Story: East Coast places

Page 3. Te Puia Springs and Tokomaru Bay

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Te Puia Springs

Settlement 101 km north of Gisborne and 28.5 km south of Ruatōria on State Highway 35. It is a site of warm thermal springs. The government, having unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the springs over a 10-year period, passed the Native Townships Act 1895 which made it possible for it to take the land.

An accommodation house for visitors to the springs was established earlier, but it was not until 1934–35 that it was operated on a permanent basis, with springs-supplied pool and bathhouses. The hotel was closed for a number of years, but was renovated and reopened in the early 2000s. Locally occurring natural gas was used for many years for cooking and heating.

Partly on account of the springs, which were considered to have medicinal qualities, a hospital was built in 1907. It was modernised and a 24-bed tuberculosis block was added in 1949. In 2019 it was a general-purpose hospital run by Ngāti Porou Hauora, the major health provider for the Ngāti Porou district.

The Williams family built Puketītī homestead, 5 km west of the township, in 1906, and substantially altered and enlarged it in 1933. The original homestead was built of Oregon pine shipped from the United States and rafted ashore at Waipiro Bay.

Waipiro Bay

Settlement 108 km north of Gisborne and 7 km north-east of Te Puia Springs, and one of the most scenic of the coast localities.

Whaling took place from the Māori settlement at Waipiro Bay in the mid-19th century. From the 1890s wool bales were shipped out from the bay, and livestock, stores and equipment landed, most often for J. N. Williams’s holdings. A post office opened in 1885. In its heyday, from the 1900s to 1920s, the township housed the Waiapu County Council offices, a courthouse, police station, school and numerous stores, and had a vigorous social life.

After the war was over...

A newspaper story from 1919 reports on goings-on in Waipiro Bay after the First World War: ‘The township is getting back to pre-war times. Mr Mawer has taken over the saddlery business and Mr W Sakey has re-opened the tinsmith’s shop. The spinsters of Waipiro and surrounding districts gave a ball on the evening of the 13th … Visitors were present from Tokomaru, Te Puia, Ihungia, Tuparoa and elsewhere. The hall was very prettily decorated with curtains, bunting, palms and kakaho, and the stage was transformed into a charming supper-room. Some 60 couples were present.’1

Bob Kerridge (later Sir Robert), founder of the nationwide cinema chain Kerridge Odeon, opened one of his first picture theatres in the town in the 1920s.

A maternity hospital run by the Waiapu Hospital Board operated from a house in the bay originally built for J. N. Williams’s accountant Arthur Beale.

A new road made in the late 1920s between Te Puia Springs and Kopuaroa (near where the north-bound road from Waipiro Bay meets State Highway 35) bypassed the bay. When road transport superseded sea transport, Waipiro Bay became a backwater. Shops, the Waiapu County offices and other services were moved to Te Puia Springs.

In 2011 there were only about 20 families living at Waipiro Bay. The local marae was the heart of the community, and the fishing club at the southern end of the bay hosted anglers’ competitions throughout the year.

Tokomaru Bay

Coastal township 90 km north of Gisborne and 11 km south of Te Puia Springs on State Highway 35, with a population of 390 in 2013.

The ancestral mountain Marotiri is clearly visible from the town, which is bisected by the ancestral river Mangahauini. Tuatini, one of four marae in the town, is home to St Mary’s church. Established in 1885, it is the oldest church in the district.

In 2013 over 80% of the population were Māori, with most belonging to Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare and Te Whānau-a-Te Aotawarirangi hapū. The district was once called Toka-a-Namu, referring to the abundance of sandflies (namu).

In the 1840s there was shore whaling from Tokomaru Bay. A battle between Pai Mārire (Hauhau) forces and local Māori took place at Māwhai Point on the southern side of the bay in August 1865. The outnumbered defenders, including many women, were victorious.

In the later 19th century the bay became a centre for the local pastoral industry. A post office opened in 1890. At Waimā, on the north side of the bay, a freezing works was established in 1911 and the wharf was extended to take overseas ships. The works closed in 1952 and the harbour ceased to be used in 1963. Ruins of the works and the old wharf were still evident in the early 21st century.

Artists and craftspeople, including musicians, painters and potters, have made their home in Tokomaru Bay; it is considered the craft centre of the coast. Te Puka tavern, on the road to Waimā, hosts live concerts and shows.

The highest point on State Highway 35 (171 m) is reached just south of Tokomaru Bay.

  1. Poverty Bay Herald, 18 June 1919, p. 7. Back
How to cite this page:

Monty Soutar, 'East Coast places - Te Puia Springs and Tokomaru Bay', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Monty Soutar, published 25 Aug 2011, updated 1 Mar 2015