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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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Whangaroa (“Long Harbour”), between Mangonui and the Bay of Islands on the eastern coast of North Auckland, is a spacious and perfectly land-locked anchorage and represents a drowned river system, eroded in rocks of two different types. This explains the peculiar features of the harbour. The narrow rock-walled entrance, scarcely a third of a mile across, is cut in hard volcanic breccia, while the upper reaches, over 2 miles in width and surrounded by gently undulating country, have been eroded in soft sedimentary shales and sandstones. This difference of rock texture also explains why waterfalls occur near the harbour entrance while inland the streams enter the harbour by a gentle gradient, why Peach Island of volcanic breccia is lofty and rugged, and neighbouring Jones or Milford Island of sedimentary rock has very gentle slopes, and why the “Mushroom Rocks” of Ranfurly Bay and the adjoining columns, pinnacles, reefs, and caverns are features of the eastern, but not the western parts of the harbour. Two prominent breccia-capped hills, St. Peter and St. Paul, face each other across the water near Whangaroa township. Wide stretches of tide marsh, mangrove swamp, and mudflats occur at the mouths of the Kaeo, Pupuke, and Waihapa Streams, which flow into the head of the harbour and bear witness to the rapid shallowing of the upper reaches.

Whangaroa is full of historical associations. Sea captains visited the harbour as early as 1805. Some of these early ships were the General Wellesley, the Commerce, both in 1806, and the Elizabeth in 1809. In the same year the Boyd was burnt and its crew massacred by the Maoris in consequence of the ill treatment of a chief who had been a member of the crew. Ten years elapsed before seamen ventured into Whangaroa, but in 1819 the Dromedary arrived to load kauri spars. In 1823 the Wesleyan Church established a mission on the Kaeo River, but was obliged to withdraw after a few years owing to the hostility of the Maoris. It was during these years that the famous chief Hongi Hika (c. 1777–1828) ravaged the district. Whangaroa was again shunned until 1840, when the first permanent settlers arrived, among them Shepherd, Snowden, Spikeman, and Hayes. In that year also the Roman Catholic Church established a mission, still in existence, at Waitaruke, near the head of Whangaroa Harbour. With the advent of the immigrant ship Lancashire Witch in 1865, progress commenced in the timber and kaurigum industry. Shipbuilding began in 1872 when Lane and Brown erected yards at Totara North. Milling was carried on by Christie and Wiggins and, later, by the Kauri Timber Co. In the early 1900s Sea Sick Bay, just inside the south head, was used as a whaling base, and 20 years later Ranfurly Bay, just inside the north, served the same purpose. Copper was once mined in the mid-water tributaries of the Pupuke River. Dairying is important, though the local factory has now closed. A little milling is done and some crayfishing. Today Whangaroa is chiefly known as a base for deep-sea game fishing.

by Robert Findlay Hay, M.A., B.E.(MINING), Scientific Officer, New Zealand Geological Survey, Otahuhu.


Robert Findlay Hay, M.A., B.E.(MINING), Scientific Officer, New Zealand Geological Survey, Otahuhu.