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Hahei Coromandel

28th February 2012

Walking in Captain Cook's Footsteps

    With a cool and sunny start to the day, I had one last walk up and down Hahei Beach, and said farewell to my camp neighbours, who were ever so friendly.
    They had towed a large inflatable up with them to Hahei, only to discover one of the seams had started to come apart, and the craft was deflating. The poor chap had done a five hour return trip back to his home town the previous day to get it repaired. "I was hoping they could repair it there and then, but it will take a couple of days or so. Not to worry, our sons are coming up for the weekend, and they will tow it up. Then we can all go fishing," he told me with a typically laid back broad Kiwi grin.
A Panoramic View From Where Cook and Green Observed the Transit of Mercury on Cook's Beach      (please use scroll bar)

    I departed this delightful area and headed for Cook's Beach. It was here where Captain Cook arrived in his Barque "Endeavour", loaded with the latest in scientific instruments, a botanist (Banks), an astronomer (Green) and an artist, and first hoisted the British flag in November 1769, to declare the territory in the name of King George III. Cook knew from Abel Tasman's earlier voyage roughly where New Zealand was, but there was no knowledge of its extent. His reason for entering Mercury Bay on the 3rd November 1769 was to find a safe harbour in which to observe the transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun, with the astronomer Charles Green. This was due early on the morning of the 9th, and would enable him to calculate exactly the position of this Bay relative to the rest of the Pacific Ocean. These observations were taken 300 yards west of the Purangi River mouth in the Cook's Beach dunes. After making his recordings, and establishing cordial relations with the local Maori tribe, Cook left the Bay on 15th November to circumnavigate and chart the whole country.
A Panoramic View of Mercury Bay From Shakespeare Cliffs - Cook's Beach on the Right      (please use scroll bar)

    While here, Cook also named many of the landmarks and islands in the area. For example Mercury Bay, Shakespeare Point, Tower Rock, Cathedral Cove and of course Cook's Bay. The Purangi River was previously called Oyster River due to an abundance of the shellfish found there at the time.
Picturesque Lonely Bay
    I drove to the end of Cook's Beach to the emerald green Purangi River, but had a job finding the memorial to mark the special observational post. I couldn't find it for love nor money. I had to ask a lady sitting on a bench, "Excuse me, are you local to the area?" "No, but my parents grew up here, so I did learn a bit about the town," she replied with a smile. "I'm trying to find the memorial that marks the spot where Captain Cook made his observations of the Mercury transit a few years back," I said. She laughed, and pointed in the distance to where a stand of trees ended. "There is a small reserve up at the end of that stand. You should find your memorial to Cook there," she informed me. "I'm trying to call my husband, it's starting to rain now and I want him to pick me up," she added. "I would give you a lift, but there is no space at all for a passenger in my wagon, it is brimming with gear," I told her. I thanked the lady and went off to find the memorial.
Ferry Landing Public Library
    I still had a job finding the memorial, it was hidden in a badly signposted non-descript patch of ground, partially hidden by an electrical substation. The memorial itself was just a small weather-darkened brass plate on a small block of concrete. Perhaps the event doesn't hold much significance in New Zealand.
Tsunami Evacuation Sign
    The lady who had directed me walked by. "Would he not come and collect you?" I asked jokingly. "The rain has eased off so I'll walk. He has either left his phone in the house while he repairs the boat in the garage, or he won't answer it in case work is calling him," she giggled. She asked me about my travels, and we chatted for a while about them. "I have never been to Europe," she told me, "but my husband wants us to go to England in 2014. He is mad out Minis, and there is a Mini fair in Kent then. I absolutely hate flying." She laughed out loud again before strolling off to find hubby.
    The lookout point on the top of Shakespeare Cliffs was my next port of call. This offered a splendid panoramic view across Mercury Bay, around to Cook's Beach and Lonely Bay below. The cliffs were also a tsunami evacuation point.
    An elderly Scottish couple joined me. They were from Fife, and this was their umpteenth trip to New Zealand; their daughter moved here 22 years ago. They would love to move here, but the rest of the family are still based in Scotland. They were now heading down the steep cliff steps to Lonely Bay below. The couple, who were getting on in years, were remarkable. They had taken the ferry across from Whitianga to Ferry Landing, and walked up from there with their sticks all the way up to the top of Shakespeare Cliffs, a considerable distance, and were now climbing down to Lonely Bay. And then they would have to walk all the way back to the ferry. There is hope for me yet.
    There was also a plaque here commemorating Cook's landing. In addition, that other great navigator, Kupe, was commemorated. Around 950AD, Kupe left Ra'iatea in his waka Matahourua. With Kupe were his wife Hine-te-Aparangi, their four daughters and Pekahourangi, the tohunga. Their daylight ara-moana (voyage path) followed the flight-path of Pipi-wharauroa (shining cuckoo), and relied on their knowledge of wind, waves, clouds, birds, and drifting seaweed.
    Dusk and night navigation were dictated by Te Putanga-mai o te Ra (the setting sun passing along the side of the canoe), rising stars and lapa-lapa (phosphorescence).
    The month long, 2960km voyage was successful with the first landfall at Repanga (Cuvier Island) or Whitianga (named to commemorate this momentous crossing). At the sight of a cloud-covered Moehau mountain, Hine exclaimed......
    "E Kupe, he aotea, Kua u tatou"
            (O Kupe, yonder is a cloud, we have landed)          hence the name Aotearoa.
A Panoramic View of Whitianga Harbour      (please use scroll bar)

