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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Hokianga Harbour is a fiord-like inlet in the western coast of the North Auckland Peninsula. Its full name “Hokianga-nui-o-Kupe”, meaning “the final departing place of Kupe”, refers to the place of embarkation on the occasion of his return to Hawaiki after exploring part of the New Zealand coast. Like other west coast harbours, it represents a drowned-river system and has a dangerous bar 1½ miles from the entrance, the scene of several wrecks. Coastal shipping formerly used the harbour as far inland as Horeke. The harbour extends as far as Kohukohu, where it branches into the Waihou and Mangamuka Rivers. The bold-cliffed south head, surmounted by the old Signal Station, consists of well-cemented conglomerates. The north head consists of moving sand dunes up to 570 ft in height. For the rest, the rocks consist of soft alternating sandstones and shales, with some limestone on both shores near Opononi. To the south the sedimentary rocks are backed by the rugged bush-clad Waima Range of submarine lavas and, to the north, by the Warawara of the same rock.

In early European times Hokianga was the home of Patuone and Nene. The first Europeans in the Hokianga district arrived about 1800. These were mainly runaway sailors, sawyers, and convicts, of whom John Marmon, better known as “Cannibal Jack”, was the most notorious. When Marsden visited the district in 1819 he called it the Gambier River, but the ancient Maori name has survived. Among the early mariners was Captain J. R. Kent, of the schooner Prince Regent, who crossed the bar for a load of spars in 1820, and Captain Herd, of the Providence, in 1822. Four years later Captain Herd was back in charge of the expedition of the First New Zealand Company. None of the intending settlers was prepared to stay, but a few subsequently returned from Sydney. The brig Vision later made several voyages transporting settlers from Sydney.

About 1819 Messrs Raine, Ramsay, and Browne, a Sydney firm, established a sawmill and shipyard. In a comparatively short time this became a thriving settlement and by the 1830s was popularly known as “the Deptford of the South”. Meanwhile traders in flax, squared timber, and spars were slowly appearing on the scene and setting up shore bases. Of these newcomers the most well known were G. F. Russell, F. E. Maning, whose home still stands at Onoke Point, and Thomas McDonnell, who had a shipyard at Horeke. Clendon, later American consul at the Bay of Islands, was another early settler. Baron de Thierry, the self-styled “King of New Zealand”, settled in 1837 at Mount Isabel (called after his daughter), near Rangiahua. In February 1840 Captain Hobson addressed a large gathering of Maoris at the mission when he induced a number of chiefs to add their signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Meanwhile the missionaries had been active throughout the district. Early in 1828 John Hobbs established a Methodist mission at Mangungu, a few miles from Raine's settlement. Later, the Roman Catholics came to Totara Point on the Mangamuka River. Today these sites are marked by a Celtic cross and a plinth. The Wesleyans extended their activities to Waima (site marked by an oak) and Pakanae (site marked by Norfolk pines), and the Roman Catholics to Purakau on the north side.

Hokianga's prosperity was built on kauri timber and kauri gum. Mills were established in the 1870s and milling operations were conducted at Kohukohu, Rangiora, Koutu, Waima, Rawene, Horeke, and Waimamaku. The chief gum areas were near Taheke, at Koutu, and around Rangi Point. Today the mainstay of the area is farming, though some building sand and agricultural limestone are produced. As a tourist resort Omapere and Opononi are becoming increasingly well known. It was at Opononi that “Opo”, the tame dolphin, made her appearance.

In May 1898 Hokianga was the scene of the famous “Dog Tax Rebellion”. This arose when the Mahurehure hapu of Ngapuhi tribe refused to pay a dog tax recently instituted by the local county council. On 5 May 120 men of the Permanent Force under Colonel Newall marched from Rawene to Waima, the seat of the “rebellion”, only to find that Hone Heke, M.H.R., had already interceded to preserve the peace.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Robert Findlay Hay, M.A., B.E.(MINING), Scientific Officer, New Zealand Geological Survey, Otahuhu.

  • Old New Zealand, Maning, F. E. (1956)
  • Tides of Hokianga, Manson, C. and C. (1956)
  • Check to Your King, Hyde, R. (1960).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Robert Findlay Hay, M.A., B.E.(MINING), Scientific Officer, New Zealand Geological Survey, Otahuhu.