The Hauraki Plains have been hugely altered from their natural state. What in the 2000s is a grid of farms and straight roads was once a flood plain of bog, swamp, kahikatea forest and overflowing rivers. This transformation is the work of a vast network of canals, drains, stopbanks, floodgates and pumping stations. Canals and the stopbanks along the coast and riverbanks are clearly visible from the road. So too are many other features of drainage: spoil from drain clearing, tree stumps exposed by shrinking peat, elevated roads and drains at close intervals. Hidden from general view are heavy installations such as pumping stations.
Town on the Hauraki Plains, 23 km south-west of Thames and 25 km north-west of Paeroa, with a 2013 population of 1,245.
Ngātea is a variation on the old Māori name Ngā Ate, meaning the heart or centre. European settlers first used the name ‘The Orchard’ after the Māori-grown peach and quince trees in the area.
When Maude Basham’s husband was appointed engineer to the Hauraki Plains county council in Ngātea, she and her family moved there with him from Auckland. Missing the city, Maude (who was always known as Daisy), an experienced singer and performer, started a glee club which performed routines from stage musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan shows. On occasion she would take singing engagements in Auckland, including on radio – the beginnings of her career as the legendary radio personality ‘Aunt Daisy’.
The land ballot at Ngātea in May 1910 was the first on the plains. The town was the most important port on the Piako River, which was bridged at the town. Hauraki Plains County Council (1920–89) and Hauraki District Council (since 1989) have both had their main offices in the town. Hauraki Plains College in Ngātea is the only secondary school on the plains.
The Miranda coast faces the Coromandel Peninsula across the Firth of Thames. It is part of the Hūnua block, which has been raised in the course of fault movements but not by as much as the peninsula. The same is true of the Hapūakohe Range, further south.
On the Miranda coast tides from the north slowly move gravel, sand and cockle shells southwards down the shoreline. The result is New Zealand’s only chenier plain (a plain made of shell and sand on marine muds). Between Wharekawa and Kaiaua a series of gravel ridges have built up in front of the old cliff line. South of Kaiaua the ridges are composed entirely of sand and shells.
Kaiaua, 42 km from Thames, has an 800-year-old pūriri tree in the local domain. Wharekawa, 5 km to the north, is the site of a Ngāti Pāoa marae. Whakatīwai, between the other two settlements, is known as the burial place of Marutūahu, the ancestor of all the Hauraki tribes.
Locality at the south-west corner of the Firth of Thames, known to Māori as Pūkorokoro. In November 1863 HMS Miranda and the gunboat Sandfly shelled Pūkorokoro; 900 government soldiers later landed from a flotilla of vessels and stormed and captured the settlement.
Miranda is best known as a major reception area of godwits (kūaka), which migrate from Alaska and Siberia for the New Zealand summer; and for its hot springs, with a large hot mineral pool complex.
Settlement at the north-west corner of the Hauraki Plains. Its first buildings were located at the mouth of the Waitakaruru River in 1910, where booms were used in the floating of kahikatea logs. The general store of the time was a goldfield hotel shipped from Kuaotunu.
The flax industry of the plains was centred at Kaihere and Pātetonga from 1905 to 1920. The Maukoro Canal directs water from the Hapūakohe Range into the Firth of Thames.
Returned servicemen and other settlers in the district faced great difficulties. They lacked knowledge of the trace elements essential to farming peat land, prices were depressed and drain clearing was constant. Road building involved great toil.
Torehape wetland contains the remnant of a large peat dome (654 ha) a short distance north of the Kopuatai Peat Dome.
Kerepēhi, once described as ‘[t]his “island” in the vast swamp’, is known as ‘Kere’ to locals.1 Kerepēhi was chosen as the base of Lands and Survey drainage operations in 1908 because of its location on the Piako River and its elevation above the natural flood level. Until the early 1920s a large establishment of engineers, shipwrights, blacksmiths, surveyors, clerks and labour gangs was based there.
A consolidated dairy factory for the plains operated at Kerepēhi from 1954 to 1991; a number of businesses now occupy the former dairy plant. Ngāti Hako have a marae at Kerepēhi and another to the south at Tirohia.
Locality on the Waihou River 14 km south of Thames. The Bagnall family lives on in the street named after their forebears who milled the timber of the Tūrua forest in the later 19th century. Remnant kahikatea in the Tūrua domain struggle to survive as a dry, rather than swamp, forest.
Thames is Hauraki–Coromandel’s largest town and the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula. It had a 2013 population of 6,693, and is 115 km south-east of Auckland and 104 km north-east of Hamilton.
