Updated: Sep 17
The story of the Kerikeri Basin Reserve
The Kororipo Pa site, the Stone Store and Kemp House are all visual signs of our historic past, now nestled in the historic Kerikeri Basin recreational reserve. We are all, I think, justly proud and appreciative of this parklike area. But it wasn’t always as it appears now. How did it happen?
Kerikeri Basin Today
In 1936 Kerikeri briefly had a newspaper, the Kerikeri Gazette, published monthly from January to June at two pence a copy and then it ceased. The concerns of the settlers in Kerikeri then (population 436) do not seem to have been about history. Just after the depression, surviving financially was dominant. Problems of fruit growing, borer, white butterfly and the price for lemons are prominent but also the beginnings of sport with the Cruising Club formation, the cricket scores and a small pavilion being erected on the domain, and of entertainment later in the year with the opening of the Cathay Cinema. The principal concern was lack of roading, all the cream had to be taken out by boat, weather permitting, from the Kerikeri Wharf by the Stone Store where there was little storage in the wharf shed and not enough space on the road frontage. Improved facilities were demanded from The BOI Harbour Board. The Public Works Department district engineer was keen to investigate shifting the wharf three miles downriver although there was no road, which was strongly resisted at the time. The basin locality was neglected and scrub and gorse covered the hillside beyond St James church.
By the 1950’s tall eucalyptus covered Kororipo Pa and the Stone Store operated as the local general store. In 1930 E.S. Little an early “China hand” who had persuaded many expatriates to come to Kerikeri from China, had bought Kingston House. Fast forward to the 1960s. At that time all the land surrounding the basin except for 6 acres of Kororipo Pa which he had donated earlier was in private ownership. After his death his property was sold to a developer and the Bay of Islands County having rezoned the area from rural to residential gave a non-notified consent for 118 residential sections. In May 1969 Kerikeri residents were alarmed by the roar of bulldozers. A 5-year battle ensued as their sense of history, by now wide awake, rebelled in perhaps N.Z’s first big environmental protest which preceded the Lake Manapouri protest (November 1969). In May 1969, the Society for the Protection of the Stone Store Area (SPOKSSA) was formed meeting at the home of the intrepid retired merchant master Captain Gerry Clark and amateur ornithologist who circumnavigated Antarctica in 1983 in his 10 metre yacht on a bird watching voyage. Negotiations began with the developer who agreed to sell 11 acres for $40,000, conditional on the BOI County buying another 5 acres started. Keen fund raising succeeded in reaching the goal by June but the BOI County declined to participate. The owner then wanted £60,000 for 17.5 acres and since Kerikeri was celebrating its 150th anniversary the government was approached for funding but only offered £21,000 which was declined.
Although bull-dozing and roading on site were underway a very determined SPOKSSA carried on innovative fundraising, Gerry Clark made a sponsored solo voyage around N.Z in his 21 foot sloop, and SPOKSSA built a replica Maori village or kainga on the headland opposite Kororipo Pa on land owned by Nancy Pickmere at a rental of one dollar per year and charged an entry fee. A petition to parliament with 6,000 signatures was presented and there were demonstrations by many including Nancy Pickmere, the Kerikeri historian, and Joyce Mason (my main sources) and my mother-in-law Rona Swallow was present. At length acquisition under the Public Works Act was announced in 1970 but then rescinded weeks later and bulldozing resumed. The Society continued agitating and the owner sold it 6.75 acres for $58,000 with a settlement in March 1972 with $30,000 in cash and leaving a debt of $18,200 outstanding. At length, after a campaign of five years and a change of government, the Crown paid off the existing mortgages and in July 1974, at last the area across the basin was in public hands. A close-run thing. Instead of a view across the basin of Kororipo Pa we would have now been staring at 118 houses.
The roads and curbing were torn up, the Kororipo area was sown with grass and the metal used to form the carpark. The government carried on buying other local properties in the basin including Nancy Pickmere’s land on which Rewas village stands. Ernest Kemp gifted Kemp House in 1974 and in 1975 the Historic Places Trust bought the Stone Store from the Kemps and undertook significant restoration work in the 1990s, while the Mason and Parmiter families gifted land in the Basin. Further up the river Ken and Jeffray Proctor donated 4.85 ha of land forming the Rainbow Falls Scenic Reserve to the Crown (and also donated $650,000 for the Kerikeri library). The track linking the Rainbow Falls to the Kerikeri Basin was built in the late 1970s by the Lands and Survey Department.
In 1981 a flood came close to destroying Kemp House and ultimately in 2008 the Heritage by-pass bridge was built, and replaced the one-way road bridge across the ford that dammed the river in floods which was then removed. This has protected the historic buildings and was financed by the Ministry of Culture and Helen Clark. In 2010 a pedestrian bridge crossing the river was erected.
In 2004 DOC set about planning for sustainable development of the Kororipo-Kerikeri Basin, which by then totalled 29.19 hectares, to protect and enhance the area. The wharf area was restored and signage explaining the history was installed in 2016 and in 2017 and some eucalypts were felled to give view shafts.
The absence of any Maori participation in this historic area had long been of concern to both SPOKSSA and Ngati Rehia and after much discussion and with the volunteers age making it difficult for SPOKSSA to keep Rewas Village operational, it was transferred to Ngati Rehia in 2012. In 2020 $1.25M was granted from the Provincial Growth Fund which enabled Ngati Rehia to give it a serious makeover and in 2021 was reopened as Te Ahurea, which means culture in Maori, and provided a Maori perspective on this important historical and cultural area.
Kerikeri has got away again with less than adequate strategic planning. We should be grateful to SPOKSSA which saved this historic area for Kerikeri and indeed the nation. It was a bottom-up community campaign driven by concerned citizens. It was a fortunate unplanned outcome.
There is a lesson here. The Bay of Islands County did not come out of this smelling of roses. Planning under Kerikeri under FNDC still happens in an ad hoc, unplanned way with community proposals typically ignored.