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“The Shrine of Our Lady of Pukekaraka. Otaki, New Zealand.



A place dedicated to Mary; a place of peace, a place of pilgrimage, a place of miracles.


Pukekaraka calls all who have the desire to live in the image of the most perfect human being, Mary, who dedicated her life to service and who role-modelled all that human-kind could achieve in Faith.

In the early 1840’s a new religious order, a society who modelled themselves on Mary, left France on a mission of evangelisation.  Arriving in Aotearoa, with its new Bishop Pompallier, they made their way down the island via sea and land to establish a base in Ōtaki.  Ōtaki the stronghold of Ngāti Raukawa (Waitohi the sister of Te Rauparaha the conquering Chief) and Ngāti Toa (Te Rauparaha), was an Oasis where the paramount Chief of the Ngāti Raukawa te au ki te Tonga had settled lands.    Ngāti Kapu leaders, recognised by Te Rauparaha and rewarded by Waitohi for their loyalty and courage, were assigned the lands about Ōtaki from the Mountains to the Sea.


All of the Māori living in this area had very strong spiritual practices that dominated their daily lives.  They had intimate relationships with their beliefs and practices in that spirituality.  Whilst other hapū and iwi embraced the Word of God through the Church of England (Anglican) messengers from afar, Ngāti Kapu who were very close kin welcomed the Marists onto their land.  Tonihi Te Rā offered his own land to be a place to bring the people together to learn about and share the Word of God from the scriptures brought by these Marists. This is extraordinary as the Church for Mihingare was some 500m from that of Ngāti Kapu.


With a very strong focus on the Mother Mary, the Marists were committed to share the Word and live among the Māori.  They were clearly instructed not to try to change the culture of the people.  In sharing the Word of God and the Marian practices they drew the Ngāti Kapu in.  Whilst the balance of Ngāti Raukawa in Ōtaki were embracing the Anglican (church of England) faith practice, there was something special about Mary, the Mother, that appealed to the Ngāti Kapu.  More than that, it drew them in.  They could easily align their history and culture to a life modelled on the Mother of Christ.

Ngāti Kapu made a home for Mary in Aotearoa.  They called their place Te Marae ō Hine, they named their Whare Tūpuna Hine nui te Ao Katoa, they dedicated their church to Our Lady of Victories.  The Ngāti Kapu called Māori to Pukekaraka and for many years, this has been a place of pilgrimage.  People have journeyed to Pukekaraka for prayer and healing.  Miracles have happened here.  A place where Māori are united in the Faith.


For many years this has been a site that has been visited by many Catholic.  Each has had their own reason for coming.  When you find peace and answers to questions you are in the presence of God.  When you visit Pukekaraka you are guaranteed an audience with the Lord, as Mary who is ever present, will advocate on your behalf.  Throughout the history of the Marist practice in Aotearoa there have been many examples of peace, contemplation, and glory.


“Pukekaraka, located on the northwest edge of Otaki township, is the location of the Catholic mission, established by the Marist fathers in 1844 (New Zealand Historic Places Trust 2002). The complex comprises a number of historic structures including St Mary’s Church, the presbytery, meeting houses, the way of the cross, and shrines. An associated urupa/burial ground is located on a hill nearby.”[1]


“Arguably the most successful of the early Catholic Māori Missions was that established in 1842 at Pukekaraka Marae in Ōtaki. The first church at Pukekaraka, also known as Puke Karakia - Hill of Prayer, was built in 1844 by Father Comte (Pā Kometa).  Father Comte, like all Marists, was not interested in acquiring land, but in education and evangelisation”[2]


“St Mary’s church was built in 1858-1859, and is considered to be New Zealand’s oldest surviving Catholic Church still in use. Initially a raupo chapel was used for services, but this burned down.”[3]

“For those of you who don’t know the Hui Aranga,  it is a national event where Maori together with fellow Catholics to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The first Hui Aranga was held at Pukekaraka in Otaki in 1946 and our dear friends from the Society of Mary played a big part in how the Hui Aranga came to be. It grew out of their early work with the Maori Misssion. What an amazing legacy Marists have started and continue to support.”


Ōtaki is a town north of Wellington, New Zealand.  It is the place chosen by the first Bishop of New Zealand, Bishop Philippe Viard SM, as the site for the launching of the Catholic Church in southern New Zealand.


In 1844, a French Marist Priest, Fr Jean Baptiste Comte SM, came to Ōtaki.  He was welcomed by the local Māori who indicated land where he could set up a church and school.  So began the arrival of a series of French priests and brothers who came on a mission to the other side of the world.

Being French and Marist they brought with them their love and devotion to Mary, Mother of God. Their interaction with the local people included praying the  Rosary and processions in honour of Mary.


Initially there was a shrine set up to honour Mary and then, in 1905, a more permanent grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes, in Māori – te Ana o Rouaiti.  That grotto has been the centre forMarian devotion until the present day.


One historical account states:

The statue of the Virgin Mary stands in a grotto which is a tiny antipodean offshoot of the great shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes.  The statue has stood on Pukekaraka (the hill of the Karaka tree) since 1901.  Fr Melu recorded: ‘When I came to Ōtaki for good, with the help of our boy William Bevan, I had a rustic shrine built on the side of the hill.  Later on, a concrete one was built’. Though the present grotto has the appearance of a lined cave, early photos indicate it began as a freestanding concrete shell and earth was then packed round it and secured by a stone wall which is now invisible under vegetation.


There are lovely lights around Mary and often people leave flowers or a note with some request.  Mary has witnessed a long history of people, young and old, for 116 years.  She is known to ‘be in charge’. One elder Māori lady says,‘Well, if Mary wants it, it will happen!’

The grotto does not stand alone but is part of a complex that is dedicated to Mary, Mother of the World (Hine Nui o te Ao Katoa).  This is a ‘marae’ or meeting place, cared for in a covenant of local Māori and the Catholic Church.

It is a place of peace and reconciliation.  For example, at the start of the new millennium, people from all parishes of the Archdiocese came, bringing a symbolic stone which they left near Mary, as a sign of seeking peace into the new millennium.


Mary’s grotto is linked with a journey up the hill to Calvary following the Stations of the Cross.  Mary is always linked with her Son and the Church.  Another meeting house near her is called Roma.  It captures the special link people here have with the Pope.  A papal flag, given by Pope Pius X, flies near the grotto.


Mary brings the healing of her Son and there have been cases of healing taking place at her shrine.  Perhaps the more common healing is the harmony people find by just coming to climb Pukekaraka and just slowing down and breathing Mary’s spirit.


Mary is a symbol of love of and care for ‘our home’, the Earth, and easily fits in Māori terms with Papatūānuku, the earth, and the call of Pope Francis in his Laudato Si.  It is all linked.

Likewise, Mary is the ‘Whaea’ or Mother and Woman presents the richness of all that is feminine and those qualities that help balance all relationships.


This place is a centre of pilgrimage and prayer for the Archdiocese. In 1946 Mary saw the origins of a Māori gathering each Easter to celebrate the death and resurrection of her son.  This is called the Hui Aranga, the Easter Resurrection Gathering.  This annual event continues today and a statue of Mary always goes with it.”[4]


[1] Peka Peka to Ōtaki – Specialist Report Heritage and Archaeology. Opus 2012 Microsoft Word - Appendices covers (

[2] Scadden, Ken.  The Māori and the Marists. The Marist Messenger 1 December 2016 reprint. Māori and the Marists (3) (

[3][3] Peka Peka to Ōtaki. Opus 2012

[4] Cody, Phillip SM. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pukekaraka. 2020,  Worldpriest founder was blessed by Venerable Patrick Peyton. - World Priest





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