Thames came into existence when gold was discovered in 1867 in the lower Kauaeranga valley, at the south-east corner of the Firth of Thames. The goldfield lifted Auckland out of the economic depression that followed the withdrawal of imperial troops and transfer of the colony’s capital to Wellington in 1865.
The government chose Shortland, at the mouth of the Kauaeranga River, for the town. Meanwhile, many miners occupied Tookeys Flat on the Kuranui Stream, in order to be close to the gold workings. In 1868 Auckland entrepreneur Robert Graham purchased the land in between, which became Grahamstown. The three towns combined to form Thames. The town’s centre of gravity soon shifted from Shortland to Grahamstown, which had ‘Scrip Corner’ (where sharebrokers congregated), the wharves and foundries.
Tararū, a suburban area to the north of the town, was also first laid out in 1868. Tōtara pā cemetery, to the south of the town, is on the site of the fomer Te Tōtara pā.
Thames has retained a wealth of historical buildings from the gold-mining days thanks to limited pressures for development subsequently, and local pride in the town’s history. The Thames School of Mines, in existence between 1886 and 1953, and mineral museum are open to the public as a museum.
Until recently, Thames was the most highly industrialised town of its size in New Zealand.
Two foundries set up business in the town to supply the gold-mining and timber industries: Charles Judd in 1869 and A. & G. Price in 1870. They made stamper equipment, timber jacks and even bush locomotives.
By 1958 A. & G. Price had built 123 locomotives for the Railways Department, of which 106 were still in service.
Decline in these two industries and the completion of Thames’s rail link with the rest of the North Island in 1898 prompted A. & G. Price to start building locomotives for the Railways Department in 1905. They produced more locomotives for New Zealand than any other workshop, their last one being made in 1965. The company was still in business in 2010.
In 1964 motor-vehicle assembly began in Thames, providing up to 600 jobs. The plant turned out close to 250,000 vehicles before closing down in 1998.
A major catchment of the Coromandel Peninsula located inland from Thames. This part of Coromandel Forest Park is much used by school groups and summer visitors. It is an area of deep ravines and high peaks.
The kauri in the Kauaeranga valley was heavily worked by bushmen in the 1910s and 1920s. They built more than 50 dams on the river’s tributaries. Booms were located about halfway down the valley to protect farmland. From there an 18-km tramway bypassed the lower section of the river to Kōpū.
The remains of logging dams, tramways, trestle bridges and river booms from that era can still be seen.
The coast north of Thames is characterised by many pōhutukawa, which make a magnificent sight when they flower in December.
Significant areas of flat land are only found on the coast at the mouths of the Te Puru, Waiomu, Tapu and Waikawau streams.
Thornton Bay, 10 km north of Thames, is a beach settlement. Nearby Ngārimu Bay, is named after 2nd Lieutenant Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross in 1943.
Te Puru, 12 km north of Thames on State Highway 25, was subdivided in the 1950s. It was built on stream-mouth alluvial deposits. Gold workings in the area were unsuccessful.
John Logan Campbell, who is best-known as an early Auckland settler, spent three months at Waiomu before he shifted to Waitematā. The Monowai quartz reef up the Waiomu Valley was mined until the 1930s. Waiomu is now known for its domain, with a reclining pōhutukawa, and a kauri-grove walk.
Tapu, 19 km north of Thames on State Highway 25, was the earliest coast township; 500 miners were digging in the Tapu valley by 1869. Much of the gold could be sluiced from hillsides, as it was not buried in quartz as elsewhere on the peninsula, but there was also quartz-reef mining.
The school dates from 1877 and the war memorial hall from 1948–49.
The Rapaura watergardens, developed since the 1960s, with both native and exotic plants, are 7 km from Tapu on the road to Coroglen. Maumaupaki (Camels Back), at 819 m, is a distinctive summit.
Town 55 km north of Thames on State Highway 25, with a 2013 population of 1,503. The peninsula’s most historic settlement, it occupies the alluvial flats of the Whangarahi Stream, backed by the steep Coromandel Range. Whanganui Island straddles much of the entrance to Coromandel Harbour.
Te Patukirikiri are the tangata whenua (local tribe) of Coromandel. Ngāti Whanaunga and Ngāti Pāoa share that status in the wider area.
Miners flocked to Coromandel in 1852 and 1862 but, failing to find alluvial gold, soon left. Investment by mining companies from 1868 meant quartz reefs could be mined, so returns improved and the town stabilised. The population was 1,174 in 1874.
