For a slice of recent history you can explore the recently closed Golden Cross Mine at Waitekauri.
Gold fever history abounds in Waihi, be sure to visit the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum. The Waihi Gold Story down stairs at the Waihi Information centre in Seddon Street is a great overview of mining history. While you are there, you can book a Waihi Goldmine Tour to compare the historic with the modern gold mining methods.
Waihi means rising water and is the stream flowing through the camping ground near the surf club at the northern end of the beach. The beach and the gold mining town take the same name.
Katikati is originally the name where Bowentown is now. It means “nibbling” and there are differing legends how that name came into being. ( Sir George Bowen was an early governor of New Zealand)
Bowentown like Mt Maunganui was once a volcanic Island. The joining of these two to the mainland by sand (Tombolos) along with the Matakana sandspit formed the Tauranga harbour.
This area was fought over by several tribes through many generations. Two of the tribes being Ngai Te Rangi from Matakana and Ngati Maru of Paeroa. There are remains of fortified pas on several hills and headlands.
The wires (Telegraph wires from Auckland to Wellington in the 1850’s, 60’s and 70’s passed along here). At Bowentown there was a boarding house, store, stables and telegraph office. Tourists came through this way from Auckland by boat and horse to visit Rotorua and the Terraces there.
Early European landowners were George Vesey Stewart and then James Shaw. There were gold mines sunk in the hills at the northern headland but they were not successful.
In 1941 Mrs Shaw generously donated her northern property as a domain which is now the lovely Orokawa reserve.
Once the only access to Waihi Beach was over the shallow estuary at Athenree – for many years known as Athenree Ford.
Around 1920 the Waihi Town borough purchased land at the northern end for miners suffering from lung disease ( mining dust) to build batches. Some of these lease hold titles still exist.
Illegal bachs were situated where the Bowentown domain is at Anzac Bay until 1957. Transport to this popular site was along the beach at low tide.
Two books by local identity the late Hank Hanlen on the history of the local and surrounding areas - “ The Why, How, When and Where – The Waihi Beach Story” and “Bowentown, Athenree and more a Beach Pot Pourri” are available for sale from the following outlets: Waihi Museum, The Art Market and the Waihi Information Centre in Seddon St
To check out more info on Waihi Beach
Bowenton and Anzac Bay - By Melanie Camoin
Climbing the hillside track to the top of Anzac Bay feels like being on the edge of the world.
From up high, it is easy to understand why early settlers were attracted here. It provides a broad sweep of the Bay of Plenty coastline, overlooking a group of islands, the Tauranga harbour bordered by the Kaimai Ranges hinterland.
Over time, Anzac Bay has evolved from a stopover, a fortress and Maori settlements, a gold-mining colony to a holiday destination. As a matter of fact, the Bay has always been popular.
Local archaeologist and heritage conservation specialist Brigid Gallagher explains traces of early settlement she has found date between 1300 and 1400.
Those settlers had chosen the sand dunes along Waihi Beach and Bowentown. “In the mist of all the vegetation, there are still some terraces surviving if you look (Bowentown Heads). It is just difficult to see them,” she said.
“But Maori came here at an earlier date than they permanently settled. At the Bay, we have found a very fine ash layer showing there was an early eruption, probably dating from around 1312-1316.“We have found some artefacts underneath the ash layer that show that humans were present at this stage. They saw the eruption coming from the ocean toward them at the Bay.”
Eruptions were not the only hazard early settlers faced. Sediments from Waihi Beach have been identified as tsunami deposits from within the potential time of Maori occupation (1302-1435).
This event was attributed to a regional eruption that created a tsunami higher than 5m, enough to leave a geological trace. Earlier deposits had also been found. Sand dunes from the Bowentown beachfront also uncovered some precious demographic information for the researchers.
“We have found traces of settlement from late 1300s followed by a period of abandonment. Then, people arrived in the 1400s and went away again. “I associate sand dunes as a period of peace in New Zealand, with a small population where people settled in a place. They had no need to fortify and make terraces because the intensification and the competition for the land did not exist at that point,” she said. However, Maori first used the Bay as a transit point for trading obsidian and storing food.
Obsidian—known as volcanic glass— was collected from Tuhua (Mayor Island) and sold all over New Zealand, Brigid explained. “The pa (on the top of Anzac Bay) was the guardian of Tuhua; it was a defensive pa, that is why it is so important. “When Maori arrived here from eastern Polynesia, they did not have the knowledge of metal, and it later became their metal source and made tools. They used to stop at the Bay, traded the rock and moved on to other parts of the country.”
The hillside track to Fisherman’s Rock overlooking Matakana Island shows numerous whares used as shelters by Maori. “I did some research 20 years ago— you could clearly see some rectangular shapes on the floor that were sinking down a bit. “Those are traces of whares typically showing sizes around 5m by 2.5 or 3m.” From this point, Brigid said that Maori used it to communicate across the land because of the good span the echo provides.
Up to 1910, hundreds of Maori occupied a pa at Bowentown. They also had vegetable plots extending from the beach to the foothills. Numerous pits at Anzac Bay and the larger areas had been found and showed their staple diet composed of kumara and sweet corn supplemented by the occasional wild pig and a variety of fish.
“The area was a melting pot of different iwi such as the Hauraki coming from Waihi, the Ngaiterangi, the subtribe Otawhiwhi at Bowentown and many others.”
Matakana island has also a great historical significance. On its harbour side, it is composed of sand dunes and numbers of early pa sites. The remaining seaward part is more recent and contains a high density of midden sites. Professor Sutton from the University of Auckland reports that carbon dating demonstrated this part of the island was once under mature forest, including kauri in the northern part.
Maori gradually made way for the increasing flood of white settlers interested by gold-mining prospects the area offered. Before 1911, the only access to Bowentown Heads was via the ford at Athenree and across the river. “We have also found a number of traditional pathways used by Maori. That is why, there are actually eight pas all joined together in Athenree.
“This constitutes some of the most important archaeological parts of the Bay of Plenty coast, mainly because of their preservation. There are some fantastic terraces, especially at the end of the Athenree Reserve,” she said.
A short drive south on State Highway 2 you will find the town of Katikati, well known for its murals depicting local history and other art works. The murals are located within an easy stroll of each other.