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Waipu - our first stop

PlaidSong in New Zealand

Waipu, or rather the history of Waipu, was one of the big reasons we wanted to visit New Zealand. It was the story that drew us to the place, and we were inspired to write a song about this destination for Scots who were leaving Scotland in the 1800s. The amazing part of the story is not that Scots went to New Zealand; it was that the Scots who settled in Waipu around 1850 had left their homes in Scotland many years before. This adventurous community had already been settled in Nova Scotia since the 1820s.

What caused them to leave Scotland in the first place? Why Nova Scotia and for how long? And then why move again to a place so very far away? Who were the people behind this remarkable story? On this 1879 map, you can find some of the names around Wiapu - Warkworth, Matakana, and Whangarei were all places we visited after landing in Auckland and making our way north. Russell and the Bay of Islands were also amazing!



We were intrigued and had done our research some time ago, but it was the lure of this place, the idea of Scots landing here with such hope and gratitude to have found their spiritual home that made this a must-see place for us.

The story hinges on one man, Norman McLeod.   

McLeod was born in 1780 in Stoer, near Assynt, and became profoundly religious. He went to the University of Aberdeen to study when he was 27 and also on to Edinburgh in order to enter the ministry, but he found many of the people he encountered were not half as devout as he was.  It seems his views and religious opinions set him at odds with others and he decided to travel to Nova Scotia in 1817. This was also the time of the Clearances when many Scots were feeling the push and pull of change and the need to move away from their highland homes. A community of people from his homeland settled with him there, in St Ann’s in Cape Breton and, although ordained as a Presbyterian Minister in the United States of America in 1827, he remained a controversial figure.  For a variety of reasons, not least potato blight and famine, this small community decided they had to leave Nova Scotia and start once again. This was around 1848.


McLeod had a son in Australia, and he decided they would build boats and travel there as a community. A fresh start. It was thought that there was good land and opportunities in Adelaide. These industrious people sold all they had, built their own ships, and set off on a journey of over five months to reach Australia. When they got there it turned out to be less welcoming than they had hoped. The discovery of gold meant that land was costly and the place was somewhat Godless and hardly suitable for a religious community who only wanted peace and a chance to settle and live quietly.

Undaunted, McLeod wrote to George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, and the party was encouraged to think of moving there. The first two boats landed there from Adelaide around 1853 and land negotiations with local Maori folk began. Waipu was chosen as it offered good land and fishing and had the potential for boat building. The community could settle there and live as they wished, under the religious instruction of their leader, the Reverend Norman McLeod.  Eight ships in total were built bringing almost 1000 people to live on the other side of the world.


This amazing history is told in detail within a dedicated museum at Waipu.


We have visited a great many museums in New Zealand and this one offers a tremendous opportunity to learn so much about the people who chose to follow McLeod.


Not an easy man to understand, it's believed he could be harsh, critical, and argumentative. He was a strict disciplinarian, but, there must have been something compelling, or even charismatic, in his nature or demeanour to have become the leader of so many and to have inspired them to this great feat of moving their entire community around the world.




When we arrived in the area the first place we came across was the cemetery. We always love a good daunder around the graveyards! It's the most peaceful way to be introduced to local names and to come across wee micro-histories in the memorial inscriptions. A few lines on a headstone can tell us so much or inspire us to find out more.





The folks in Waipu are proud of their heritage and do a great deal to acknowledge their past, and their ancestors and also to set this story within the bigger picture of their national history.


 We got in touch with the museum initially and the team there were happy for us to play and share some songs, especially as they have some rather wonderful old heritage buildings to perform in!






This is part of a heritage precinct where they plan to restore and develop old buildings - this is the Old School building - and it was an ideal location for an intimate gig. [This is our set up]

The floor is made from Kauri, it looks amazing!



The wonderful Wes and Barb, very talented musicians we met before our gig and who invited us to their country dance evening, were fantastic hosts. The dancing evening was really sociable and we love to dance too, so we got to meet and chat with a lot of lovely folk. They also set up their tech for us to use and Barb played fiddle on our song, The Old Oak Tree, beautiful.


Waipu has lots going on! a great place for music, particularly piping but also a very famous Highland Games at New Year - we have vowed to go back for this sometime! We were lucky to meet some really lovely people, find out about their history, and share some songs and music. We also met descendants of the people who travelled here with Norman McLeod.

Listen to our song about the people who travelled with McLeod, its a tribute to their spirit and determination. How Far Must I Roam



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