Many fine colonial buildings, like the government buildings (1873), have survived. The Coromandel Goldfield Centre and Stamper Battery and the Coromandel School of Mines and Historical Museum are both located in heritage buildings.
Gold mining and logging both declined after 1900. Land was farmed and a dairy factory opened in 1911.
The shallow harbour meant the old wharf could only be used at high tide and was expensive to maintain. The decline in coastal shipping and poor roading left farmers isolated.
Coromandel began to grow again in the 1960s, if slowly. Its old-world charm, relative isolation and cheap real estate attracted retired people, artists and ‘alternative lifestylers’. Hannafords Jetty, in deep water at nearby Te Kouma, is now used by tourist ferries.
The closure of Coromandel Hospital in 1994 – as part of government health reforms – was a blow to the town. Built of heart kauri in 1898, it is the town’s finest colonial building. It is now the site of Patukirikiri marae.
Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, on the road to Kennedy Bay, was developed by potter Barry Brickell, and is open to visitors. The creek takes its name from the driving of kauri logs by the force of water released from dams, down to the harbour for shipping.
The fishing fleet peaked at about 25 boats in the early 1980s when Coromandel wharf was landing the second-largest catch of snapper in New Zealand. The introduction of a New Zealand-wide quota system in 1986 restricted total volume according to catch history and also allowed trading of quotas, so many Coromandel fishers either leased or sold their quotas and the Coromandel fish catch was greatly reduced.
Many turned to mussel and oyster farming as sustainable alternatives. Both are sold fresh; larger volumes of mussels are processed at a plant in Tauranga. Oysters are smoked locally.
Mining settlement, now a ghost town, on a 400-metre-high ridge. Tokatea thrived in the early 1870s. It is located near the summit of the Coromandel to Kennedy Bay road. Disused mine shafts and other relics of the mining days are common. A 30-minute track from the road reaches a lookout where marine surveillance took place during the Second World War.
Coromandel writer E. H. Audley wrote that ‘on a glorious June morning, with the frost still white and crackling and no slightest stir of wind, [Whanganui] island seemed to float and look warm and tropical.’1
Whanganui Island is located at the entrance to Coromandel Harbour, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel. European shipbuilders and traders employed by William Webster settled it in 1836. In the 2000s Whanganui Island was farmed.
A 22-km route known as the ‘309’ road. On the Coromandel side, Castle Rock, a 521-m castle-like summit, is the core of a remnant volcano, which can be climbed. Three kilometres further on are the Waiau Falls. Nearby is one of the peninsula’s surviving stands of kauri.
Manaia, 10 km south of Coromandel town, was gifted by Ngāti Maru to Ngāti Pukenga in recognition of assistance rendered by that Bay of Plenty tribe during the ‘musket wars’. This is one of the few large Māori-owned areas in Hauraki.
Manaia is the largest Māori community on the peninsula north of Thames. The people are of Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāti Whanaunga and Ngāti Maru tribes. The marae is Te Kou o Rehua.
Manaia was a rich resource area: ‘Ko Manaia, he pataka kai’ (Manaia the food store). Fishing and mussel farming employ locals. Mangrove extension and siltation are problems in Manaia Harbour, as in most other estuarine harbours of the peninsula.
The Manaia Forest Sanctuary, which contains 400 kauri trees, was established in 1972 after local protest against planned logging.
Offshore islands dot the coast from Coromandel to Colville Bay, including Motutapere, Waimate and Motuoruhi. Many are little more than large rocks.
Most of the larger islands were purchased by Europeans in the mid-19th century. Motuoruhi and many of the smaller ones remain in Māori ownership. The Crown-owned islands now fall within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park; all are wildlife sanctuaries.
A stretch of the Coromandel coast popular with holidaymakers. The flowering pōhutukawa along this coast and all the way to Cape Colville rival those nearer Thames.
Ōamaru Bay is 6.5 km past Coromandel town. Nearby Kōpūtauaki has a rich history. The bay was used by Ngāti Porou trading vessels as a way station between the East Coast and Auckland before they acquired Kennedy Bay. The trespass of miners onto ground at Kōpūtauaki in 1862 angered the Māori owners. A visit to the area by Governor George Grey helped avert conflict.
Papaaroha has a large holiday park, and Amodeo Bay and Waitētē have many beach houses.
The most northerly settlement on the Coromandel Peninsula. Captain Cook named the tip of the peninsula Cape Colville, and the passage across to Great Barrier Island Colville Channel, after his former naval commander, Lord Colville. Colville Bay was first known as Cabbage Bay by Europeans. The name was changed in the early 20th century.
