The first group of Germans arrived on the St Pauli in 1843, and founded the village of St Paulidorf in the Moutere valley, near Nelson. Bad flooding forced the abandonment of the village scarcely a year after it began, and now nothing remains but farmland.
In September 1844 a second German group, almost exclusively from Mecklenburg, arrived in Nelson on the Skiold. They settled in a village which they named Ranzau, after their patron, Count Kuno zu Rantzau-Breitenburg. It was renamed Hope in 1914, but Ranzau Road, Ranzau School, and the Ranzau Lutheran Church and cemetery still exist.
Around 1850, some Germans returned to Moutere, this time settling further up the valley. Over the next 20 years, joined by a number of their compatriots, they established settlements at Sarau (now called Upper Moutere), Rosental (Rosedale) and Neudorf.
Germans were among the first to introduce commercial winemaking into New Zealand. They also specialised in growing fruit trees and hops. Areas of Nelson settled by Germans are still known for their orchards, vineyards and horticulture.
Rangitīkei and the far north
In 1860 two groups of Germans arrived from Australia. The first, from South Australia, bought land in the Rangitīkei region. Over the years a large agricultural settlement grew up on the Pukepapa Line, with a German church and school. The St Martin’s Lutheran Church cemetery, established in 1877, is steeped in the history of this locality, which now forms part of the town of Marton.
In the second group were Germans from the Nelson region who had left for Australia, disillusioned with what they had found in New Zealand. Returning, they bought land in the far north and established the settlements of Houhora and Awanui.
Getting used to foreign accents sometimes causes amusing misunderstandings. Around the turn of the century in Pūhoi, so the story goes, a stranger appeared at a public meeting of farmers. When the stranger asked, ‘Who is the chairman here?’, he received the reply, ‘We are all Germans here!’ 1
One of the best-known German-speaking settlements is at Pūhoi, north of Auckland. It was founded in 1863 by people from Staab in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), under the leadership of Martin Krippner. Here traditions and customs of the homeland have been preserved to a greater degree than in other German-speaking communities. Some Egerländer dialect words are still heard (‘kochen’ is a traditional treat made from cheese curd), and Bohemian folk tunes are played at social gatherings. They are usually performed by four to six musicians playing violin, accordion and the dudelsack (a Bohemian version of the bagpipes). Another Bohemian settlement, again led by Krippner, was set up in 1864 in Ōhaupō (south-west of Hamilton).
The gold rush
The 1860s gold rush also attracted Germans – even in 1878 there were 621 in Westland Province. And 5% of the population of the provincial capital Hokitika, which had gained its wealth from the gold rush, were Germans.