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Our Heritage

The Year 950AD

Kupe set sail on the mighty eighty foot double canoe, Matahorua, from Raiatea in the Society Group. It was told that this “catamaran” was constructed from one tree, two hulls connected by a platform built over them, upon which a shelter was constructed. Two masts held the woven claw sails. Kupe knew exactly where the sunrise and sunset took place every fifteen days; he also knew the paths of 150 stars. As in the Maori legend of Maui, like a giant fish the land rose up out of the sea before them, the peak they first saw became known was Moehau Mountain, on the Mountain Ridge of Toi, which centuries later would be called the Coromandel Range. It is said that Kupe made his first landing at Te Whitianga-Nui-a-Kupe, Kupe’s big crossing place, to mark this journey from Raiatea. We know it today as Buffalo Beach and the town of Whitianga. When Kupe left this area, to return to his homeland, legend has it he left an old sail hanging on the cliff face, know to us as “the Mare’s Leg” at Cathedral Cove.

Hahei was named, Te 0 A Hei, by Hei, the chief of the Ngati Hei Iwi. Oral history tells us that Hei came to Aotearoa/New Zealand in the Te Arawa Canoe, which was lead by Tama Te Kapua, who was his grandfather. This was around 1350 AD. He was one of three brothers in the fleet of seven canoes named the Arawa, the Tainui, the Matatua, the Takitimu, the Kurahaup, the Tokomaru, and the Matawhaorua. They reached Whangaparaoa, carrying around 180 people, the pohutukawa was in bloom. The Tainui group crossed over the land bridge from the Waitemata to the Manukau harbours and sailed down the west coast. It is told that Hei was a sailing master in the Arawa group who elected to sail south. As they sailed pass the bay Te Whitianga-Nui-a- Kupe, he saw an island off the north end of Hahei beach. This island he named Te Kuraetanga 0 taku ihu, announcing that its shape resembled the curve of his nose, and with this he hereby laid claim to the area. This island is now called Motueka, or Pigeon Island.

The Ngati Hei lived along this section of the East Coast of the Coromandel Peninsula for twenty-six generations. Their largest settlements being in the Whitianga and Wharekaho, now also known as Simpson’s Beach. The headland at the southern end of Hahei beach served as the site for a pa, known as Hereheretaura Pa. The one to the right on the same headland is only referenced as The Hahei Pa, but may be one in the same. At the north end of the beach was another smaller pa, named Te Mautohe Pa, this was situated above “the cathedral” between Cathedral Cove and Mare’s Leg Beach. These locations offered the advantage of being able to see and ward off approaching enemy canoes. The largest island in the Hahei Bay, Mahurangi Island, or Goat Island, also shows signs of occupation, as it is bisected by a large trench, there also appears to be middens containing shell on the small islet connected to Mahurangi Island. Poikeke Island, off Motueka, was visited by Captain Cook in 1769 and the entry in his dairy describes the layout and the fact it had no fresh water and only one access.

The finding of storage pits supports the existence of early horticultural endeavours. The diet was varied and food appeared to be plentiful. Sites located beside the main river mouth of Wigmore Stream, provided access to fresh water as well as close proximity to the ocean. Springs have been recorded further up the main river, as well as on Hereheretaura Point. Although there are some flakes of argillite, chert and of course, obsidian, recent research has suggested that the primary stages of adze production was carried out at the quarry at Opito Bay.

Canoes from Hahei are claimed to have intercepted Captain Cook’s H.M.S. Endeavour, when it sailed into this region in November 1769 and were warned off by musket fire, an event recorded in Cook’s dairy. Te Whanganui a Hei, the great harbour of Hei, was renamed Mercury Bay by Captain Cook, after observing the passage of the planet Mercury across the sun – enabling him to accurately position Aotearoa/New Zealand on the map.

