Photo of Russell, Bay of Islands, as it looks today

Russell - Past and Present

Russell is an iconic place and important part of New Zealand ’s national heritage.  It is a remarkable link between our past and present.

Russell’s history is well known because of events that have occurred here, such as the cutting down of the flagpole by Hone Heke, and the location of the Nation’s first seat of government nearby.

Maori and European Contact

In spite of having a reputation as a “Hell Hole of the Pacific”, with grog shops and brothels lining the foreshore, Kororareka later became respectable enough to be the first seat of government at Okiato. 

In the process of developing understanding between Maori and Pakeha, the area experienced some of the first commerce, gun battles, partnerships, protests, religious rivalries, land deals and bureaucracies. 

The sacking of Russell threatened to put an end to all of this, but the Township proved to be more resilient than imagined and commerce ultimately triumphed over strife.

Historic Buildings

Historic buildings such as Pompalier House, Christ Church, the Gables, Duke of Marlborough and the Customs House still remain from that era. These structures are all an important part of New Zealand’s built heritage, made all the more so because of the distinctive setting in which they are still found. 

The original Town Plan for Russell, conceived in London, is still largely intact and this does much to foster an appreciation of the history and historic events that unfolded here.

Historical Photo of The Parade, Russell

Russell of Today

The Russell Township of today has developed along a pedestrian scale and the historic precincts offer a blend of landmark buildings. There are craft shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, museum and historic walks; all within an atmosphere of character and charm that stems from the small scale of harmoniously designed individual buildings. 

The Township is set within a landscape that is largely uncompromised; pohutukawa and bush clad slopes and headlands surrounded by water.

Russell, however, is more than just a collection of buildings. It is a living community located within a spectacular environment that has a sense of place and character; a microcosm of the natural, social, political, cultural and spiritual values that personify New Zealand’s unique identity.

Environmental Initiatives

Russell and its surrounds continue to evolve in ways that are both encouraging and concerning. The community supports a number of ‘green’ initiatives that include a local kiwi recovery programme, tree planting, recycling and environmental awareness as well as drafting its own Future of Russell Plan.

Development Pressures

Development pressures continue to be ever increasing. Land and property values, in tandem with other coastal areas, continuing to skyrocket resulting in the social structure of the town changing. 

As more ‘second home’ absentee owners purchase or build houses, local businesses struggle over the quiet winter months and concerns are raised about the future of schools and other services in the area as the young, families and the retired find it increasingly difficult to afford to remain.

Historical Anglican Christ Church in Russell

Unique Character

It is said that “people come and go, but the land endures”. The same is true for Russell in the sense that residents, visitors, and businesses, will come and go. Still the special character and historic, cultural and environmental values of Russell can endure if we actively protect them for the generations to come.

Visitors, especially from overseas often comment on how precious Russell is because it reminds them of a quality of life about which they can only reminisce.

Get involved with the The Russell Protection Society

We're always looking for more people to join us and help us preserve Russell's historic character. If you're interested in becoming involved, please click the button below to join our society.