Kauri timber in the Colville catchment was milled at an early stage. In the early 2000s the hills still had a cut-over appearance; native regeneration had a long way to go. Recent plantings of radiata pine cover many slopes. Sheep and cattle are farmed on the river flats.
Isolation and the beautiful landscapes first drew counter-culture communities to the Colville area in the 1970s. Some of these still existed in 2010, including the Buddhist Mahamudra Centre and the Mahana community.
From Colville the western coast road passes through Ōtautu, Waiaro and Waitoitoi to reach Port Jackson, which has a long open beach. A road across the base of the Moehau Range divides to reach both Waikawau and Port Charles. In 2006 environmentalists raised the idea of making the northern tip a ‘mainland island’ nature reserve by erecting a pest-proof fence across the Peninsula from Colville to Waikawau. Local opposition has stalled the idea.
The rugged northern end of the peninsula takes its name from its highest peak, Moehau (892 m).The burial place of Tamatekapua, captain of the Arawa canoe, the mountain is sacred to Māori. The 60-ha tract of Māori-owned land at the summit is known as Ngāti o Moehau.
The highest vegetation on Moehau is a small herbfield, a botanical community otherwise found no further north than the Ruahine Range in the lower North Island.
The main track up Moehau is from the Colville–Port Jackson Road starting at Te Hope stream.
The two coastal roads of the peninsula’s far north – one to Jackson Bay and the other to Port Charles – fall slightly short of each other. They are connected by a popular walkway between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay, which takes three to four hours.
Volcanic island which lies between Great Barrier Island (Aotea Island) and the Mercury Islands (Iles d'Haussez). A lighthouse, built in 1889, was staffed until 1982. The entire island became Crown land in 1957.
The bay bears the name of John Kennedy, a timber merchant who was robbed and murdered by ex-convicts in 1843.
In 1852 Ngāti Tamaterā of Hauraki gifted land at Harataunga to Ngāti Porou. The main reason was to give the East Coast tribe a stopover place on trading voyages to Auckland. Also, the great ancestor of Ngāti Porou, Paikea, made landfall at Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) from Hawaiki, and is said to have left descendants at Harataunga. This gift was later recognised by the Native Land Court.
Harataunga is the largest area of Māori land in Hauraki. It continues to provide an economic base for a vital Māori community. The school dates from 1894. A new wharenui (meeting house), carved by the late Pakariki Harrison, opened in 1996.
A large estuarine harbour 6 km from Kennedy Bay by sea. The road connection via Coromandel town, however, involves two steep climbs across mountains – a stark illustration of the transport difficulties posed by the peninsula’s rugged topography.
Built in 1861 at a cost of £15,000, the Whangapoua timber mill was one of the colony’s earliest major industrial plants. It delivered 236–283 cubic metres of sawn timber weekly.
Extraction of Whangapoua kauri led to conflicts known as the ‘Log Wars’ involving rival European timber millers and the Mangakāhia family. It contributed to the passage of the Timber Floating Act 1873, which strengthened the rights of timber millers.
Large-scale plantings of mainly radiata pine after 1950 made the Whangapoua State Forest (7,800 ha) Coromandel’s largest. The destruction of regenerating native forest was an unfortunate cost.
Whangapoua Beach was subdivided in 1961–62.
Beach and holiday settlement 20 km north of Whitianga. The discovery of good gold-bearing reefs in 1889 created a boomtown and the eastern peninsula’s most productive goldfield.
By 1915 the gold workings were exhausted and so too was the life of the once bustling town. Many of its buildings were dismantled for use elsewhere.
The beach at the end of the Kuaotunu peninsula, reached by the very scenic Black Jack Road.
Ōpito is well known in New Zealand archaeology as the source of Tahanga basalt, a fine-grained stone prized for tool making by Māori throughout the northern North Island. Excavations at the bay in the 1950s yielded valuable information on early human settlement and wildlife at the time, including moa and seals.
In the late 1950s Ōpito became popular with holidaymakers, despite the notoriously narrow and winding Black Jack Road and the lack of services. Local farmers subdivided two small areas, and in the early 2000s a large subdivision north of the existing settlement was proposed.
The Mercury Islands were named by Captain James Cook because of their proximity to the place where he observed the transit of the planet Mercury in 1769. In 1827 they were named Iles d’Haussez by French explorer Dumont d’Urville. The group consists of seven islands within a rectangle 18 km by 10 km. The four larger ones, in order of declining size, are: Great Mercury Island (Ahuahu), Red Mercury Island (Whakau), Kawhitu or Stanley Island, and Double Island (Moturehu). The three smaller ones are Atiu or Middle Island, Green and Korapuki islands.
Ahuahu was occupied by both early Māori and Pākehā. The local tribes are Ngāti Hei and Ngāti Karaua.
The Crown purchased Great Mercury (Ahuahu), Kawhitu or Stanley Island and Double Island (Moturehu) in 1858–65. Great Mercury passed into private ownership soon after. In the late 1970s the Crown entered into negotiations to acquire ownership, but these broke down and the island was sold to new private owners.
Ahuahu, in Ngāti Porou tradition, is the landfall of Paikea from Hawaiki, where he covered himself with sand (ahu). The island was large enough (16 sq km) to support a semi-permanent Māori population, as evidenced by numerous pā sites and storage pits. Later, under private ownership, cattle and sheep were farmed. Life for settler families was austere and isolated, the closest neighbours being a boat trip away at Whangapoua or Kuaotunu.
Red Mercury, the outermost of the group, is andesitic and undulating. Count Felix von Luckner sheltered there for a time after escaping from the internment camp for enemy aliens on Motuihe Island in 1917.
In 1964 the Crown set aside Kawhitu and Double Island as wildlife reserves. In 1968 Māori gifted Red Mercury, Green, Middle and Korapuki islands to the Crown as scenic and wildlife reserves. The Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park manages them, and skindiving is popular around them.
A group of islands lie south of the Mercury Islands and east of Ōpito Bay, the largest being Ōhinau Island (28 ha), the site of a lighthouse since 1924.
Mercury Bay was named by Captain James Cook to mark the place where his expedition observed the transit of the planet Mercury in 1769. Bicentennial celebrations took place in 1969.
A line of islands straddles the entrance to Mercury Bay. Mahurangi Island (Goat Island) off Hahei Beach is the largest (34 ha). The Crown purchased all of them in 1859. A marine reserve was established in this area in 1992.
The principal settlement and only town in Mercury Bay, with a 2013 population of 4,368, an increase of 15.9% since 2006. It is 88 km northeast of Thames via the Kōpū–Hikuai road (State Highway 25A).
Whitianga is short for Whitianga-o-Kupe (Kupe’s crossing place). In Māori tradition Kupe was the explorer who visited Aotearoa before the canoe migrations.
Ngāti Hei, descendants of Hei of the Arawa canoe, are the local tribe, hence the names Te Whanganui-o-Hei (Mercury Bay) and Hahei, the bay further down the coast.
Buffalo Beach, Whitianga’s 3-km sea frontage, is named after HMS Buffalo, a British warship wrecked off the beach in 1840 during a ferocious easterly gale. A cannon from the ship is in the town’s central park.
The kauri timber industry made early Whitianga. Gordon Browne built a spar station on the east side of the harbour entrance in the 1830s. The stone wharf still exists. Ship-building yards later occupied the site. This was the location of the first town.
The second town developed on the west side after 1880, centred on the timber mill. From around 1887 the Kauri Timber Company expanded the mill, which operated from about 1888 to 1922. At the wharf in front of the mill, triple-masted vessels were loaded for overseas and scows loaded for Auckland. The vast kauri forests were exhausted by the mid-1920s.
A 396-kg mako shark and a 435-kg black marlin swordfish caught off Whitianga in 1925 both broke world records.
Dairy farming on the rich alluvial flats became the district’s economic mainstay. A dairy factory replaced the timber mill on the same site.
Whitianga also became a centre for commercial and deep-sea game fishing. Zane Grey, the famous American writer and game fisher, was a visitor in the 1920s.
In the 2000s Mercury Bay was Hauraki–Coromandel’s fastest-growing area. An annual increase in tourism of 3.5% is expected until 2020. Whitianga has extensive flats for expansion.
Whitianga Waterways, granted resource consent in 2001, is being developed by the Hopper brothers, who also developed Pāuanui. Over a 20-year period it will transform 230 ha of farmland into 5 km of canals and up to 2,500 building sites. Stage 1 was opened in December 2003. The canal development required the building of a bypass road around the existing town.
A thriving resort located between Shakespeare Cliff and the mouth of the Pūrangi River. Travellers reach Cooks Beach and its neighbours Hahei and Hot Water Beach either by car ferry from Whitianga or by road from a turnoff at Whenuakite, on State Highway 25. At the eastern end of the beach, on 10 November 1769, James Cook and Charles Green observed the transit of Mercury.
A popular beach resort protected by offshore islands. The first marine reserve in the Coromandel was established here in 1992, covering the area north-east of Hahei and Cooks Bluff between Mahurangi and Motukorure islands. Community support for the reserve remains high. Scenic Cathedral Cove can be reached overland or by boat.