By the end of the nineteenth century Ngati Hei’s territory had been reduced to the coastline from Kuaotonu in the North, to Tairua in the South. They suffered from prolonged warfare with Tainui Tribes, and the Ngati Tamatera from Hauraki. In 1818 the group at Hahei were attacked by Ngapui, led by Hongi Hika and his nephew Te Morenga. They were unable to defend themselves against the invader’s musket fire and a massacre ensued. A few Ngati Hei escaped by entering the sea and swimming close against the cliff. Today the Ngati Hei continue to live in Whitianga and Wharekaho.

Hahei was deserted following this event and the land was declared vacant, according to the Wastelands Act.

Robert Wigmore was an Irishman, from County Cork, born in 1816. It is believed that he first came to New Zealand in 1840 at the young age of 24. During the next few years it is believed that he became a friend of Dr. Logan Campbell and through him developed an interest in the timber trade, which lead him to take the overland walk from Auckland to Whitianga. He was a tall man, of 6’ 8 1/2”, weighing 19 stone and was believed to be the first “pakeha” to have made this walk. It is later believed that he made the walk from Whitianga to Wellington, an epic journey that took 6 months. It is assumed that during his stay in Whitianga, observing the kauri timber trade, that he visited Hahei. He left New Zealand in the year 1843 going to South America on a brig called “Bristolian”, which left Auckland. It also has been told that the ship he went to South America on belonged to a cousin. He disembarked at Valparaiso, but it is not known if it was the same brig he left from Auckland on. There is a span of time, around twenty five years where there is no accounting of actually where he was, however it is believed that he did work on the railway being built in the Andes.

He was in back in Ireland in the year 1847, working as a civil engineer. When he was 33 he was in Canada where he married Fanny Willis. In the year 1866 he returned to New Zealand with a wife, Fanny and 5 children. It is also assumed that he returned to Hahei that year and lived here a number of years before the land title was issued on 2nd April 1872. The Thames 1875-76 electoral roll records him as a “Farmer – Sunnyside Farm – Mercury Bay. He is shown as owning 230 acres valued at six hundred pounds. One block of 184 acres (Grange Road area over to the Wigmore Stream purchased in 1871, then other block of 46 acres purchased in 1873 from Wigmore over the Pa hill.)

The family arrived by boat and a small cottage was built near the beach, approximately where the cairn is, just off Hahei Beach Road down by the Beach front. This small house was later brought up and placed behind the big house and it was eventually moved again and used as a wool shed. Somewhere between 1868 and 1874 he built the “big house” which still remains here today. It is understood that he actually built this house himself as he was an excellent carpenter. It is constructed of kauri timber, the logs were dropped into the bay and left to float ashore. The timbers are fixed with square nails. The family hand-dug the land growing wheat, maize and vegetables which they sold to the bush camps up at “Gumtown” now called Coroglen. They had extensive gardens along with fruit trees and even to-day there are remains of the rock walls from these gardens and two old pear trees from the orchard. He also was the first in the district to plant paspalum grass. The Morton Bay fig tree and the Magnolia tree, by the Big House and the Osage Orange tree across from the store were also planted by Mr. Wigmore. The Osage trees (or Bow Wood) originate from the Red River Valley in Oklahoma USA and were used by the Indians to make bows and the earlier settlers to make wagon wheels.
The newspaper, “The New Zealand Gazette” July 3 1876 printed that he was appointed Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. He was also made a Justice of the Peace around this same time. He was a man of great influence through out the Coromandel Peninsula and held regular court sessions in Tairua, Coroglen and Whitianga as well as the ones he held in the house. He was a long time member of the Freemasons. On September 19, 1890 Mr Wigmore died. It is told that he was fed up with a cow that kept breaking into an area of young pine trees he was growing and took up his gun and left. Shortly afterwards there was a gun shot heard and he was later found lying dead. The gun had discharged as it struck the ground, so it was assumed that he died from a heart attack, no sign of a cow. Fanny Willis, who was only 19 when she married Robert Wigmore, continued to live on at Hahei until her death in 1911. She is buried by her husband.

Wigmore stream carries the family name; however Wigmore passage as it known between Te Karaka Island and the Pa headland, is believed to be named after a Captain Wigmore, maybe the relative whose ship he went to South America on.

