Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Stretch of Eastern Coromandel Coastline Heritage

Whangamata from Air EARLY 1980'S
JM Stewart photo collection

Very much a part of the past New Zealand history. It has been said that most New Zealanders have come to the Coromandel Peninsula in the 1800's and 1900's.

The Eastern Seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula – a stretch of coastline and hinterland between Tairua and Mataora. An area formed as a result of “pretty hot” volcanic activity millions of years ago. When things cooled down and the sea invaded parts of what were once huge caldera, forests grew on the remains of the volcanic activity. With the forest came an abundant supply of bird, plentiful seafood and beneath the soil minerals.

The Pinnacles from Prescott's Garage
photo by CRB 2010
The first settlers to the area arrived by sea in canoe and finding what they needed in plentiful supply, settled and established Pa. They also found another commodity ideal for tool sharpening - a shiny black glass like stone, borne of the volcanic activity – obsidian. Given this area was one of the few with an abundant supply of obsidian, others soon got to hear about this useful stone along with the abundance of seafood. 

Travelling across the rugged volcanic ranges by bush track or by sea in canoe, they were lured to the area to trade for that useful item obsidian and the abundant sea food. It is said battles were fought and stories of these were passed down through the generations.

Photo courtesy  DK Clip Art

The Archaeology Department of the Auckland University carried out studies along this stretch of coast in the early 1970’s finding an overall picture of settlement.

  • Evidence of the Moa Hunter era and a fish hook and lure manufactory at the Whangamata Wharf area.
  •  An oyster fishing lure found at Tairua made from an oyster shell said to be found only in the tropics
  • Numerous middens along the coast at Whiritoa, Whangamata, Opoutere and Onemana.

Moa - Giant Bird now extinct in NZ

Much later, in the 18th Century, another explorer arrived on the scene in a different sort of boat. Captain Cook sailing up this stretch of coast, to observe the transit of Mercury at  Whitianga in 1769, observed on his way, many islands.   
Near one of these, the ship H.M.S Endeavour hove to and sheltered for the night because of hazy weather and fresh winds. This island- Tuhua - he named Mayor. Next morning he spied a group of islands with craggy caps - Hongiora, Middle, Ruamahuanui, and Ruamahuaiti. These reminded him of the Aldermen back home in England, “dubbed’ them the "Court of Aldermen Islands".

This exploration was to bring to the eastern seaboard shores, a new wave of settlers and itinerants. They were lured to the hinterland by those bountiful supplies of timber, gum and gold. 

The year 1842 saw some of the first British immigrants, wading ashore up to their knees in mud and water to their new home at Auckland. ( Passengers of the Jane Gifford and Duchess of Argyle ).

By the end of 1842 the British Navy had arrived and departed from a place near Tairua, loaded with a cargo of fine kauri spars aboard the H.M.S. Tortoise but minus one of their sailors. (Today this spot at Te Karo is known as Sailor's Grave because of the picket fence enclosed grave, of the sailor who drowned when the ship’s jolly capsized in the surf.)
The grave is still looked after by the Navy and a reminder that this stretch of coast has claimed a share of shipwrecks and lives over the years. 

 In 2012 the Tauranga Unit of HMNZS Ngapona (Naval Reserve) undertook completion of extensive maintenance on  the sailor William Samson's grave. 

While gold was discovered at Coromandel over on the west coast of the Peninsula in 1852, the eastern side remained for a time relatively remote. That is apart from those who had  already made it their home before this new wave of people arriving - Browne, Dacre, Tapsell, De Thierry.

Roading across the rugged ranges to the stretch of coast Tairua – Mataora remained bush tracks. In spite of the lack of roading it was the other resources which began to leave the area - via cutters, schooners and brigantines - Auckland bound, to satisfy the insatiable demands of a growing town.
  Sailing Ships Queen Street Wharves 1880's
               In The New Zealand Insurance Company Limited. Bold Century. Auckland:
       The New Zealand Insurance Company Limited, 1959.

Reference Sources:

  •  Homer L’ Moore P., Vanishing Volcanoes: A Guide to the landforms and rock formations of Coromandel Peninsula, Landscape Publications, Wellington, 1992
  •  Allo, J the Whangamata Wharf Site (N49/2): Excavations on a Coromandel Coastal Midden. Rec Auckland Inst.Mus.9:61- 79.1972
  •  Jolly, R.G.W. The East or Cabana Lodge Site, Whangamata, New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter. Vol.21, No.4,Dec 1978.
  •  A Literal Transcription of the Original MSS. with Notes and Introduction, edited by Captain W.J.L. Wharton, R.N., F.R.S. Hydrographer of the Admiralty. “Captain Cook's Journal during his first voyage round the world made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour” CHAPTER 5. EXPLORATION OF NORTH ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND.[In Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand.] 1768-71.” Ebooks Adelaide (accessed June 01, 2009).