    I carried on to the end of the road, Ferry Landing, where there were just a cafe, a couple of shops, a library, and the foot passenger ferry jetty. Blink and you might miss it.
    Across the Whitianga Harbour, just 100m away across on the ferry lay Whitianga. However, it took me a good 45 minutes to drive there around the long estuary, in a ferocious rainstorm. Whitianga serves as a tourist gateway for boat trips out around Mercury Bay and across to the sights I had seen further down the coast yesterday.
    Like most small towns, it had its own historical tale to tell. In 1881, the original township of Whitianga began to relocate from the Ferry Landing side of the estuary to the flatter, western side of the river. Since then the town has grown steadily, servicing the farming, fishing and tourism industries that have grown up in and around Mercury Bay. By 1920 there were around 37 commercial and civic buildings in the Whitianga CBD; by 2011 the number had risen to over 200.
    Originally paved with white shell from the beach, Albert Street, where I picked up a campsite, was first known as Coromandel Road. Later, when the town was fully surveyed by the Coromandel Council 1885, it was recorded as Back Road. Presumably the esplanade that follows the shore was the "Front Road". The present street name is derived from England's Prince Consort at the time - Prince Albert.
    Albert Street seems to have seen some active times. Here follows an amusing account by a Walter Russell:-
    "Sale Day was a monthly event. Farmers would drive their stock along Buffalo Beach then up the main street to the sale yards at the southern end of Albert Street. Most days they would pass through without much trouble but on some occasions it was sheer mayhem.
    The town dogs had their own patches on the street and on some days would take offence at the country dogs barking in their patch; all hell would break loose. The shop keepers would take bets on which dog would win the scrap. While this was going on the cattle would scatter over fences, through the park, and into any open door way.
    We had a steer come in our front door and out the back, followed by a horse and rider who yelled out, "Can you give me a grease and oil change?" My father had a bag of chaff in the corner we used to soak up oil. He said, "No, but I can give your horse lunch".
    This would happen one or two times a day in the morning and again in the afternoon on the way home."
Whitianga Mural
    When the town migrated across the river in 1881, the more space available allowed a large timber processing mill to be built here by the Kauri Timber Company. The mill and yards operated over 20 acres of land within Whitianga until 1922 when large scale kauri saw-milling ceased in the area.
    The Mercury Bay Mill had operated successfully, but was moved to Great Barrier Island. On its final day of operation, with a full head of steam to drive it, the cord was tied down on the whistle. Its clear, full tones echoed up the valleys and over hills for over an hour, being heard as far as 16 miles away, marking the passing of an industry that was the foundation of modern Mercury Bay.
    Whitianga was once the busiest export port in New Zealand, with ships from around the world calling to load kauri. Over 500 million cubic feet of wood were exported from here between 1882 up until the 1920s, when the economic focus moved to farming.
    I came across an account on growing up in Whitianga:-
    "There were always things to do or see at the wharf. We'd watch the Coaster "Lady Jocelyn" unloading, then take on butter and crayfish for Auckland. The Navy boats came and went, sometimes up to four or five at a time, the excitement of seeing the guns always made our day.
    I guess the main thing was fishing, food on the table and the thrill of the catch. I remember well one day we were trying to catch some kingfish to no avail ... two pig hunters who were going to Back Bay hunting came along and said "step aside boys" and with a couple of quick shots with a 303 sorted out our kingfish, and we were then able to jump in and grab them. I don't think you would get away with it these days."
    In 1934 the Art Deco building, that is now the museum, was built as a dairy. The Mercury Bay Co-Operative Dairy Company won many awards for its excellent butter, and it remained in operation until 1972.
    Now, it was the base for an excellent small museum. The local historical society had produced an excellent 30 minute DVD about the history of the bay and Kupe's and Cook's landings. I had a chat with the curators, including a bloke in his 70s who was fifth generation Kiwi. His ancestors came from Devon. His job in times gone by involved travelling the globe, dragging his family with him. As a consequence his children are now scattered all over the world. He travels often to visit them, usually visiting the UK every 18 months on his rounds.
    I drove out along the esplanade and pulled off the road to admire the view across the bay. A middle-aged couple were drying themselves on the embankment as I climbed up it. "How's it going?" I asked in the usual Kiwi greeting. "The sea is lovely, you must try it. I swim here every day," said the woman. "Even in winter?" I asked, staggered by that statement. "No, only in summer," she replied, and the couple both laughed, an infectious laugh.
    They too were holidaying here, and like dozens of Kiwis I have met, complained about the poor summer they were experiencing. Normally summers are fairly hot, and all the grass turns straw coloured. However, wherever we looked, all was green.
    And as all Kiwis do, they asked me about my travels, and then my family, and we got on to looking at my family photos. They were genuinely interested and were an ever so friendly couple. New Zealanders have time for each other.
    We parted company as the rain clouds gathered, and it didn't take the rain long to settle in for the night.

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Hahei Coromandel

Uploaded from Holiday Park Campsite, Whitianga on 29th February at 10:09

Last updated 29.2.2012