Members of the Wigmore family are still owners of property in Hahei.

The New Zealand story starts with the arrival in 1853 of Dr. Walter Harsant and his wife Ann Elizabeth with nine children, four boys and five girls. They were first posted to Te Awamutu and then in 1858 he was appointed to Raglan. There is much documented history regarding their lives and positions he held not only as a medical doctor but as a Commissioner of Oaths for the Supreme Court.

Their third son Roger was in Thames on the Tararu Block, mining gold in the year l867. He later acquired land at Karamu and in 1877 married Annie Savage. He left his wife with eleven children when he died from asthma in 1895. The oldest was seventeen and the youngest one. The older ones went to work and Kate and Fred were sent to their uncle John in Australia. One aged five was adopted by a family friend and the very young remained with their mother. Charles the oldest and Horace age nine went to Raglan. When Fred was around 18 he and Kate returned to New Zealand and went and lived with their mother who was remarried to John Roffey, a saddler from Raglan. They had moved to Mercury Bay taking another brother Jack, who helped his step-father in the saddle making business.

Around 1905 Walter, Fred and Horace bought Peebles Store in Gumtown, now known as Coroglen. This was a general supply store and Horace, who was around twenty, did the deliveries with a team of 16 pack-horses. These deliveries were to the bush camps and gum diggers throughout the Coromandel Ranges. He would return with gum. Walter who married Mabel ran the store and kept the business. Sister Kate married Harry Wigmore who farmed at Hahei with his brother Robert. The Harsant Brothers, Walter, Horace and Fred farmed in partnership with Harry Wigmore at Hahei before buying it in 1911. They also continued their contracting business, building fences and running the Gumtown store.

Walter and Mabel Harsant had five children when they all finally came to live in the Big House at Hahei in 1915, Gladys, Dorothy, Muriel, Sonny (Walter Jr.) and Fred, later to come was Ken (Horace).Walter’s brother Horace was single and also came to live with the family. Their brother Fred enlisted in the Army and died that same year. Horace married Florence Woodhead in 1918 and had three sons, Fred, Vaughan, Charles and a daughter Joan. Florence had another daughter Janice. They lived in the Cottage which had been Robert Wigmore’s home. Harry Wigmore and family left Hahei for the Purangi farm, going by sea. A barge was towed with around forty of Harry’s bee hives. Robert Wigmore moved to Auckland.

The first phone was a twelve party line, a single strung wire to Whenuakite which then connected to Whitianga. Glass bottles were used as insulators wherever a pole had to be used, in many places the line had been strung between trees. There was only one doctor in Whitianga, in an emergency he would visit on horseback. People of this time were known for their hospitality, tennis, billiards and dances were often held in the house and gardens. For over twenty years church services were held on the Homestead lawn at Christmas. Schooling was initially conducted at the Homestead with a live-in teacher or a member of the family. The roll ranged from seven to ten pupils. The dairy herd continued to grow and a new cow shed was built from the lumber from the Gumtown Store. The families were also involved in Cray fishing; they would put the daily catch into floating wooden tanks which would be picked up by the weekly scow. The roads started to improve during the depression due to work being done by Relief Workers, who had several camps throughout the District. This work was all done by pick and shovel with steel-wheeled wheelbarrows. Florence Harsant is well known for starting the wonderful library that bears her name in the Village of Hahei.

In 1945 the family farm was split and the road was surveyed right through to the Beach. The road gave access to Walters’s six acres around the Homestead. Walter chose to run sheep whilst Horace took on Dairy Farming. Both Walter and Horace’s sons and now their sons continue to run the farms at Hahei even to this day.

The Harsant family history has been written by Walter (Sonny) Harsant. It is a wonderful account of the family, the hardships they endured, and the building of the farm. This book is called “From Haveringland to Hahei – The Harsants of Hahei”.

