Riverton was the first recorded settlement in New Zealand. For centuries people have come here. And now it’s your turn. Riverton is the private face of a small island nation at the bottom of the world. It is the real New Zealand.
Today Riverton has many faces. It is a place of young geography and raw natural beauty. A fishing port. A seaside holiday resort. An artists‘ colony. The fishermen and hunters‘ last frontier. A farming centre. Small town New Zealand just getting on with it.
And the locals? Like those who came before us, we believe we can make something of ourselves here. So we stay. And fish and farm and mill and mine and work in hotels, shops, sheds and studios. Riverton is our community so we sit on committees for schools, local government, clubs and essential services.
In our spare time we hunt, fish, garden, do craft work and play sport. And visitors punctuate our lives and some find what they have been looking for here. So they stay and become our newest settlers. Perhaps you may be one of them.
Voices From Our Past
The Riverton story begins with our Polynesian ancestors. Through necessity or the simple desire to find out what was on the next island, our ancestral canoes left the higher South Pacific for southern shores.
„How many times have I told you, hang on to the kumara. Who knows if there is anything to eat where we are going.“
And four or five centuries later came the European explorers, Dutchman Abel Tasman and Englishman Captain James Cook.
„Be a good fellow Jim and see if you can get to the bottom of this Terra australis incognita thing. See you in a few years old boy and don’t forget the flag. God Speed.“
Two decades later Riverton had established commerce and commerce had established Riverton. Sealers and Whalers from many nations had arrived. The generous estuary formed by the confluence of the Aparima and Pourakino Rivers provided a safe haven from their perilous maritime endeavours. They liked what they saw. A temperate climate, plentiful fish and timber reserves and arable land as far as the telescope could see.
„A man could make something of hissel‘ here George. Be more than a Lord’s lackey. Get some land, have a family. I’m for staying.“
And stay they did. And mixed and mingled with the local Maori and broke in land and built houses and had families and went about the difficult business of living in early Riverton.
Perhaps the whaler who left the most enduring legacy was Captain John Howell (1809-74) who established a whaling station in Riverton in 1835. He took as his wife a high ranking Maori woman and accumulated vast local landholdings through this alliance. He also persuaded many former whalers to join him in a life ashore. He is buried in the Riverton cemetery.
Enter the missionary, for wherever people congregate in remote locations theirs is the duty to bring order to the untidy affairs of men. The missionaries married, baptised, educated, medicated, ministered and brought His Word to the hard living men of the southern coast.
„Baptism in the Aparima River, 10 o’clock Sunday. Round up the kids.“
By the 1850’s the trickle of European settlers became a wave and the wave an ocean. What dreams were theirs on a hazardous four-month sailing ship voyage to a faraway country they knew little about? Peace? Freedom? Prosperity?
An early settler tells his own story.
„I was born near Glasgow and brought up to a life of farming. I came to New Zealand by the ship Jessie Readman in 1867 with my parents and three brothers. I acquired two hundred acres of land near Riverton which I have brought to a state of cultivation.“
But in his perversity the man yearns for the old whilst simultaneously seeking the new. So he brings the rabbit, the sparrow, pheasant, trout and deer to his new home. For aren’t these too the possessions of a landowner, and in this new country doesn’t he own land? So for better or for worse new species of the feathered, furred and finned settled alongside him.
And the people investigated a multitude of ways to win their daily bread from the new land. They farmed and fished and milled and mined and set about establishing the essentials of civilised society; schools, hospitals, banks and shops. And so it is.
But when you are here ponder this. The lady who serves your drink may be a descendant of the sealer who thought he could make something of himself here. The man who waves to you from his tractor could be the great great grandson of a missionary. And that boy on his skateboard outside the supermarket could well be distantly related to the fellow who protected the food on the great canoe voyage from Polynesia.