History of the Kauri Coast
The Kaipara is the largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere, and its waters have provided sustenance and shelter, as well as being the predominate trading route North and South, since the Maori arrived in the 14th Century. In ancient times Ngati Whatua and Ngapuhi arrived by the historic canoe Mahuhu-o-Te-Rangi. They inhabited the Kauri Coast or Kaipara (Kai - food, Para - fern root), sustained on the natural bounty of sea, harbour, river and forest - feasting on the Toheroa, snaring the native wood pigeon (Kukupa) and preparing hangi (earth oven) full of kumara, kiore (native rat) and fish.
They lived in tribal harmony until 1807. That year saw a major battle between the two tribes at Moremonui, south of Maunganui Bluff. The Ngati Whatua, under the great Rangatira (chiefs) Taopho and Murupaenga all but annihilated the Ngapuhi. Then Taoho, drew a line across the beach over which no one was to pursue the fleeing Ngapuhi. In 1825 Hongi Hika, one of the survivors, exacted utu (revenge) and ravaged the Ngati Whatua in a major battle near Kaikohe. However, kinship between the two tribes remained strong - intermarriage was common. Important chiefs in the period between 1830 and 1870 included Tirarau and Parore. Both became well respected magistrates and street names in Dargaville honour these remarkable men.
The Arrival of Europeans
The first recorded sighting of the Northern Peninulsa by a European was Captain Cook's sighting of fires burning on the coast in the 1770's. The finding of what is possibly a Portuguese Carousel (not yet proven) could mean that Europeans were in the area in the 14th or 15th Century. (Current conjecture is prevalent on these earlier sightings - yet to be confirmed).
In the early 1800's sailing ships appeared in the Kaipara looking for Kauri spars. In 1879 the first ship was recorded sailing over the bar. As the Kaipara developed and timber mills flourished, timber (both sawn and logs and kauri gum) was hauled by ship. The next important Europeans to appear in the Kaipara were probably the missionaries. Samuel Marsden's journals record that he first visited the area in 1817 and again in 1820. A mission was started at Okara Point Pa in 1820 and the Rev. Buller operated mission schools in the 1830's and 1840's.
Slowly European residences started to dot the Kaipara shores. People came from Auckland to Helensville, or from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei and then overland to the Northern Wairoa. The Albertlanders started to settle the Port Albert area in the 1840's and in 1860 the McLeods settled Helensville. Most of these people were timber merchants seeking the Kauri forests, and later, starting farming.
After many ships were lost on the dangerous bar, and the McLeod's Mooring (wooden bouy) of the South Channel showed it was still too dangerous, it was decided to pressure the Marine Department for a Lighthouse at the North Head. First the Marine Custom House was built in 1876 (the Marine Hall today) then the Lighthouse was erected in 1884, thus bringing permanent white residents to Pouto.
The first European traders in sailing ships entered the harbour about 1838, to serve the mission stations and to trade for timber. From this time an increasing trade in timber, and later gum, led to an influx of shipping that at one point made this harbour the busiest in the country, all carrying their cargoes over the bar that stands across the entrance. At the height of the timber trade as many as twenty-six ships left the harbour on one tide in the course of a day, all carrying timber from mills around the shores of the harbour. Of the thousands of ships that came in and out of the entrance, at least forty-five were wrecked, the remains of some of them showing up from time to time in the shifting sands.
At the end of the 19th Century as the timber ran out, the emphasis in trade shifted to the export of Kauri gum. Diggers of all nationalities, from local Maori to immigrant Dalmatians, then called Austrians, dug this from the swamps in the district. This period resembled the gold rushes earlier in the century and lasted from 1853 to 1951approximately. The highest export year was 1899 at 11,100 tons, the years between 1892 to 1914 being the greatest overall with an average of 8496 tons per year.
The 'Yugoslav' Contribution
The Dalmations were the hard-working and thrifty pioneers of the gum fields. They left a war-torn Europe to find peace and prosperity in the new world; their generation created the now prosperous dairy farms out of the rough bush. They were the Yugoslavs of Dalmatia. Upon arrival in this land they travelled north from the Port of Aukland and settled in Ruawai, Red Hill, Tatarariki and the main gumfield at Aranga. Many went farther afield and settled in the Far North where their descendants are to this day.
They knew discimination and understood isolation and it was difficult for them to be Catholic and non-English speaking in a British and Protestant-dominated frontier. The Hobson County annual returns for 1916 listed 684 gumdiggers in the Gum Reserves - the 493 Yugoslavs were classified as 'aliens' and they kept alive the skills of the 'Old Country'. They indulged in their colouful culture of Kola dancing and music and this is prevalent today at community celebrations - the Yugoslav Club became a focal point for them.
Some families settled just out of Dargaville on the Turiwiri Flats. They were an industrious and conscientious people and during the week their work brought them out before sunrise and they were seldom home before sun-down. On special occasions the older generation turned spits on which sides of mutton and spare ribs roasted, basted them with the padded ends of ti-tree sticks soaked in olive oil, mint and spices and washed them down with home-made wine. They passed the skills of thrift and enterprise on to the younger generation who have done much to contribute towards the prosperity of the Kauri Coast region.
When the timber and gum were exhausted, the area was settled for farming. In many cases the settlers were the people who came to dig for gum, like the Dalmatians. The rich farmland that surrounds the area now, attests to the hard work of the settler farmers, who provided the base for the pastoral farming and cropping that continues to this day.
The Kaipara and Kauri Coast Today
The harbour is no longer a trade route for exports but provides enormous recreational pleasure to the fishermen, boaties and holiday makers who now ply its waters.