In 1946 the farm was split again and Vaughan brought the bottom flats as a 60 cow dairy farm. This new road brought the public to the beach. Camping on the beach front under the pine trees was a wonderful way to spend the Christmas holidays. Many of the people living here today were those first “campers”. There were no facilities; “scrim town” was the order of the day. Trips to the cowshed with the billy for milk and water from the hose at the cow troughs. By 1958 the numbers had swollen making it necessary to provide some services so Vaughan decided to turn the beach side into a motor camp. He purchased the old Homestead to live in and sold six sections on Hahei Beach Road to pay for it. After finding the land he had purchased over the hill required a fair amount of capital for it to become useful farm land, he started the development of Tutaritari Road subdivision. Vaughan and his wife Dawn then decided to sell beach front sections, and relocate the camp. They formed a Family Company called Hahei Holidays Ltd, which is in existence to this day, and the new road, Harsant Avenue, gave access to the Motor Camp. This the same Motor camp that is here today, that has been enjoyed by thousands of holiday makers, from all over the world for all these many years. That first camp had movable pit toilets. The main block was built with conventional toilets and a septic tank system, then the drainage lines were extended and further septic tanks installed. In the adjoining area a small golf course was established to provide a clear space around a large soak hole. An aerator was added to see if this resolved the problems.

Electricity was finally brought into the valley area in 1961. During the construction of this line Horace accidentally stood on a laid charge of dynamite and his leg was blown off.

A further subdivision off Dawn Avenue, which up till this time had been used as an air top-dressing strip, was formed. The crop duster was just proving to be too noisy. In 1975 the Hauraki Catchments Board took over control of water rights from the Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) which had been formed by the amalgamation of the Coromandel and Thames County Council. It was also ruled that all future subdivisions on the Peninsula were to have sewage systems. The Harsant family decided to build a system to cater for the camp. TCDC were to have installed sewage plants at all settlements. Thames was the only one to have a public sewage system at this time.

Vaughan and his brother Fred, who was also farming, discussed several ideas. Fred with his family however decided to move to America to pursue his career in saddle making. Vaughan and Dawn formed another company, Hahei Developments Ltd., and purchased two of Fred’s blocks of land on the flats (Pa Road) and proceeded to install their own plant. They chose one that would fit the land allocated and used aeration ponds along with evaporation beds. This was designed by Harrison and Grierson Consultants who had done all the subdivisions for them. Dawn’s two sons Roy and Ian participated in the actual construction of this system. All work was approved by the TCDC and the Catchment Board, and it was with this that Pa Road and Grierson Close became the first subdivisions to be connected along with the Hahei Holidays Ltd. This plant was built on their own land, with no financial assistance from the Council, however it was eventually taken over by TCDC by the public works Act 1991.

At this time there also were no water rights for any of the water supplies in Hahei, so Hahei Developments made application for a water right as most of the bores were on their land. One of the conditions for subdivisions was not only sewage systems but reticulated water systems, up to fire fighting standards. The Family companies drilled for water near Pa Road, in a zone that had been identified as having an artesian flow. The Motor Camp water supply was eventually moved to bores located within the initial 12 acres of the camp area as TCDC required some further land around the old bore sites for reserve. This land was reluctantly sold to them. Vaughan and Dawn helped form the Hahei Water Association, still existing today, to secure that private water supply.

The “general store” was planned and built by the family and a small restaurant moved in. They went on to build a commercial area, that we all enjoy today, believing that it would be necessary for future infrastructure of Hahei. Their belief was that shops should be well back from the beach front and in a central area.

In 1969 the Vaughan Harsant family offered 80 acres to the Land and Survey Department as a Recreational Reserve. This magnificent piece of coastline was officially given in 1972 and today is known as the world renowned Cathedral Cove Reserve. It was donated by Vaughan and Dawn with the wish that all could enjoy its unspoilt beauty and it would remain untouched from subdivisions and commercial enterprises. The continued family ownership and running of the Hahei Holidays Tourist Park is also dedicated to the same principal, so that families and visitors can come and enjoy the beauty of Hahei, no matter what their circumstances are

Here is a very interesting paper about Hahei Islands, written in 1976 by P.R Moore of the NZ Geological Survey

Notes On The Hahei Islands