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.