Kawhia Harbour is a large inlet on the west coast of the North Island approximately midway between Auckland and New Plymouth. The profusely indented harbour was formed by the partial submergence of an ancient river valley whose many branches were drowned by a rise in sea level. More than half the area is shallow or tidal, and five main estuaries, all navigable by launch, wind between high, cavernous limestone cliffs crowned with native bush.
Although the harbour is 8 miles both in greatest length and in greatest width, a bar effectively obstructs large shipping from using the port. South from the entrance the craggy ocean coast sweeps westward to Albatross Point and, to the north of the entrance, just below high-tide mark, is Te Puia Spring situated on a desolate beach backed by miles of drifting, black sand dunes. On the northern shore inside the entrance, and near the town of Kawhia, is the final resting place of Tainui, one of the ancestral Maori canoes that made its first landfall near Cape Runaway on the east coast. The name Kawhia (“abundance of everything”), which was not at first applied to the town, is derived from awhia, the ceremony performed by Maoris when visiting a new district. Te Rauparaha, the great warrior chief, was born at Kawhia.
A short distance inland from Hauturu on the eastern shore is to be found the most southerly natural habitat of the kauri tree.
In 1858 Ferdinand von Hochstetter, an Austrian geologist, arrived in New Zealand with the Novara expedition. He travelled extensively as guest of the Auckland Provincial Government and, while at Kowhai Point on the southern shore of Kawhia Harbour, discovered the first New Zealand ammonite fossils. Since then many palaeontologists, both amateur and professional, have visited the miles of cliffs around the harbour that expose a very considerable fossil record extending from Jurassic times.
In 1881, after making peace with King Tawhiao, the Government attempted to open the harbour for shipping and trade, but were frustrated for a time by Maori renegades who destroyed the navigation beacons in the harbour and obstructed the development of the fertile hinterland.
by Leslie Owen Kermode, B.A., Geological Survey Station, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Otahuhu.