Waipu: A Nova Scotia Community in New Zealand

by | Dec 7, 2017 | Asia, New Zealand | 3 comments

Welcome to New Zealand

New Zealand is whacky and wonderful. New Zealand is Nova Scotia on steroids. The hills are higher, steeper, greener. The winds are stronger. The roads are narrower, with cliffs on one side and gorges on the other, a real-life roller coaster that you can’t get off. There are thousands and thousands of sheep, everywhere. The coffee is stronger. There are more bars and restaurants than people.

I didn’t know what to expect in New Zealand. If you recall from the first blog of our trip, we arrived in New Zealand after a flight that left Toronto on Wednesday and landed in Auckland on Friday morning, before sunrise. We were in our rental car before dawn, drove to the base of Mount Eden and hiked to the top of the volcano to catch the sunrise over Auckland. We then got back in the car and drove 120 km to Waipu, a village with a population of 1,491.


Why did we go to Waipu?

Because it is famous for its Highland Games and its Scottish heritage.


I flew half way around the world and I felt like I had just arrived in Nova Scotia, except a different Nova Scotia.

Ceud Mile Failte: A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

The tiny village of Waipu celebrates its Scottish heritage in a big way.

The Waipu welcome sign, decorated in tartan, greets visitors in traditional Gaelic, with A Hundred Thousand Welcomes: ceud mìle fàilte

An image of a thistle, the national flower of Scotland, is overlaid on a picture of a sandy beach.

At the bottom of the sign is the traditional Māori greeting,  Kia ora 

Why does the little village of Waipu have a Scottish heritage?

McLeod plaque in Scotland for boomervoice

The story begins in Scotland. Norman McLeod was swept up in the Highland Clearances where desperate Scots were forced to seek a new place to live. Many Scots emigrated to Nova Scotia during the tragic Highland diaspora.

There is a plaque in Scotland that marks where Norman McLeod was born. I have not been to Scotland and found this photo online. (Scotland is on my must-visit list).

There is a lovely museum in Pictou, Nova Scotia that honours the first wave of Highland immigrants who arrived in 1773. We visited the museum a few years ago.

Below is the only photo from our visit (I didn’t know that one day I would start a travel blog and need many photos!).

The Hector was the first ship that brought Highlanders to Nova Scotia

There was a well established Scottish community in Pictou when Norman McLeod arrived more than 40 years after the good ship Hector.

When Norman McLeod arrived in Pictou, he was a Presbyterian Minister without a church.


McLeod did not like Pictou. He complained about its shamelessness and wickedness.

Three years after arriving in Pictou, Norman McLeod and his followers set out to find a new place to live. They settled on St. Ann’s on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia because of its beauty, its harbour and its fish.

On a beautiful summer day, there is no place in the world as lovely as Cape Breton. I have driven by St. Ann’s many times on my way around the Cabot Trail. (You can see photos from my trip last summer here). Next time, I will stop at The Gaelic College, the original site where Norman McLeod and his followers settled. His followers are called Normanites.

Norman McLeod and his Normanites were the first Scots to settle in St. Ann’s

They tried to make a go of it for more than 25 years. They were defeated by the potato blight, crop failure and devastating famine.

Norman McLeod described St. Ann’s as a desolate and desperate place to live.

One of McLeod’s sons went off in search of a better place to live. He traveled to Australia and came back to St. Ann’s with great tales of the wonderful life in Australia.

Sometimes, on dreary winter days in Nova Scotia, my sister and I would imagine what our lives would have been like if our ancestors had decided to pack up and leave Nova Scotia. Norman McLeod did just that.

Well, first he had to build a ship to sail to Australia. Finally, at the age of 71, the ship was ready and Norman McLeod, his wife, 7 kids and 150 Normanites set sail.

After a terrible 6-month journey, they arrived in Adelaide. They had to sell the ship to survive. There was no going back.


In Search of Paradise

Adelaide was in the grips of the gold rush when McLeod and his followers arrived. Living conditions were deplorable and disease was rampant. Three of McLeod’s sons died of typhus. McLeod knew that he had to find a better place for his family and followers.

McLeod wrote to the Governor of New Zealand, asking for a grant of land. He scraped together the money to purchase a new ship and the little flock of Normanites set out once again, this time to find paradise in Waipu.

The Highlanders of Waipu are New Zealand’s most courageous pioneers

Eventually 1000 Scots from St. Ann’s followed Norman McLeod to Waipu.

The decision on whether to tough it out in St. Ann’s or set sail for Waipu tore families apart. Some stayed, others left, never to see their families again.

The remarkable journey of Norman McLeod and his followers is chronicled at the Waipu Museum. Here is an excerpt of their story:

Today, the descendents number in their tens of thousands. The remarkable Waipu Migration has descendents all over New Zealand and the world. Those connections continue to be celebrated.


In the words of the late PM Sir Peter Fraser:


“New Zealand has many records of the adventurous voyages and the trying experiences of its hardy and courageous pioneers. Each successive settlement has its history of early trials and vicissitudes , of tremendous difficulties and failures preceeding success ………………………….but none excel the story of the Highlanders of Waipu.”


Do you want to visit Waipu and follow the story of Scottish Highlanders who finally found paradise?

This plaque is embedded into the exterior wall of the Waipu Museum


UNESCO has recognized the Waipu Museum for the story of the Scottish Migration

UNESCO Waipu Museum Scottish Migration Collection

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction.[1] 



I went to Waipu to find a Nova Scotian community. I found a UNESCO site!

The Nova Scotia flag flies in front of the Waipu Museum

I didn’t take a picture of the flag … don’t know why … jetlag I guess.

In 1990, the Nova Scotia government unveiled a plaque at the Waipu Museum in honour of the establishment of the Nova Scotia Waipu Historic Trust.


If you go to Waipu, look for this stone fence outside the Museum

This stone fence was erected to honour the Gaelic-speaking Nova Scotians who founded Waipu.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes to the Waipu Museum

The staff at the Waipu Museum were very friendly and welcoming.

There is a special guest book for Nova Scotians to sign at the museum. I signed the book. If I had not been jetlagged, I would have taken more time to read the comments by other Nova Scotians who had signed the book.

There is also a lovely gift shop in the museum. I wanted to buy some souvenirs, but since I had literally just gotten off the plane, I thought that I would save the shopping for later … should have shopped at the museum store … did not see the same things again.

The Scottish Diaspora

This is a map of the remarkable Scottish migration from Scotland to Nova Scotia to Australia and finally New Zealand.

These are the names of the Scottish pioneers who journeyed from Scotland to Nova Scotia to New Zealand.

Tragedy for the Highlanders of Waipu did not end

The Waipu Museum pays tribute the terrible loss of life during The Great War.

The Highlanders of Waipu are proud of their Scottish ancestry



Waipu has Highland Games and ceilidhs

The largest highland games outside Scotland are held every year in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, my home town. (Check here for details.) However, I would love to be in Waipu on January 1 for their annual highland games. I bet it is a lot of fun!

Waipu has its own tartan

This is Waipu tartan

Waipu does more with tartan than Nova Scotia

I saw this poster in a window, advertising an Art N Tartan fashion show.

Art N Tartan dress for boomervoice copyWe were not in Waipu for the Art N Tartan fashion show so I found some photos online.

They make more than traditional kilts in Waipu!

This is an online photo of the Art N Tartan Fashion Show

Even the trees in Waipu are dressed in tartan

We ended our magical experience in Waipu with a stroll down Nova Scotia Drive


I was half way around the world and felt right at home.


Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray