In 1823 the Wesleyan Missionary Society (Methodist) established a mission at Whangaroa, initially under the leadership of Samuel Leigh, a friend of Samuel Marsden. Leigh and his wife arrived in the Bay of Islands in January 1822 and lived with William and Dinah Hall of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) until the arrival of William White in May 1823. Leigh and White then established the Wesleydale mission at Kaeo, near Whangaroa Harbour.
The two missionary societies quickly worked out their spheres of influence, with the Wesleyans based on the east coast. Both groups confined their activities to the Far North until the early 1830s. On the eve of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, there were some 170 CMS missionaries and their families and approximately 69 Wesleyan missionaries.
Ruatara made it clear that he was the protector and patron of 'his Pakeha', the first CMS missionaries at Rangihoua. After his death in 1815 patronage of the Rangihoua station passed to his uncle, Hongi Hika, who was also patron of the CMS station established at Kerikeri in 1819. The need to secure the patronage of a local Maori leader was something that the Wesleyans failed to recognise. They were eventually forced to abandon their first mission station in 1827 when local Maori sacked it. They relocated to the Hokianga in 1828 under the leadership of William White.
There were concerns in Protestant circles when Jean Baptiste François Pompallier led a Roman Catholic mission into the Bay of Islands in 1838. Religious rivalry was matched by national rivalries as the Catholic missionaries at work in the Pacific were French.
Maori responded to this rivalry in various ways. If one tribe or hapu adopted Catholicism, a rival often adopted Anglicanism. Maori sometimes covered their bets, with different members of their community becoming Anglican while others chose Wesleyan or Catholic faiths.