Papawai Marae is just minutes from the heart of Greytown and is one of the most historically important marae in New Zealand. Papawai has been home to Wairarapa Māori for hundreds of years, and in the late 1800s it was the focus of Kotahitanga, the national Maori parliament movement.
Unusually, the magnificent carved ancestors that surround the pā face inward. This is said to indicate a desire by Māori to live alongside the European settlers peacefully, as well as a willingness for Māori to look inward to find solutions to the challenges facing them.
Settled by early Wellingtonians who had finally found small affordable portions of farm land, the village was named in honour of the Governor, Sir George Grey, in recognition of his commitment and support of their search.
March 1854 saw the first six intrepid souls arrive, their possessions carried by four bullocks, after crossing the Rimutaka… on foot. Pitching camp near Cobblestones where a small memorial shelter marks the spot today, they immediately set to work building shelters and small cottages.
Shops, hotels and larger houses were built in the subsequent years and despite the constant hazard posed by fire, enough of these original buildings remain today to give Main Street its strong Victorian flavour. With 60 120-acre sections located each side of Main Street, Greytown had become New Zealand’s first planned inland town.
Greytown Rugby club, established in 1877, is one of the oldest in the country. Greytown Cricket Club is the second-oldest cricket club, established in 1867, 10 years before test cricket began and in 2017, celebrated its 150th Anniversary.
Preserving our heritage
Conservation of trees and the environment has always been important for local citizens.
In 1890, the country’s first Arbor Day planting was held and trees from that planting still stand south of the town alongside State Highway 2.
In 1919, 20 acres of O’Connor’s Bush, an uncut remnant of lowland forest, was purchased with the help of forward-thinking citizens. Memorial Park remains as a monument to the men of Greytown who gave their lives in both World Wars.
The town of today
When the railway by-passed the village in the 1870s, Greytown’s position as the pre-eminent town in the Wairarapa slowly declined.
The years passed quietly until the 1970s. In a strange way, this has helped today’s Greytown, as little development was undertaken between 1920 and 1970, and the old colonial buildings with their exotic trees were left largely untouched.
Greytown’s current inhabitants are increasingly proud of their heritage. Old buildings have been sensitively upgraded and put to new purposes – cafés, restaurants, craft shops, accommodation, clothing and other boutique retail stores now line Main Street.
Today, Greytown is an attractive and thriving community. Learn more at Greytown Community Heritage Trust.