A Warm Welcome
“A man who could sit under the shade of his own vines with his wife and children about him, the ripe clusters hanging within their reach, in such a climate as this and not feel the highest enjoyment is incapable of happiness and does not know what the word means.” - James Busby, (Date Unknown)
James Busby is widely regarded as the fore father of the Australian wine industry before he arrived in New Zealand. Busby collected vine stock from Spain and France to propagate in Australia. He continued his passion for wine when he was sent to New Zealand, and planted vines right here in the Bay of Islands.
Here at Omata, nearly 200 years on, we are as passionately committed as Busby ever was. The fertile soils and climate that place our country as a world leader in agriculture, work alongside Omata’s summers, warm breezes and clay soils, to produce some of the best grapes in the world. Using traditional methods we continue Busby’s vision to provide bold, sensually rich, full-bodied wines of the finest quality.
Our History - The First Settlers
Omata Estate lies on the Kororareka/Russell Peninsula in the Bay of Islands. Kororareka translates into English as “how sweet is the penguin”, which refers to the Maori legend of a dying chief being fed broth made from the blue penguins that were, and still are, present in the region today.
Okiato, at the base of the Russell peninsular, was the first capital of New Zealand, and played host to the lives, times and trials of New Zealand’s first settlers. The Bay of Islands saw the drafting and signing of both the Declaration of Independence for the Confederation of United Chiefs, and the Treaty of Waitangi, an agreement between the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand and the incoming British.
Omata was a functioning manganese mine for a short period in the 1830’s . The estate makes up 70 acres bought by Captain John Wright in 1831, and property of Omata shares boundaries with the original 220 acres brought in 1830 by James Clendon. Omata’s property purchase agreement, complete with sale price of muskets, blankets, money and other various items, hangs in the Omata homestead to this day. At Omata, Captain Wright experimented with market gardening to provision the visiting shipping, one of the first Europeans in New Zealand to compete with the then-thriving Maori trade. On the water’s edge below Omata’s vineyard, Captain Wright built one of the first stores in the Bay of Islands. Amongst other things, the store supplied the arms and ammunition so coveted by Maori at the time. It was at Wright’s Omata store that one of the first recorded burglaries in New Zealand took place. The culprits were caught, sent to Sydney for trial, and hung. Captain Wright and his stepdaughter sailed to Sydney to witness justice administered.
As the Bay of Islands shipping trade developed, Maori and missionaries became concerned at the behaviour of many visiting traders and sailors. In response to a letter from the Maori chiefs, in 1832 Britain appointed James Busby as “British Resident”, an official representative of the British Government.
Captain Wright, James Clendon and James Busby were early seafaring entrepreneurs and were attracted to this wild exciting new frontier. Clendon, who was later appointed US Consult, set up his first trading station at Okiato, on the property sharing boundaries with Omata , and for a short time, his home here was to become New Zealand’s first Lieutenant Governor’s residence.
These adventurers and their families became prominent traders in the Bay of Islands as well as close friends. The business associates Busby, Clendon and Wright all ate, played and worked together, the same as neighbours and friends do today. Busby and Clendon were key participants of Treaty-making at Waitangi and no doubt Wright was one of the crowd watching the historical signing. Even the paper on which the final drafting of the Treaty of Waitangi was made, came from James Clendon’s personal stationary and Clendon signed as a witness to the Treaty.
Very shortly after the Treaty was signed, unsettlement in the Bay grew and war started in 1845 with an attack on the Kororareka-Russell township. Maori chiefs and their armies camped before and after the battle at Te Wahapu, where they ensured the safety of “their” pakeha residents there during the unrest. As the war escalated a British army barracks was located at Te Wahapu, Maori withdrew leaving Captain John Wright to supply the barracks from his Omata store.
The First Wild Horses
In the 1830’s, a shipment of horses to New Zealand was imported from Valparaiso in Chile, and was landed at Omata by none other than James Clendon. This adds weight to the apparent close personal relationship between Wright and Clendon, as Clendon’s reasoning would, have no doubt been that rather than walk the horses up the 70 metre wharf which extended from his trading post, and run the risk of injuring the horses and damaging the wharf structure, he simply rounded the next bay, used his friendly neighbour’s sandy shallow, bedded the ship and unloaded the animals straight onto land. These horses aroused attention from local Maori on the Paihia side of the inlet. Late one night they paddled from their Pa across the channel to Omata, caught two of the horses, hog-tied them and loaded them into their canoes and “set sail”. Mid way across the channel, the horses broke free and sank the canoes, leaving the horses and local Maori to swim to shore. It is widely believed these horses were to become the beginnings of the wild horses that lived in the area for many years.
A Parting Mystery?
Captain John Wright drowned in the late 1860’s on his way back from Russell to Omata. It is reported that only the previous day he had completed a large business deal for which he received 500 pounds (almost $1,000,000 in today’s money). He reportedly buried this money in a pewter vase on his property at Omata. To this day the money has never been found….
Omata Estate is now owned by the Cashmore Family and under the guidance of Bruce Soland (viticulturalist) and Rod McIvor (wine maker) Omata has established itself as one of Northlands premier wine growing sites. The coastal climate similar to Waiheke, but further north and higher sunshine hours, is growing consistently stunning wines. Omata wines have won international acclaim and we are continually improving our soils and viticulture using natural and sustainable practices. Our goal is to pleasantly surprise your palate with every taste.