromandel and Kaimai ranges and was formed by the flow of the Ohinemuri River.  It’s steep sides are covered in native bush, a haven for those wanting to experience the great outdoors.  There are plenty of walks and cycle trails to enjoy or you can simply sit by the river and enjoy a picnic.  However not so long ago the visitor would have been greeted by an entirely different scene.

On this visit we did the Windows Walk which takes you past and through several of the stamping batterys and the many associated building ruins then into the old tramway tunnels along the Waitawheta Gorge (an offshoot of the Karangahake Gorge).  Unlike other goldmining areas, alluvial gold is rare in the gorge and almost all of the gold and silver recovered from here was done by deep quartz mining.  This meant only the large well funded companies could afford to operate in the gorge.  The three main players were the Talisman Mining Company, The Woodstock Mining Company and the Crown Mining Company.  (The latter will ring some bells with those of you interested in Cornish mining history as they were a major player in the mining industry of Cornwall.  In fact many of the miners came from Cornwall which was at the time undergoing a decline in mining.  Their skills in hard rock mining was in great demand in colonial lands).  Today so much of the ruins are covered in dense bush, their edges softened by vegetation and with the sound of either the Ohinemuri or Waitawheta rivers filling your ears it is hard to imagine this as a place of heavy industry.

A continous rythmic thumping once filled the air here, as stamper batteries (gold recovery plants) of the Talisman, Woodstock and Crown Mining Companies pulverised quartz rock to free the gold within.” (taken from an information board at the beginning of the walk)

Much of the ore came from the steep sided Waitwheta Gorge and was then transported via aerial tramway across the gorge to the tramway and delivered to the stamping battery where it would undergo a series of crushings to extract the gold and silver which was then smelted into bullion bars.  The Talisman and Crown Mines were two of the largest of their type in New Zealand and together produced in the region of four million ounces of gold bullion.

The following are some of the photographs taken during our time exploring the industrial archaeology of the Karangahake Gorge.

All that remains of the Talisman powerhouse on the banks of the Ohinemuri River.
Several phases of building are present at the Talisman powerhouse – here you would have found the boilers and air compressors that powered the machinery for the battery and mines.


Remains of the Woodstock Battery, note the water wheel for powering the stamping machine.
Woodstock battery.
These can be found lying all along the route, heavy cast iron crushers for pulverising the quartz.
Woodstock battery.
To increase yields potassium cyanide was used to remove even the smallest particles of gold and silver from the ore.

Once the ore had been crushed in the upper levels of the battery the fine powder that resulted was subjected to the cyanide process.  This involved mixing potassium cyanide with the finely crushed ore in tanks for several days then drawing off the solution and passing it through wooden boxes where the dissolved gold and silver precipitated as a black sludge on zinc shavings.  The sludge was then treated with sulphuric acid to remove the zinc.  The residue was then smelted into bullion bars (of gold and silver)” – From the above information board.

Remains of the tanks where the powdered ore would be treated with cyanide.


One of the main features of the Windows Walk is the tramway, part of which goes through the side of the gorge (a torch is a must if you do this walk).  In its heyday, the ore was transported via tram but because of the steep sides of the gorge a trail had to be cut out of  and through the rockface.

A bit further on from the modern suspension bridge is the remains of the Crown  Mine.

The entrance to the Crown Mine
Drawing showing the extent of the Crown Mine in the Waitawheta Gorge.
Side view of the mine workings through the gorge.
The now peaceful view which was once dominated by the Crown Mine operations.

Today goldmining in the area is representated by the large open cast mine in nearby Waihi with the now defunct Cornish Pumphouse from the earlier 19th Century Martha Mine standing ever watchful over.


For more information –

Department of Conservation – Karangahake Gorge

Ohinemure Regional History Journal – Historic Karangahake Gorge

Waihi – Gold Discovery Centre

Waihi –  History and Heritage