Coromandel Peninsula- Hot Water Beach history.

Compiled by Noel Knight

 Formation of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Some 150 million years ago through uplift and folding of the ocean floor, an 80 kilometre long finger of land which we now call the Coromandel Peninsula, was  formed. The deposits which had been laid down on the sea floor that is the base foundation of the peninsula, is Greywacke.

This finger of land in the early evolution of New Zealand, became what was the eastern side of the outlet to the Waikato River.

From 20 million years ago, up until 10 million years ago, the Coromandel was riven by Andesetic volcanic eruptions. These volcanoes have been largely weathered away however some have their central core of magma which solidified into hard rock remain as features such as Castle Rock in the foothills behind Coromandel township. It is estimated the when these volcanoes were first active, the height of the volcanoes could have been as much as 500metres higher than the present skyline.

From 9 million years ago the area again had volcanic activity in the form of Rhyolitic Volcanoes mainly in the area from Kapowai north of Hot Water Beach to Waihi in the south.

The entrance to the Waikato River, was diverted due to ongoing earthquake and volcanic action in central areas of the North Island and the direction of the river altered to flow out to sea to the west where it remains today. The alluvial plains that remained when the river changed its course however became the fertile valley that  we now call, the Hauraki Plains.

Andesite and Rhyolite formations overlaid the Greywacke and ensuing years of sea level changes and weathering have produced the magnificent Coromandel Ranges that we know today, fringed with its many beaches, coves and harbours and enjoyed by thousands of tourists and holiday makers.

After the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago the flora and fauna that is unique to New Zealand flourished on the peninsula.  Kauri, Tawa, Rimu, Miro, Rewarewa, Puriri and Totara covered the landscape while Kahikatea, grew in the wetlands and Pohutukawa flourished on the coastal fringes. Lower growing native trees, Ferns and Nikau grew in the under forest and the peninsula thrived with New Zealand’s endemic bird life.

Kiwi and Moa walked the forests of the Coromandel and while most species still remain, sadly some have been lost forever due to decline of habitat and predation by man and the animals they brought to a land that had none before human arrival.

The volcanic activity that created the peninsula’s landscape is the catalyst for the hot springs that are a feature of Hot Water Beach.  Water seeping through fissures in the base rock leach down to the hot molten magma many thousands of metres below the earth’s surface, only to be sent back to the surface as hot water exiting through the hot springs on the beach and in the Te Waiwaiwe Creek.

The springs on the beach are not only confined to the area between high and low water marks at the base of the headland, but also out into the area beyond the rocks off the beach for quite some distance. At low tide the hot mineral water seeping up through the sand attracts large numbers of visitors who dig their pools in the sand and enjoy their natural spa.

Please be aware that the temperature of the hot water can be very hot for sensitive skin and be aware of tidal rips if swimming in the surf near to the spring’s area.

Arrival of the Polynesian, Maori.

In Maori mythology, the North Island of New Zealand Aotearoa was a large fish caught by Maui who had hidden on the canoe of his older brothers when they went fishing.  The older brothers had not wanted to take Maui with them but when the canoe was well out to sea, Maui came out of his hiding place.  His brothers refused to give him bait for his fishing line so Maui struck his nose making it bleed then smeared the blood on his hook. Maui caught a large fish, and it was named Te Ika-a-Maui, The Fish of Maui. This became the North Island. The South Island was named Te Waka-a-Maui. The Canoe of Maui.  Throughout Polynesia there are many legends of Maui, legends that would have travelled with the Polynesian peoples as they voyaged to new islands.

The first Polynesian (Maori) attributed to the finding of Aotearoa is according to Maori history, Kupe.    Perhaps Kupe felt that birds migrating over (Arctic waders), or from the islands of Polynesia in October, November to the South West (and in the case of Shining Cuckoo Pipiwharauroa), their return with their young towards March, indicated there must be an island or land to which these birds  went.  Did Kupe decide to follow the path of the birds to the South West to find this unknown land?