Surf and hot springs under the sand have attracted visitors to this beach for many decades. The springs are places of residual geothermal activity long after volcanic activity stopped in Coromandel about 1.5 million years ago. Here molten rocks deep down in the earth’s crust continue to heat water on its way to the surface. This is how the gold, silver and other minerals of Coromandel were deposited in rocks close to the surface.
Locality 12 km from Whitianga, on State Highway 25. Coroglen was formerly Gumtown, a leading centre for the collection and shipping of kauri gum and the supply of timber camps in the early 1900s. Located on a river that drains into the upper Whitianga Harbour, Gumtown was well placed for water transport. The opening of the hill road to Tapu in 1911 increased its importance as a transport junction, but the opening of the Kōpū–Hikuai road in 1968 diminished it.
An early timber settlement and now a flourishing holiday town, with a population of 1,227 in 2013. Tairua is 41 km east of Thames and 37 km south of Whitianga. Paku hill (179 m), which overlooks the town, was once an island.
In 1843 HMS Tortoise loaded kauri spars from the Tairua coast. In 1864 a timber mill was built on the edge of the harbour. A township grew up but by 1909 the kauri forests were exhausted and the mill closed.
A dairy factory operated from 1922, but was too small to be profitable and closed in 1949. A large subdivision in 1948 heralded Tairua’s future as a holiday resort, which was reinforced when the Kōpū–Hikuai road opened in 1967 and greatly shortened the distance from Auckland and Hamilton.
Two large islands lie off Tairua: Shoe Island (Motuhoa, 40 ha) and Slipper Island (Whakahau, 187 ha). Shoe Island remains in Māori ownership and Slipper Island is privately owned.
Purpose-built holiday and retirement resort located on the large sandspit fringing the south side of Tairua Harbour, with a permanent population of 750 in 2013. Pāuanui hill (387 m), to the south of the settlement, can be climbed.
In 1967, at the time the Kōpū–Hikuai road opened, developers Ian and Tony Hopper, in collaboration with town planner Tony Easdale, bought land at Pāuanui for a new type of housing and recreational development, with all aspects of the layout devised and designed at the same time, including roads, utilities, housing guidelines, community amenities, canals and boat mooring facilities.
The first stage of the Pāuanui development opened in 1993. The complete levelling of the front dune system was an environmental cost.
A cluster of jagged volcanic islands, islets and rocks 17.5 km east of Tairua. Captain Cook jokingly named them the ‘Court of Aldermen’, having just named Tūhua to the south Mayor Island. Rising up to 200 metres straight out of the sea, they are among the most spectacular landforms in New Zealand. In 1933 the Crown proclaimed them a wildlife sanctuary. In 1969 Māori gifted them to the Crown, thereby endorsing that purpose.
Settlement 10 km south-west of Tairua, on the rich alluvial flats of the lower Tairua River. The completion of the Kōpū–Hikuai Road (State Highway 25a) in 1967 made Hikuai the gateway to eastern Coromandel.
In the 1860s a small timber mill and a store to supply loggers and kauri-gum diggers were established at the junction of the Tairua River and Hikuai Stream. Development moved to the present site when deepening of the river caused by timber drives enabled vessels to travel further up the river.
Gold was discovered in the ranges at nearby Neavesville in 1875 but was never profitable. At Broken Hills and Golden Hills highly capitalised mining was more successful in the early 1900s.
The shores of the Wharekawa Harbour are home to a wide range of wetland and inter-tidal plant communities. The absence of mangroves reflects the high water quality. Ōpoutere beach is the last great undeveloped sand surf beach on the Coromandel. It was home to well-known historian and biographer Michael King.
On the coast between Wharekawa and Whangamatā harbours, Onemana beach settlement is reached via Whitipororua Road, 4 km from State Highway 25.
A beach resort town lying between the Ōtahu River estuary and Whangamatā Harbour, 31 km north of Waihī and 51 km south-east of Thames. It had a 2013 population of 3,471, with a summer peak of about 25,000, many young people being attracted by the beach and surf culture.
The Wentworth valley gave access for kauri timber operations in the upper Tairua catchment. Gum diggers followed the kauri loggers. Gold was discovered in the Wentworth valley in 1887 and on a tributary of the Wharekawa River. Despite poor returns, mining operations continued until around 1910.
A settlement from the 1890s centred on a store and a hotel, visited regularly by steamers and scows. The road from Waihī reached the settlement in 1924.
