Town on an inlet of the Bay of Islands. In 2013 the population was 6,504. Known as the ‘fruit bowl of the north’, it has sheltered orchards and market gardens. First planted in the 1920s, they produce citrus, kiwifruit, tamarillos, macadamia nuts and a variety of vegetables and flowers. Vineyards have developed, along with restaurants. Today the town is also notable for its diverse cultural activities – arts and crafts, drama and music – which are presented at an annual festival. Visitors are drawn to both the town and its historic enclave that straddles the tidal Kerikeri River.
The Kerikeri basin is dominated by a renowned Māori site, Kororipo pā. Around the 1770s Māori of the Ngāi Tawake tribe defended the site as their outlet to the sea. In the 1820s Ngāpuhi war chief Hongi Hika used the pā as the mustering place for his canoes and warriors before they launched devastating raids on other tribes. A shrewd strategist, Hongi made nearby land available for a Church Missionary Society (CMS) station. He intended to use the mission to secure European weapons and other skills to further his war aims. By 1827, however, Hongi and many of his followers had moved on, leaving Kerikeri to the missionaries.
In 1819 a group of missionaries from the first CMS mission station near Rangihoua pā began building and planting at Kerikeri. One of the relics of their occupation is the mission house of 1821–22 – New Zealand’s oldest wooden building. Another is the nearby Stone Store, built in 1832–36 as a storehouse, granary and trading post. Made of volcanic rock and Sydney sandstone, this is the oldest stone building in the country.
Speed the plough
On 3 May 1820 missionary John Butler wrote: ‘The agricultural plough was for the first time put in to the land of New Zealand at Kideeekidee [Kerikeri], and I felt much pleasure in holding it after a team of six bullocks … I trust that this day will be remembered with gratitude, and its anniversary kept by ages yet unborn. Each heart rejoiced in this auspicious day, and said, “May God speed the plough’.” 1
The development of horticulture
Europeans acquired land in the district from the 1840s. By the late 1890s much of it was a sheep and cattle station, owned by T. C. Williams, a son of the missionary Henry Williams. The station passed through several owners until purchased in 1927 by George Alderton who established the North Auckland Land Development Corporation. Subdivided as orchard and forestry lots, the land was taken up by British colonial families from China and India as well as by New Zealanders, who laid the foundation for Kerikeri’s present horticultural industry.
Growth was boosted in the 1990s by new residents from overseas as well as New Zealand, attracted by the pleasant location and way of life. They have given the town a prosperous flavour but also make it less like the rest of Northland. In 2001, 91.3% of Kerikeri’s population was European, compared with 42–43% in neighbouring Kaikohe and Kawakawa. Similar contrasts were evident in the 2013 census.