At Te Kopoai, near Kennedys Bay, many ancient tools and weapons were found by Selwyn Te Moananui Hovell (now in Christchurch) and the late Reginald Bell, whose widow has many of them in a private museum at her home. Above shell hooks are made from the shell Cookia sulcata (top left). Upper series is in the process of making.
Gold and Timber vanished but the Land and the People remained
The road from Coromandel Harbour to Kennedys Bay is only eight miles long, but inhabitants of the Peninsula claim it proudly as the worst road in New Zealand. There is a blind corner overhanging a cliff every hundred yards and the surface consists entirely of clay and large type of boulders.
During the first stages of the ascent we took a tourist interest in the splendid view over the grey fiords and islands sitting like introspective beavers around the pale blue expanse of Coromandel Bay.
When the gradient of the road made the car engine cut out we were forcefully pulled back to the laborious physical details of bringing the engine back to life.
This was a good introduction to Kennedys Bay where life alternates between the commanding scenery and the laborious physical detail of kerosene lights and crossing inlets in dinghies.
The purpose of our visit was to discover the Maori history of this little-known spot which was the scene of one of the most generous land gifts ever made in the Country, where towns were built and burnt for firewood, within a century, where several other different economies followed each other in a century and where the eyes of tired men still light up at the suggestion of an eeling expedition.
In Kennedys Bay one can see how in so young a country as New Zealand towns can come and go and leave no monument, hardly a trace except a few acres that cannot be ploughed because of stone foundations still buried just below the soil surface. The tidal flat a furlong from the school, now covered with short grass, was the main town site in the milling days. One of the inhabitants, Mr Fred Anderson, possesses all that is left of it: a faded photograph.
Early in the ninteenth century the original Maori inhabitants of Kennedys Bay disappeared. Many were killed during an unfortunate fight with the brigs Trial and Brothers in 1815, many more during the Ngapuhi invasion coinciding with the invasion of Port Jackson. The survivors left the Bay.
Later, little yachts belonging to the Ngati Porou visited the place on their way to Auckland to sell their wheat and maize. The Hauraki chief, Paora te Putu of the Ngati Tamatera, treated them with noble generosity. When Ngati Porou asked him for permission to land in the Bay during rough weather, he answered ‘this land is given to you’ and as he spoke his outstretched hand traced the area between the Harataunga River. Piripirika Hill, and the main range, extending to the far point where the bay ended.
It was one of the most generous gifts that ever passed between one tribe and another. When timberfelling started, it obtained great monetary value and the land was partitioned among the settler families by the Maori Land Court.
View of Kennedys Bay with the old milling town site in the foreground. Only the church and the Hovell homestead are still standing.
The present population of the Bay is partly Maori, partly pakeha, and many have some Maori blood. We were welcomed by a large Maori audience at a meeting during which we found little interest in the revival of the Maori tribal committee and the building of a hall, but definite interest in the idea of an Adult Education course and a library.
The one remaining pillar of Maoritanga is Ben Ngapo, the acknowledged expert on local history, a fine orator, who has experienced the most difficult years at Kennedys Bay.
The Chief's Story
The Ngati Porou settlers, Ben Ngapo told us, at first grew maize and wheat. Cropping in those days was co-operative: the whole community worked first one man's land, then another's, until the work was done. In the late sixties when the goldminers and millers came, this was dropped and Maoris began to work as loggers and gum-diggers. Everybody earned a living, but nobody grew rich.
This drawing is made by Mr E. Mervyn Taylor from an old photograph in the possession of Mr Fred Anderson of Kennedys Bay. It is the only relic of the old milling town and sheep graze today where houses and workshops stood.
Gradually the bush area receded. A tramway was laid to bring the trees to the jetty. On the mountains, a town with 700–800 people developed digging for gold but they disappeared as they had come, and left no trace except some treacherous holes hidden by the manuka.
When Ben Ngapo grew up, the Kennedys Bay timber mill was already deserted; only a few kauris were left standing in inaccessible places. The Maoris cut these down and shipped them to Auckland. Around the time of the Boer war, these trees too gave out. Mr Ngapo went to Northland to work as a logger, leaving his wife and children behind. Many did this. Others started cutting the flax and selling that on the Auckland market. But the flax too was quickly exhausted and today not much of it is seen around Kennedys Bay. The carved meeting house collapsed and was never rebuilt.
A few years later a butter factory opened up in Coromandel. This was a great event for the whole population of the northern tip of the peninsula. Mr Ngapo returned home and bought some cows. Where did you get the money from?—I booked it, Ben Ngapo replied.
The first year Ben Ngapo carried the cream over the mountain on a packhorse, for years after it was a buggy. The herd and the yield of the pasture remained small until the Maori Land Development scheme started. Then he saw his kinsman Sir Apirana Ngata, who made finance available.
The Modern Age
There are 10,000 acres in the Harataunga Maori block of which 3000 are now in grass. Development of the rest is complicated by the many owners who now live on the East Coast. Sheep and cattle farming is now almost as important as dairying. Two men live by selling crayfish on the Auckland market. The sea still provides a large proportion of the people's protein: fishing is traditional, kept up even in these farming days. Many farms still can only be reached by dinghy and one child has to row to school every day. The education board pays him 9d for providing his own school transport.
Daily life on the Bay is still tough, but there is always joy in nocturnal eeling expeditions, in making a day-long trek through the bush to bring your horses to the show, in expeditions to the pa site where Maori adzes and fish-hooks are found, in the growing of ‘tropical gardens,’ and perhaps, as this modern age penetrates the settlement, in a library and adult education.
Left: George Hovell, part-Maori, who works on his father's farm, spends his spare time digging for archeological remains at Te Kapoai and the nearby grottos, and also has a tropical garden with bananas, guavas, pineapples, papinas, avocado, paupau and numerous other fruits.
Left: Mrs Maremare Whitiwhiti, president of the Hauraki M.W.W.L. Council, is devoted to the revival of Maori crafts. Weaving was almost a lost art in Hauraki when Mrs Whitiwhiti started teaching: today the Hauraki crafts displays attract much attention at annual shows in Hamilton (Photo: Peter Blanc)