Standing on the shores of this silent place it was hard to imagine that once, over a century before, here at Tanoa was a hub of activity. The settlement of an Uriohau Chief Arama Karaka was here and later the Wesleyan missionary Reverend William Gittos.* So much history to be told . What went on there during those early years that shaped the lives of the generations that have followed since. It is what stands there now as silent perhaps, an almost a shadowed testament to those events of the early days of settlement.
Tanoa was once known by the name of Kakaraea and just beyond Oahau, now called Batley.
In 1874 on the shores of Kakaraea a fine gothic-style church made of the mighty kauri was built. Its siting had a particular significance. According to Dick Scott in his book "Seven Lives on Salt River" the site was Wahi Tapu and for Arama Karaka it held a personal concern. Having converted to christianity he had also abandoned his father's name Haututu, to take the name Adam Clark and the doing came the rejection of the tapu surrounding his father's death. Dick Scott recorded the following:
"Haututu had been killed defending his land from Ngapuhi muskets in 1825. His body had been taken by canoe down the Otamatea to be cooked and eaten at his own Kakaraea kainga. A big pohutukawa marked this especially tapu ground. The missionary (William Gittos) set out to destroy the tapu by employing Europeans to build a church on the site. A handsome building with great kauri beams supporting a high vaulted roof, it became known as the "Cathedral Church of Gittos". At first Arama Karaka was afraid to enter it and violate his father's memory, but Gittos persuaded him with a prayer".
After much research and finding different years 1875 and 1877 for the construction of the Gittos Church I finally found an article from the Daily Southern Cross dated 17th April 1874.
Opening of the Wesleyan Church at Kaipara
"The opening of this new Church took place on Sunday March 29th. The building is of wood, built in the gothic style. It is fifty feet in length, by thirty feet in breadth, and provides sitting accommodation for about three hundred worshippers. It is proportionately of a very lofty character, the matter of ventilation having received due consideration, a requisite quality in any church where the natives worship. We were glad to notice there was no pulpit, but a plain reading desk inside the communion rail.....Mr Symonds* was the architect and builder."
Cathedral no longer. Time took its toll on the grand gothic facade finally succumbing to rot and a high wind the high vaulted roof structure in the end was removed for safety reasons. The church originally faced the shoreline. According to local Iwi sources the building was turned around and was shortened. What remains is a plain unassuming building flanked by old gravestones, its bell now erected alongside no longer tolling the call to morning service. Birds fly in and out of the gaps left behind from long since broken windows - a sad testament to a glorious past. Somewhere there are plans to have the building conserved. Let's just hope it's not too far into the near distant future.
* J. Symonds who had a timber mill at Whakapirau (further research required)
* Rev William Gittos was the son of Benjamin Gittos of the Gittos Tannery