Whangamatā was subdivided in stages: the north end of the beach in the 1930s and 1940s; the south end of the beach, until then Māori land, in the 1950s; Moana Point and Beverly Hills in the 1970s. The building of the causeway to Moana Point in 1976 gave a boost to development. The port area is the commercial centre. A 210-berth marina opened in October 2009 after years of controversy about its environmental impact.
The bar between Hauturu Island and Whangamatā beach creates optimal conditions for surfers – a left-hand surf break.
The three islands off Whangamatā – Hauturu, Whenuakura and Rawengāiti – became a reserve in 1957 on the decision of their Māori owners.
Whiritoa is a new beach resort located north of Ōtonga Point. A pā site was bulldozed in the course of development.
A short distance to the south lies Mataora Bay, which, like Kennedy Bay, was given to Ngāti Porou by the Hauraki tribes in the mid-19th century. Mataora Bay remains home to a small Māori community.
Waihī, with a 2013 population of 4,527, is the gold-mining heart of New Zealand. It is situated in the Waihī basin, 136 km from Auckland, 21 km from Paeroa and 83 km from Tauranga. The basin is drained by the Ōhinemuri River and its upper tributaries.
Waihī began as a shanty town around a store and a hotel in the 1880s. When the invention of the cyanide process made mining profitable from 1889, the town boomed. Its population reached 5,594 in 1906. Modern Waihī has a wealth of gold-mining heritage buildings.
A small radio-manufacturing and repair service opened in Waihī in 1932. A special licence to make radios during the Second World War boosted production. The company went into partnership with Pye in 1949 and was purchased by Philips in 1966.
The first television transmission in New Zealand was made at Waihī in 1954.
By 1978 the Waihī factory had made more than 250,000 television receivers and had a workforce of 400. Deregulation spelled hard times for the industry and the factory closed in 1986. Since 1986 Waihī has been home to an electronics manufacturing business set up by an engineer and product developer who had worked at the Philips plant.
Underground mining finished at the Martha mine in 1952. However, rising gold prices and new, more economic mining methods rekindled interest in gold mining in the 1980s. The Martha mine re-opened in 1987, this time as an open pit mine. By 2010 the pit had reached a depth of 195 metres. The ore and waste rock are transported to a site 2 km away for processing and storage.
Favona underground mine, 2 km from Waihī, opened in 2006. This mine caused only minor disruption to the surface, compared with the massive earth removals involved in open pit mining.
The Victoria stamper battery, built in 1897, had, at maximum production, 200 stamp heads crushing 800 tonnes of ore each day, making it one of the largest in the world. Ore was transported by rail from Waihī. It closed in 1954, two years after mining finished at the Martha mine. The building survives and in 2010 was being restored, and a tramway operated around the site.
Locality at the western end of the Waihī basin, Waikino was chosen as a site for the Victoria battery, built to crush ore from the Martha mine, to take advantage of the combined water flow of the Ōhinemuri and Waitekauri rivers. The nearby Ōwharoa Falls can be seen from the road to Waitekauri.
Locality on the Waitekauri River 5 km north of Waikino. Gold was found at Waitekauri in 1870. The main mine was the Golden Cross at the head of the Waitekauri River, while other mines worked reefs further north toward the Maratoto Stream. By 1914 the known ore reserves were exhausted.
The Golden Cross mine worked once again between 1991 and 1998, producing 20.5 tonnes of gold and 52 tonnes of silver.
The gulch cut by the Ōhinemuri River through Hauraki’s backbone, with the Coromandel Range on the north side and the Kaimai Range on the south side. Extensive volcanic and geothermal activity ending about 10 million years ago produced gold- and silver-bearing reefs.
Hauraki tribes built numerous pā in the gorge. In 1820 missionary Samuel Marsden became the first European to use the route.
Reefs found at Karangahake in 1882 were initially unprofitable to work. However, that changed with the introduction of the cyanide process in 1889, which greatly increased recovery rates of gold and silver. Karangahake was a world leader in using this technique.
Karangahake township grew on the narrow flat on the north side of the Ōhinemuri, opposite the stamper batteries on the south side. Its population peaked at close to 1,400 in 1911. It all but vanished after mining ended around 1920.
After the closure of the Paeroa–Waihī railway in 1977 enthusiasts promoted a historic walkway through the gorge. The first stage was completed in 1985 and opened on the 85th anniversary of the start of railway construction in 1900. Two further stages followed to make a 7-km walkway.
