A country settled from the top down, Northland is widely regarded as the birthplace of Aotearoa New Zealand. When the country was first settled, around 950AD, the arriving Polynesians made Northland their base and began their settlements here.
New Zealand’s European history too has its roots here: after Abel Tasman and Captain Cook had charted the region and piqued the interest of Europe, mission stations were established in Northland, some of which still exist as New Zealands oldest remaining European buildings. Around 1830, the town of Russell was established as a whaling port and settlement grew around the region. The historical importance of the area has made visiting cultural and heritage attractions one of the most popular Northland and Bay of Islands activities. Find out more about some of our favourite heritage sites.
Ruapekapeka Pa Historic Reserve
This historic site is the setting of Northland’s last battle between the Maori and the Europeans. The pa (Maori fort), which was built in 1845, no longer stands, but its remains are fascinating to explore.
The last attack on the enormous pa took place in 1846 when the British attacked the Nga Puhi pa. While the impressive system of tunnels, rifle pits and other fortifications, managed to hold off the British attack, the Nga Puhi made a strategic retreat from the fortress and were ultimately defeated.
When you visit, you can explore the ditches and banks used for defence, as well as a cannon that survived the battle. The Department of Conservation maintains a walking trail here that takes you on a 1.5km loop through the reserve.
Stone Store and Kemp House, Kerikeri
Erected between 1832 and 1936, the Stone Store in Kerikeri is recognised as being one of New Zealand’s oldest, standing, European buildings. Originally intended as a trading post, the store is now owned by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and forms part of a museum along with Kemp House.
Kemp House, also known as Mission House, is even older than Stone House, having been built in 1822. The Georgian-style home was originally built for the mission’s storekeeper and blacksmith, James Kemp, whose family retained ownership until 1974 when it was gifted to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1974. The house has been preserved with traditional furnishings and is open by guided tour only.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Bay of Islands
A trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is necessary on any cultural tour of Northland. Here, you can tour the treaty house, which was the home to New Zealand’s first English resident James Busby. General admission is free to New Zealand residents (bring proof of this!), but admission to guided tours and cultural performances is not.
If you’re in the area in early February, don’t miss the Waitangi Day celebrations held here. The events of the day usually include sports, concerts, performances and parades by cultural groups. The events celebrate New Zealand’s multiculturalism.
The Kauri Museum, Matakohe
One of the biggest draws for European settlers in the 1800s was Northland’s vast kauri forests and the financial opportunities in harvesting the timber. A visit to The Kauri Museum will give you an insight into this period, including stories of the pioneer lifestyle and information on the uses of kauri wood and gum.