WHITIANGA - The Heart of Mercury Bay
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Whitianga Quick History
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Buffalo Beach is the famous beach named after H.M.S. Buffalo which was blown from Cooks Beach in a storm and wrecked, drowning two crew members in July 1840. The ship built of teak in India in 1813 and originally called "Hindostan" took convicts and settlers to South Australia. She was calling at Whitianga to load with kauri spars to take back for the admiralty in London.


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Captain James Cook, an English explorer, landed at Cooks Beach in the Endeavour in November 1769 to watch the passage of the planet Mercury across the sun, and thus literally "put New Zealand on the map" by establishing its accurate longitude. He planted the English flag on the beach and declared New Zealand for King George III. He named Mercury Bay. It was previously called Te Whanganui-o-hei - The Great Bay of Hei. He stayed in the area for 11 days making astronomical observations and studied the Maoris while the ship took on fresh provisions. The abundance of oysters and shellfish in a local stream impressed him and he quickly named it Oyster River, but later is reverted to its original name Purangi.
Shakespeare's Cliff was also named by Captain Cook as he saw the rock's outline as the face of Shakespeare. At the summit of the cliff a granite monument stands to commemorate Cook's arrival. He sailed from Whitianga northwards escorted by a flotilla of Maori canoes.
Hei was a chief who brought his family on the Awara Canoe in 1350 and his direct descendants still live in the area.
Hahei is where Hei declared that an island was the shape of his nose and claimed it for himself.
Kupe, the Polynesian chief and explorer, landed in the shadow of the "Long White Cloud" Aotearoa, at Te Whitianga-a-Kupe, the crossing place of Kupe around 950AD.
Across the Whitianga Harbour entrance is a point of land called Whitianga Rock, one of the oldest pa sites in the country, a natural fortress admired by Captain Cook. The only access into the pa was by a narrow and heavily fortified isthmus. Today the rock is visited by tourists crossing the harbour entrance by ferry.
Wharetaewa Pa or the house of Taewa, north of Buffalo Beach, was established by a chief during the Te Toi migration, of 1150AD and occupied for 36 generations. Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist, were received hospitably there but the village was attacked by the Ngati-Tamatera and wiped out in 1880.
Timber from Whitianga was New Zealand's first private export. Over a period of 60 years about 500 million feet of kauri timber was milled and sold, and offcuts burned day and night as a beacon for shipping on Buffalo Beach for 40 years.
Kauri gum diggers took out 100,000 tons of gum over 50 years, particularly from the area around Coroglen once called Gum Town. There was a gold rush at Kuaotuna 16km north of Whitianga which began in 1889 and lasted about 10 years, although gold was still mined into the 1900s. Total gold mined there was worth about $32.3 million.
After the Kuaotuna gold rush, houses were loaded onto bullock carts and trundled through the mud to Whitianga. Kuaotuna (roasted young), and possibly alludes to the mutton birds gathered on Great Barrier Island, once was an up and coming town with six gold mines and a population of 1000, three hotels, and accompanying shops including a jeweller's shop, with an upper township and a lower township and a school with 130 children enrolled.
Today Whitianga has an excellent beach for surfcasting, swimming, sailboard riding, and yachting. The Mercury Bay Boating Club has its home in Whitianga and sail their club events and dream of the America's Cup Challenge.
The Mercury Bay Fishing Club was formed in 1925 and is still active today, with worked fishing records for game fish still held by the club. Zane Grey fished for game fish in the Mercury Bay area before he went to the Bay of Islands. He established a fishing camp at red Mercury Island and also at Matapaua Bay.
Some of the nearby beaches north of Whitianga are: Otama and Opito, both reached by traversing the famous "Black Jack" and Kuaotuna Beach which is 2 1/2 miles long and Rings Beach named after Mr Frank Ring who in the early days owned a sheep farm and who was the son of Charles Ring of Coromandel fame. Matarangi Beach, a beach estate complete with golf course, airfield and planned layout, this beach is three miles long. Wharekaho Beach or Simpsons Beach is just north around the bluff of Buffalo Beach.

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