The most important mines in the Karangahake area were on the Waitāwheta River, a southern tributary of the Ōhinemuri. Nearby Karangahake mountain was tunnelled and excavated from close to the summit down to over 100 m below sea level – substantially hollowed out. The Talisman mine was the third most productive gold mine in New Zealand. (The first was Martha and the second Waiuta on the West Coast.)
The Waitāwheta gorge track goes up into the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park.
Town 22 km south of Thames with a 2013 population of 3,888. Paeroa is at the junction of State Highway 2 and State Highway 26, and of the Waihou and Ōhinemuri rivers. State Highway 2 links Paeroa with Auckland and Tauranga, State Highway 26 with Thames and Hamilton.
The lower Waihou was an area of dense Māori settlement. The first European settler, Joshua Thorp, acquired land at Ōpūkeko (near present-day Puke bridge) in 1839, to which he and his family moved in 1842. Downriver the earliest buyers included L. A. McCaskill at Hikutaiā.
On the opening of the Ōhinemuri goldfield in 1875, the river junction was the obvious site for a town. Paeroa was born, but payable gold was not found and the town languished.
The introduction of the cyanide process and resultant goldfield boom turned Paeroa into a busy river port in the 1890s. Heavy machinery, coal and miners’ supplies came by river to Paeroa wharf, and were then hauled by horse teams to the mines at Karangahake, Waikino and Waihī.
The first wharves were on the Ōhinemuri River, close to the business centre. Silting caused by gold mining forced the building of a new wharf at the junction with the Waihou River. A tramway was needed to convey goods the 3 km into the town. Dumping mining debris into the Ōhinemuri also exposed Paeroa to flooding, notably in 1910.
The branch rail from the main trunk line reached Paeroa in 1895 and Waihī in 1905. Paeroa became one of the largest railway freight junctions in the country. Most passengers continued to arrive and leave by river steamer until river silting made that difficult.
Nearby Mackaytown, at the entrance to the Karangahake Gorge, thrived during the heyday of gold mining.
In the 20th century farming replaced mining as the mainstay of the town. One of Hauraki’s first butter factories was built at Paeroa in 1901. Butter and milk-powder production continued until the 1980s, when company mergers led to the building of larger, more centralised plants.
In the 2000s Paeroa is primarily a service centre for dairy farms. It is also known for Lemon and Paeroa (L & P), a carbonated drink, which was originally made using water from a local mineral spring. In the early 2000s it was made artificially by Coca-Cola Amatil in Auckland, but a 7-metre-high replica of an L & P bottle remains an iconic landmark.
Ngāti Tamaterā have two marae in Paeroa, at Taharua and Te Pai o Hauraki.
The 10,201-ha wetland reserve west of Paeroa is the largest intact restiad (rush) peat bog and the largest freshwater wetland in New Zealand. It was registered under the Ramsar Convention (international register for protection of wetlands) in 1989, not least because it is one of the few homes of the giant cane rush (Sporadanthus ferrugineus).
The narrow fringe of lowlands on the eastern side of the Waihou River between Paeroa and Thames is made up of a series of alluvial fans deposited by rivers flowing westwards from the Coromandel Range.
From 1867 Māori supporters of the Māori King movement in Hauraki resisted European expansion south of Ōmāhu (between Pūriri and Hikutaiā), but in 1882 the chief Tukukino allowed a road to be built through Kōmata.
Gold was found at Maratoto in 1887 and in the Kōmata valley in 1891, but in quantities much smaller than those of the Karangahake and Waitekauri finds. Mining ended at Kōmata in 1913 and at Maratoto in 1927.
Flooding remains a risk, as in 1960 when a break in the Waihou stopbank caused the Kōmata–Hikutaiā basin to flood. River management and farming have taken a heavy toll on the archaeological evidence in the area.
Bennett, Francis. Tairua: a history of the Tairua-Hikuai-Pauanui district. Pauanui: Pāuanui Information Bureau, 1986
In search of the rainbow: the Coromandel story. Auckland: Wendy Pye, 2002.
King, Michael. The Coromandel. Auckland: Tandem Press, 1993.
Lay, Graeme. Whangapoua: harbour of shellfish: a history. Auckland: Whangapoua Beach Ratepayers Association, 2009.
Tye, Rufus E. Hauraki Plains story. Paeroa: Thames Valley News, 1974.
Williamson, Beverley, ed. Whangamata: 100 years of change. Auckland: B. Williamson, 1988.
A website for the town of Coromandel.
A website of attractions throughout the Coromandel Peninsula and on the Hauraki Plains.
Things to do and see in Thames
Events and sights in Waihī
A website for Whangamatā residents and visitors.
The official website of Whitianga and Mercury Bay