There are four churches in the Hokianga that are registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Two of them are sited at the end of the road, Ripeka Tapu on the Hokianga Harbour and St Gabriels at Pawarenga on the small Whangape Harbour, further north along the west coast and on the outer limits of the area known as the Hokianga.
Between visiting these two churches we followed another road to it's end to Mitimiti, a place I've long wanted to visit. And I wasn't disappointed. I love these isolated, west coast beaches and this place has been added to the list of places to which I will one day return to linger longer.
Like so many places in the Hokianga, Mitimiti was a much busier place in days gone by, inhabited by much braver souls than we are today. At one time there was a ferry service from Opononi, inside the Hokianga Harbour, which has a treacherous bar. I can't imagine anyone undertaking crossing that bar on a regular basis. This tiny coastal settlement once featured a gum store, an accommodation house, post office and a shop! It's a long way from a post office or shop now.
The road to Ripeka Tapu chuch (1878) at Rangi Point takes you in and out of tidal inlets to where the road ends on the northern side of the Hokianga Harbour. The church and its little graveyard sits at the edge of the harbour and looks to have been painted reasonably recently.
However, the timber lining the inside is in need of attention:
There are quite a few cobwebs and the once lovely organ is also in need of some loving attention.:
Nothing, however, can detract from the beauty of the stained glass window behind the altar:
Similar shaped windows frame the view from the side of the church:
I wish I'd been able to find something of the history of this church. It has a special tranquil feeling.
As we thought we must be nearing St Gabriel's at Pawarenga, we stopped at another little church beside the road. It had a banner inside telling us it was St Mathias', which I thought was a great idea as otherwise we wouldn't have had a clue. It was quite modern, light and airy but, to me, felt a bit soul-less compared to the older churches.
For a church in an area populated predominately by Maori people, it has little to acknowledge them, except for the woven mat sitting in front of the bible on a small side table.
Finally we saw St Gabriel's in its prime position overlooking the harbour. Luckily for us, Mr Pickering was visiting his family grave and pointed out where the priest's house site had been, on the right of the graveyard, where cattle are now grazing.And where the nuns once taught school.
The church is one of the earliest Maori churches in the Hokianga still in its original location. St Gabriel's is considered important as it reflects the spread of Catholicism in NZ and particularly early conversion of Maori in the Hokianga area. It was built in 1899 and restored in 1982-83. It has an all-kauri interior. It was paid for by its Maori congregation and its kauri timber is said to have been sawn by the local community with funds raised through gum digging.
An early church may have been constructed at Pawarenga in the 1880s. Stronger ties with the main body of the Catholic Church were established in the 1890s with the arrival of the Mill Hill priests, who were part of a British-based movement to spread Catholicism among indigenous peoples. Reference to the Mill Hill Fathers can be found in nearly all the Catholic churches we saw in the Hokianga.
The building was also originally intended to be a landmark, incorporating a prominent tower and bell turret. St Gabriel's became a parish church in 1915 and remains in regular use to the present day.
I didn't take any photos of the Stations of the Cross which Mr Pickering told us are made of brass and priceless. He shared with us the secret to cleaning them but just in case it really is a secret, I am not going to share that information.
St Gabriel's, Pawarenga is certainly a lovely place to lay at rest: