On our holiday, Ashley and I have spent time in the Bay of Islands region of the North Island of New Zealand. In this blog, I talk about some of the things I found of interest to naval historians in this regions. Particular thanks goes to the guides at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for their fascinating insights and information.
Although it’s largely unknown to those outside New Zealand (for whom Maori culture is summed up by the Haka performed before All Blacks matches), the Maori culture is extremely maritime. All Maori can trace their heritage back to the crews aboard seven great canoes that took the original population from their homeland of Hawai’ki in ~ 1280 CE. One of the major aspects of the Maori maritime culture are the waka or canoes. Of particular interest to naval historians are the waka taua, war canoes. These craft are built out of trees, especially kauri, which are particularly used for sea-going waka, or totara for river-going waka, due to their different properties.
There was a project put in place to create a fleet of new waka taua for 1940, for the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, however this was not able to be happen due to the Second World War. However, they did build Ngātokimatawhaorua. This canoe is one of the largest waka taua, and was constructed of three different kauri trees, which were selected a number of years prior to construction in order to prepare them. All these photos can be enlarged to view at full size.
Ngātokimatawhaorua is one of three waka maintained at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Every year, they are launched for February 5th and 6th, when a small fleet of waka help to celebrate the anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. The following are photos of the waka ‘house’ at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and include details of the carving, decoration and construction. These waka were not constructed of only ‘traditional’ materials. The staff were quite blunt that they used both nylon ropes and ‘Dulux Paint’. It is clear that they did not consider this to be inauthentic in any way, but rather was important to use the best materials possible. Although Ngātokimatawhaorua is now more than 75 years old, very little of the material used in its construction has been replaced. Each of these photos can be expanded to full size. Although a huge vessel, when Princess Diana visited New Zealand, she was aboard when the Maori crew managed to get the canoe up to 25+ knots.
The Treaty Grounds at Waitangi are absolutely stunning, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The tour guides explained just how important the maritime sphere- and the activities in the Bay of Islands were to the Maori. Further, the craftsmanship in the waka is superlative.
The Bay of Islands also has some Royal New Zealand Navy history as well. HMNZS Canterbury was a broad-beamed Leander Class frigate which was sunk as a dive environment in the Bay of Islands following her retirement and replacement. In Paihia, which is one of the coastal towns in that region, one of her propellers was mounted as a memorial.
This is situated near Paihia’s ferry terminal.
I will be writing another blog on naval history in the Bay of the Islands, and it will be a joint blog with JD Davies on his site. Stay tuned, for it will contain the story of a ship’s bell from William III’s navy that ended up in New Zealand, and interesting details about the Royal Navy’s involvement in the Bay of Islands during the chaotic and tense years following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.