Kupe’s departure point is uncertain.  It is said in mythology to be Hawaiki which is not a defined place but is thought to be near the island of Raíatea in the Society Islands. The naming of Whitianga is according to Ngati Hei, the first people of the land, a name derived from Hitia-a, from the Eastern side of Tahiti.

In approximately 950 AD, Kupe discovered Aotearoa.  The landing place is thought to be on the Coromandel Peninsula.  While Kupe did not remain in Aotearoa, he left some of his people behind. Kupe returned to his departure point from where subsequent expeditions set out to find the new land of Aotearoa.  The 7 canoes that followed in Kupe’s  wake, contained the Arawa canoe which is said to have had on board the spiritual authority Hei.  According to Ngati Hei history, the Arawa canoe arrived in the Mercury Bay which was named Te Whanganui-a-Hei, The Great Bay of Hei.

The Iwi (tribe) Ngati Hei of the Coromandel, were one of the first Tangata Whenua (people of the land) in Aotearoa.  Some of the early visitors who had arrived with Kupe are said to have assimilated with the people that had arrived on the Arawa canoe and the Ngati Hei expanded through a large area of the Coromandel Peninsula, as did other tribal groups in the areas that the other 6 canoes of the great migration had landed.

Artefacts found at archaeological sites at Tairua south of Hot Water Beach, included a fishing lure made from Pacific Oyster shell that could only have come from Pacific Islands closer to the equator at an early stage of occupation of Aotearoa.  Dating of artefacts excavated from middens at Pa (Tribal villages) sites, suggest occupation around 1100 AD at their earliest.

Several Pa sites were used near to and at Orua (Hot Water Beach). The headland above the hot pools was the Pa named ’Te Puia’. South of Orua at the end of Boat Harbour Rd. was the Pa ‘Tapuaetahi’ while 2 other site were occupied at different times between ‘Tapuaetahi’ and ’Te Puia’.

On the Te Puia headland, there are partial remains of trenches used in the defence of the Pa while on the beach about 50 metres north of the hot pools there is a rock used by Ngati Hei, for the sharpening of tools.  This rock has grooves cut into the rock surface and is one of the few known sharpening rocks that have been found.  Many middens have also been found at Hot Water Beach along with artefacts, such as stone adzes, tools, fishing lures, fish hooks and ornaments.

Gordon Pye in the early years of farming on the Pye farm, found items including paddles, ornaments and tools and while fossicking at the old Pa site, the beak of a Huia (Extinct native bird).

It is not able to be established if this was from a Huia from the Coromandel or if this was a toanga (treasure) from a region outside the Coromandel that had been lost at some time in the past.

The sand hills to the south and also to the north of the Te Puia Pa headland were used as burial grounds therefore these sand dunes are considered Wahi Tapu (sacred) to the Ngati Hei.  These sand dunes are some of the last remaining unmodified sand dunes on the Coromandel.

It is estimated there were somewhere between 70 and 80 Pa sites occupied by Ngati Hei in the Coromandel Peninsula.  Pa sites were established at many locations on the coastline of the Mercury Bay the Pa ‘Wharetaewa’ which is the Turangawaewae (main tribal Pa of the Ngati Hei)  is based at Wharekaho, Simpsons Beach, north of Whitianga.

In the seventeenth century, Ngati Hei were pushed north up the peninsula by the expandingtribes of the Bay of Plenty who required land for growing their crops.  Islands in the Mercury group were well suited to the growing of crops as they were relatively frost free and suited to growing Kumara (Sweet Potatoe).  Tribes from the Western side of the Coromandel and the Thames Plains area also attacked Ngati Hei.  In the early eighteen hundreds, Ngapuhi from the north who had become armed with muskets attacked those of the Ngati Hei that remained and as Ngati Hei numbers declined, defence of their Rohe (traditional tribal area) became more difficult.

2 Canoes of the Ngapuhi led by Hongi Hika, visited the Ngati Hei, at Te Puia Pa around 1817 in the guise of a friendship however the following year when Ngapuhi again came to the Pa, the situation  developed differently. The Ngapuhi were welcomed by the Ngati Hei only for them to be surprised by a vicious attack from the Ngapuhi that decimated the Ngati Hei people.  The Te Puia Pa was never occupied again.

Additional to this, many Maori tribes were affected by common European diseases such as influenza after the arrival of Europeans in the area.  The Maori had no immunity to these diseases previously unknown to them and as contact with the European migrants grew numbers declined further.

Prior to European settlement in the Mercury Bay around 1800, it is said Ngati Hei numbered 4000, but by the mid 1800’s the Coromandel was deemed to have no permanent resident population and the Crown acquired most of the land of the Coromandel, under the Waste Lands Act,

Even as late as 1923, the island of Ohinau at the head of Mercury Bay, was taken from Ngati Hei by the crown and there was little left of the Ngati Hei lands apart from their tribal headquarters at Wharekaho and a relatively small block of land at Whenuakite.

While Ohinau Island has since been returned to Ngati Hei, claims for acknowledgement of traditional land are still outstanding.


Arrival of the European

The first European to sight New Zealand was the Dutch seaman, Abel Tasman in 1642 however Tasman only charted a small section of the Western coastline of Nieuw Zeeland (New Zealand). It was not until 1769 that the next European visited our shoreline.

This was the expedition led by Captain James Cook who had been given instructions after visiting Islands of the central Pacific, to sail south to find Nieuw Zeeland as it had been called by Tasman.

Part of the reason to try to make landfall in New Zealand, was to observe the passing of the planet Mercury across the face of the Sun which would also enable Cook to fix the exact position of the observation point.

Cook’s sighting of the transit of Mercury was from the beach at the head of the Purangi River, in Te Whanganui a Hei, The Great Bay of Hei, just North of Hot Water Beach, now known as Mercury Bay and the beach from where the transit was observed, we now call Cooks Beach.

Due to this being the location of Cook’s observation, his contact with the local Iwi (Tribal group), was a Hapu (sub tribe) of the Ngati Hei.  Cook treated the Maori with respect and a good relationship developed between Cook’s party and the local Tangata Whenua (people of the land).

Cook arrived in the Bay on the 3rd of November 1769.  The transit of Mercury was observed at 07.28.58 on Thursday the 9th of November and Cook, stayed in the Bay until the 15th of November. Cook then proceeded to circumnavigate New Zealand to chart the extent of the before now, unknown coastline. This was to be the first of 3 voyages by Capt. James Cook to the islands of New Zealand.

After reports from Cook and Joseph Banks the Botanist on the first voyage reached England of the forests that clothed the land and the marine life that was to be found in New Zealand waters, it was not long before exploitation of the land and marine environment was to begin.

By the start of the 1800’s, there were whaling stations based on the Eastern seaboard of the Coastline and felling of the forest had started as there was a need for quality timber for ship building in Europe and America as well as the need for the construction of buildings and houses in Australia. As the population increased in New Zealand, local demand further increased the plunder of the forests.

Kauri was the prevalent timber in the Mercury Bay area including the Whenuakite Valley behind Hot Water Beach.  After the felling of the trees, the trunks were cut into manageable lengths then taken to streams in the locality which had been blocked by a dam. When there was  sufficient number of logs stored in the dam, the dam was tripped and the mass of timber sent downstream to be collected further on as they reached the main harbour in the Whitianga area.  From there the logs were either milled or loaded directly onto ships that were to take them to their final destination.

In 1874 as the felling area became more distant from the streams, a tramway was built from the base of the Tairua Hills to Whenuakite as were tramways in other areas, to take logs closer to the dams.  Some sections or cuttings of the route taken by the tramway are still visible today.

The milling of Kauri also gave rise to a secondary industry in the Whenuakite Valley, Coroglen and across the Coromandel. This industry was the collection of Kauri Gum.  In the Whenuakite area the gum deposits where quite plentiful and as the number of gum diggers grew, a small town developed in the area which was called “Gum Town”.

Gum Town is now known as Coroglen about 20 minutes on the road from Hot Water Beach towards Whitianga however the small hall you pass on the road into Coroglen still bears the name Gum Town Hall.

As the timber industry started to run out of millable trees and the gum trade diminished, the pioneers of the area took to farming.  Many of the original families that settled in the Whenuakite, Hahei and Hot Water Beach area still have descendents living locally.

Families such as the Harsants, Hamiltons, Marshalls, Creeds and Brittains are original families from the 1800’s while the Pye and Hinds families arrived in the 1920’s and 30’s, worked the bush and the land.  Descendants of these families still reside and work in the area today.

Matthew Creed was the first European to settle at Hot Water Beach. Creed was married to the daughter of a Maori Chief from the Tauranga area. Creed bought land at Hot Water Beach in 1872. With his wife Ramarihi Te Kohiwi (Elizabeth) they raised 6 children, 3 sons and 3 daughters. Members of the Creed family are still resident in the Mercury Bay area today.

Creed established an orchard at Hot Water Beach but also worked in the timber mills operating in the area.  Creed would ride a horse from the beach to the Whenuakite River then row a dinghy to the timber mill at Ferry Landing.  At the end of his day in the mill the journey home was reversed.

In 1894, a Cutter of 41 Tons named the “Nellie” was lost on the beach at the northern end of Hot Water Beach having mistaken the bay as the entrance into Mercury Bay.  In trying to recover the Cutter, she had a hole blown into the keel by explosives which were being used to clear large rocks from under the hull.  Matthew Creed bought the abandoned hull for 5 Pounds. Remains of the Cutter were still visible up until the 1950’s. After the abandonment of the wreck, the creek at the north end of Hot Water Beach became known as the “Nellie River.”

A plaque and some of the timbers of the “Nellie” is situated on the junction of the lane which runs to houses at the Northern end of the beach and Link Rd.

As the Creed children grew, a Miss Buick arrived in the area having bought sight unseen, what was purported to be seaside property in the area however this turned out to be a property located at Dalmeny Corner, on the junction of the road into Hot Water Beach Road and main highway at Whenuakite.

Miss Buick took an instant dislike to the property and promptly disposed of the land however she came to an arrangement with the Creeds to school their children.  As accommodation was needed, a house was barged to the beach for Miss Buick and was dragged on sleds to a plot at the corner of where Radar Rd. now joins Pye Place.

Matthew Creed died in 1904 and was buried near the rock outcrop under the large Pohutukawa tree 100 metres from the start of Wolfe Rd., on the left hand side.

Creeds property was sold after his death to Mr. Herbert Brittain who owned land at the Northern end of Hot Water Beach.

In 1926 while working in the area, Mr Charles Pye saw an advertisement for land for sale at Hot Water Beach.  For the next 75 years the Pye family would be the caretakers of the land at the southern end of Hot Water Beach and while some of the land has passed into other ownership, a large parcel of the original farm is still in the hands of the Pye family.

Due to the orchard that Creed had planted at Hot Water Beach, the parcel of land had become known as Orchard Farm. While Creed and subsequent owners had broken in some of the farm, much of the land was regenerated scrub after the large trees on the slopes in the area had been felled and Charles Pye set to work hand slashing the flat land and hills. This was followed by burning, then ploughing with a single horse and plough before seeding what was to become pasture, again all by hand.

At the beginning of the 1930’s, survival on the land became even harder as the world was gripped by the great depression.  Work schemes for the unemployed were implemented and the road over the Coromandel Peninsula between Tapu and Coroglen was formed at this time using manual labour with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.  It was a rough road, unsealed, narrow and twisting and is not much better today.  For many years, this was the main road from Thames on the western side of the Coromandel, to Whitianga on the eastern side.

In 1939, Charles Pye passed away leaving his wife Jenny and 11 year old son Gordon behind on the farm.  As Gordon was still at school, it was decided Mrs Pye’s brother Mr Oliver Liddell would bring his family to the farm from Auckland to keep it operating.

As this family needed extra room to live, it was decided to shift the house that Miss Buick had lived in from its site across the road to where there is now a grass parking area opposite the start of Radar Rd., and make extensions to accommodate everybody.  The house was finally dismantled in 2005 having been used for just over 100 years

During the Second World War (1939 to 1945) the New Zealand Government decided to build Radar Detection Units in various locations along the coastline after German ships had laid minefields near the sea lane approaches to Auckland.  One of these stations was built just south of Hot Water Beach on the hills overlooking the shipping lanes from Auckland to Tauranga. hence the origin of the name Radar Rd.  Today there are only the foundations of the Radar Station remaining and the site has been registered as an archaeological site.

In 1942 at the age of 14, Gordon and his mother Jenny took over the running of the farm after the Liddell family moved to another farm at Opoutere.  Schooling for Gordon was still done by correspondence.

In the 1960’s and 70’s there was considerable change in the wind for the Coromandel Peninsula. Development of beach resorts became the norm as residents of Auckland and to a degree the Waikato area looked at buying holiday homes within easy driving distance of their residences.  The Coromandel started to be opened up with Pauanui becoming the first of the large seaside developments on the Peninsula.

I first met Gordon Pye in the mid 1960’s when as a teenager, I came to Hot Water Beach for surfing weekends camping down on the foreshore with a group of mates.  We travelled down to Hot Water Beach over the Tapu-Coroglen road.  This road was and still is virtually a single lane metalled road. The bridges were single lane wooden structures and in times of wet weather, the road was quite difficult to travel on.

At milking time we would wander up to the cow shed and get milk in a billy from Mr. Pye.  Little did I know that some 35 years later, Gordon and I would become neighbours!!

In 1967 the road from Kopu to Hikuai was finished and having a sealed surface, started to open up the eastern side of the Coromandel to day trippers.  At this time, there was no camp ground at Hot Water Beach however camping on the foreshore and in what was known as Happy Valley behind where Hot Waves Café is now, was a freedom style camping area but it was not long before a camp ground was established by Gordon who ran the camp for some years.  Subdivision of the hill overlooking the beach at the southern end followed and subdivision continues as other parcels of land are slowly put onto the market due to demand for coastal lifestyle properties.  While not in the same category as Pauanui or Matarangi, changes to the area will inevitably occur and the first small Bach’s of the 70’s, are now overlooked by substantial holidays homes

After some years of running the camp ground, it was then purchased from the Pye family by the Wolfe brothers and remained in its location where Wolfe Rd is now, until the camp ground area was subdivided in the early 2000’s.  For several years there was no camping facility at the beach until the new camp ground was established in 2008 a little further up the valley by the Websters and we once again have many visitors over the summer period using this facility which is being continually developed.

The 60’s and 70’s saw many changes to the way of life in New Zealand. The Hippie movement saw a drift away from city lifestyles to self-existence living.  The Coromandel Peninsula was a bolt hole for many as it was still considered untouched.  Communes were formed and in some parts of the peninsula still exist.  This was the beginnings of environmental awareness and the politics that derived from such groups, but it also contributed to the artisan influence in the area with potters, sculptors, writers and artists setting up studios throughout the peninsula.  Hot Water Beach will always remain a mecca for the surfers who always know when the surf is up.  Local tradesmen are well known for their working hours being suited to their “hitting the waves” when the surf is running.  The joys of living a no stress lifestyle!!

Wineries, Olive groves, Avocado, Macadamia and Kiwi Fruit Orchards dot the landscape in the Mercury Bay South area and you are never far from a café for that coffee fix if it is required.

Today the beach has 2 café’s, Bed and Breakfast accommodation and Moko Gallery displaying local and imported crafts.  The crowds of day trippers that come on a daily basis to dig their hot pools grow each year and strain is put on facilities to cope with parking and toilet needs.

While change will always happen and the crowds will probably grow, some aspects of the beach will hopefully remain as they are. The surf will always roll onto a shoreline that for the main part, should be devoid of housing due to the sand dunes behind the Northern end of Hot Water Beach being controlled and managed by the Department of Conservation for the protection of the breeding birds and the preservation of some land as a reserve to honour that occupied many years ago by the Ngati Hei.

Geological information citing Paul Monin, “Hauraki Coromandel region-Geology and Landscape. Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, www.TeAra.govt.nz

Many thanks to Joe Davis, Ngati Hei, Maori history.                                                                                                                                              Many thanks to Gordon Pye and Arthur Hinds for information rewritten above on Pioneer history


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