Te Whare Karakia o Mikaere

The restoration of one of our most historic buildings in Te Tai Tokerau region, which sits within one of the most significant battle landscapes of the Northern Wars, has almost been completed.

An aerial view of the church in the battle landscape of the Northern Wars. Credit Brad Fowler, Poupouaexpand/collapse

Te Whare Karakia o Mikaere (St Michael’s Anglican Church) at Ōhaeawai (Ngawha) is in the final stages of painting and finishing touches on other restoration work, which has seen the building largely returned to its original condition.

Built in 1871, the Category 1 listed church, which is in private ownership, recently received funding through a National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund grant. The fund is administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, and provides financial incentives to encourage the conservation of privately owned heritage places recognised on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.

“The grant has funded the replacement of the roof on St Michael’s which was in very bad shape, as well as repairs to the joinery and other parts of the building. The poor state of the roof was also undermining the condition of the building through water leakage,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager, Bill Edwards.

“In addition to the Incentive Fund grant, the whānau associated with the church has been doing their own fundraising over the years, and the final result is really impressive.”

St Michael’s Church was built on what was once the pā of prominent rangatira Pene Taui – the innovative fortification used by Māori to successfully repulse a British attack during the Battle of Ōhaeawai in 1845. Up to 47 British combatants died in a disastrous charge on the pā with many more wounded.

Some of those who fought in the battle of Ōhaeawai – including some of the British combatants – are resting here, as well as many whānau who whakapapa to Ngāti Rangi and Ngāti Hine.

“St Michael’s is a very important building – not just for the whānau who have close links to it. It also represents reconciliation after the Northern Wars,” says Bill.

“British soldiers who died in the battle were originally buried near the battle site but outside the church grounds. In later years they were re-interred within the stone walls of the urupā.”

The church itself has another connection to England. It was originally built as a gesture of gratitude to Englishwoman Dorothy Weale who cared for a group of Māori who had been taken to London in 1863 by Rev William Jenkins. After disagreements about itinerary arrangements and accommodation the group of Māori found themselves in a desperate plight quite unable to pay for their return journey home.

Dorothy Weale paid the group’s first class ship passage back to New Zealand, and upon their arrival home Ngāti Rangi rangatira Reihana Taukawau wrote to her asking how they could repay her generosity. She replied, “build a church”. 

St Michael’s Church and Urupā committee along with the hapū of Ngatī Rangi recognise and acknowledge the support of National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund, the Provincial Growth Fund, Top Energy and the Ngawha Marae Trustee Kōmiti who have all contributed to the Pakanga ō Ōhaeawai Memorialisation project.

“Ngāti Rangi see this opportunity of sharing the history of St Michaels Church and Urupā through interpretation panels that provide two aspects of faith and history.  The intention of Heta Te Haara and others’ vision to build the church was a symbol of peace and to re-inter the Pākehā soldiers in the Urupā that they fought against in battle is the greatest of tributes from one people to another,” says Adrienne Tari, Chair of the St Michael’s Church and Urupā Committee.

“Ngāti Rangi descendants today and our people throughout the whole of Ngāpuhi ought to stand tall and be proud of this important part of history.”

It is hoped that restoration work on Te Whare Karakia o Mikaere will be completed before the end of 2021, the 150th anniversary year of the construction of the church.

- John O'Hare