Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kakaraea - the remains of the Gittos Cathedral at Tanoa


The native members of the Wesleyan connection, with the assistance of their European friends, have built a beautiful church, near the Tanoa point, and close to the settlement of the chief, Adam Clark. The church is built in the Gothic style of architecture. The services are conducted by the Rev. Mr. Gittos, who has been resident some eighteen years amongst the natives, and has acquired the native tongue with that degree of proficiency so necessary to one in his position. It is astonishing with what deference, nay, affection, the natives address him. His power over them appears almost unlimited.

The natives have a considerable amount of cultivation, taken as a whole, but it does not average more than a quarter of an acre per adult. The land is a rich flat, of limestone formation, which grows heavy crops of maize, &c. The river is navigable for large vessels quite up to the settlement.

Mr. Gittos holds English services at stated intervals, when settlers from the adjacent districts, viz., Paparoa, Maungaturoto, Kaiwaka, Hakaru, &c, are present in considerable numbers. … The residence of Mr. Gittos is opposite the church, and in a snug nook by the river-side, most conveniently situated, and commanding a fine view. There is a capital orchard, and the flower garden is most tastefully laid out. There are several very choice shrubs and flowers amongst the numerous sorts, which flourish beyond expectation. To the left, across the river, on the side of a high cliff, is Mr. Masefield's hotel, where the steamer stops, and discharges her freight on the pier erected there. Lower down the river, to the right, is Mr. McMurdo's late residence, now occupied by Mr. Peace, who has a small factory for preserving fish in tins, principally mullet. The district is thriving steadily, and must certainly be of great importance.
Southern Cross, 20 May 1875

At Tanoa, beside the Otamatea River, is Kakaraea, a place of great beauty. I was very, very privileged and fortunate to be taken there last Saturday by my good friend Liz from the Mad Bush Farm. You'll see her earlier post on this place here.

From the outside, you'd reckon the old church has seen better days. It was once much grander, but time has seen it altered to a more prosaic form.

But, while this cathedral no longer has its gracious butresses, no glorious stained glass windows illuminating and illustrating the faith of parishioners, it has something much better: it has a deep and far reaching essense of soul, a sense of place that is indescribable, yet captures mind and heart.

And who needs stained glass artifice here, when  the beauty of nature just beyond the walls offers a vaster view than any that could be conceived by man?

Update, 1 May 2011: Kakaraea Church has been registered as Category II by NZHPT.


  1. Oh what a fabulous place! Love it... the church reminds me of St Andrews at Little River, Banks Peninsula ... that whole rough sawn timber look so predominant in the 1800's ... here's one of my photos that looks very much like the church above

    It's a crying shame that these fantastic little pieces of history are being left to slowly deteriorate :-( They were such the hub of the community. Those that lived back when they were built would never have envisaged the lack of use and interest in their then cherished buildings.

    Love to browse through that cemetery! Thanks for putting so many pics up :-)

  2. Heh, heh! Hi there, Sandy. You ask Liz -- I said, while we explored the cemetery, "You know, Sandy would love this, I'm sure ...!" ;-)

    That St Andrews Church window is so cool! It must be fabulous from the inside.

  3. LOL! Hilarious! You know i've heard it said that at any given time there are at least 6 people around the world that are thinking about you...on any type of level. I find that rather fascinating!

    I never got to see the inside sadly.

  4. very nice pictures however i wonder if you had asked permission to post pictures of my whanau's headstones, and weather you had a Kaumatua present etc..yes this is great history to share with all..just a wee bit concerned about some history thats gets published, I have studied Otamatea Awa, kakaraea etc for years..for example the cheifs name you refer to is spelt Paora Tuhaere, also the comments about lack of interest are way off the mark, I for one was married in that church and have attended many tangi, since these pics were taken the church has been restored, it has been a long process to get the money enabling us to restore it,we to have waited a number of years to bring it back to its glory, it used to have a top story and face the water, so there is a lot more than meets the eye.. there used to be alot of pine trees breaking the pedominant southerely wind now that they have gone it contributed to the deterioration of the church, it was the last known site of a canibal feast in the area, also the first urupa in NZ to have a european buried, there are many more stories, and many more wise kaumatua and kuia who could enlighten the people who have made comments...regards Brendon Lewis

    1. Hi Brendon my apologies if I sound disrespectful im just wanting to enquire in regards to Kakaraea as I've been on a hikoi to find my grandfather mother Ive found her death record it says Kakaraea the year is 1920 just askin was there records kept to enquire where she may lay or any information I would be greatful plse kindly email at

  5. Hi Brendon,
    If relatives of a deceased person finds it offensive that their headstones are published here, they need only get in contact with me and I'll remove the image. No offense was intended -- rather, this is a celebration of how special a place the church and surrounds are, and that the story is more than just a building, it is also about people.

    I too have my concerns as to history that is published. I am, though, very pleased that the church and surrounds have been registered with NZHPT at last. Long overdue.

  6. The newly restored Kakaraea Church will be opened mid November 2011.. I also was brought up there and have many whanau in the urupa (cemetery). Cheers Steve

  7. Cheers, Steve. Great to know it has been restored.

  8. Both my grandparents and great grandparents are buried at Kakaraea, along with aunties and uncles. I am glad that this website has recognized this special place with so much history.
    Regards Donna Lewis

  9. My Great Great Grand Parents, My Grandfather & his siblings, my aunties & uncles & 2 of my older siblings are in that cemetery.I grew up there.There is a spiritual cultural aspect to remember when taking photographs of those gone by or Te Hunga Wairua.I'm quiet glad others will get to see our "SLICE OF HEAVEN"...but I can also understand the cultural aspect..Cheers Bub Whetu Nopera