Historic Ripapa Island open for summer visitors

  • Hon Eugenie Sage

Steeped in Māori and European history, the recent reopening of Banks Peninsula’s Ripapa Island has been celebrated today by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.

Members of the local community and tamariki from Lyttelton Primary School have this afternoon retraced the footsteps of Ngāti Wheke ancestors. Those gathered listened to stories about the former fortified Māori Pā before it was later transformed into a quarantine station, and then a military fort at the end of the 19th century.

“I am delighted to join Ngāti Wheke and DOC in officially welcoming some of the first visitors back to this tōpuni site,” said Eugenie Sage.

Closed since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ngāti Wheke jointly manage the Category 1 Ripapa Island Heritage Area and have spent $100,000 repairing the island’s historic wharf.

“The island has a rich and often fraught history which is largely unknown by New Zealanders. I hope many people take the opportunity to visit this summer and share the stories of what they learn with their whanau.

“Originally the South Island’s first musket fortified pā in the early nineteenth century, Ripapa Island was later used as a quarantine zone for immigrants and a prison for 150 Parihaka prisoners. For the past 131 years, it has been home to the Fort Jervois - the country’s most complete ‘Russian Scare’ fort, featuring rare ‘disappearing guns’.”

Ngāti Wheke spokesperson Yvette Couch-Lewis says mana whenua formally reopened and blessed Ripapa in July 2019 to ensure the island’s wairua was safe for future visitors.

“A tōpuni was placed over Ripapa in recognition of the significant cultural, spiritual, historic and traditional values of the island for mana whenua.”

Ngāti Wheke and DOC are planning to increase the iwi’s cultural presence on the island by installing a carved waharoa/gateway, and pou whenua on the island in the future as has been done on Ōtamahua/Quail Island.

“Earlier this year the nine metre tall pou whenua, Te Hamo o Tū Te Rakiwhānoa was installed on Ōtamahua. We at Rapaki know the importance of that connection to our culture, but also the value in sharing our rich history and we look forward to telling our story on Ripapa,” said Yvette Couch-Lewis

Eugenie Sage says Ripapa is less known by Cantabrians than the island deserves, mainly because the island can currently only be accessed by boat.

“Ripapa is steeped in Māori and European history and stories about this site should be shared with local and international visitors to Banks Peninsula. DOC and Ngāti Wheke are exploring ways to enable more people to visit and enjoy this special place.”