Wednesday, 20 February 2019


The many firsts of Mercury Bay

Late on the evening of 3 November 1769 the explorer James Cook sailed on HM Bark Endeavour into Mercury Bay and stayed for 12 days. During Captain Cook and his crew’s stay a number of firsts happened in the history of New Zealand.

So, does that mean this great part of the world we live in has an identity no one other place can claim? And if so, what is it?

The local people had good reason to be suspicious of Cook’s arrival in the Bay. According to Joe Davis, elder of Ngati Hei (the most prominent tribe in the area), for them it must have been like “a spaceship landing from Mars.” It was also at a time they were under attack from Maori tribes from the west, Tauranga and Northland. The area was well worth fighting over - the mountains were covered in tawa, rimu and kauri, the offshore islands had colonies of grey-faced petrels and swarms of eels and mussels, crayfish and oysters were in abundance. In the ocean there were many species of fish with stock quantities we can today only dream of.

Cook’s and his crew were on a scientific expedition of the Royal Society in London to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti in June 1769 and to continue from there to explore the coasts of the “Southern Continent” or, failing that, the coasts of New Zealand. Among the crew were Charles Green, an astronomer and Joseph Banks, a botanist. Also on board when the Endeavour sailed into Mercury Bay was Tupaia, a Tahitian chief who acted as interpreter between Cook and his crew and the people of New Zealand. 

Cook made landfall in New Zealand at Poverty Bay, from where he made his way up to Mercury Bay and further around New Zealand. Up to his arrival in Mercury Bay, Cook’s time in New Zealand was marked with many misunderstandings with the local Maori people and many of them were shot and killed.

Cook decided to stay in Mercury Bay as the transit of Mercury (a much more common occurrence than the transit of Venus) was imminent and would enable Green to plot the exact position of New Zealand on the world map.

In order to deter the local people from attacking the Endeavour while awaiting the transit of Mercury, Cook and his crew started trading goods they had on board for the locals’ weapons. This process was the start of a few days where, in today’s terms, Pakeha developed a better understanding of Maori and their way of life.

In this process of relationship building, Toiawa, a Ngati Hei chief, was invited on board the Endeavour. Banks, who kept a detailed journal of most of the expedition, said the chief had to be persuaded to venture down into the ship’s cabin where he was given presents. He told the crew his people were “very much afraid” of them and was promised friendship in return for “provision at their own price.”

This visit was followed by another, where two other locals boarded the Endeavour and candidly told the crew about the concerns of their people, particularly because of the plundering they had to endure from other Maori tribes, mostly from the north. They soon, however, realised the crew members weren’t hostile and they became friendly and inquisitive.

The days following Cook ordered some maintenance on the ship to be done, wood to be cut, water to brought on board and wild celery, an anti-scorbutic, to be collected. These activities were intermingled with frequent contact with the local people where, among other things, food was exchanged. Banks and a Dr Solander, another crew member and representing the Royal Society’s scientific interests in the expedition, regularly visited a group of local people living out in the open at the Purangi while collecting fern root and shellfish to take home to their more permanent settlements elsewhere.  

9 November was an eventful day. Not only did Green with the help of Cook go ashore and successfully observe the passing of Mercury, but unfortunately, in Cook’s absence, a local warrior not keeping his end of the bargain in a trade was shot dead by an Endeavour officer. Cook was angry with his officer and evidence of the amicable relationship that was in the process of developing between “Pakeha and Maori” can be found in Cooks personal view of the warrior’s loss of life, “… I thought the punishment a little too severe for the crime, and we had now been long enough acquainted with these People to know how to chastise trifling faults like this without taking away their lives.”

A boat with Endeavour crew was sent to tell the people at the Purangi what had happened, simply to receive the message that the warrior was deserving of his punishment. That same evening Banks and Dr Solander shared a meal with the Purangi people, eating shellfish, crayfish, fish and birds that had been cooked, in Banks’s words, “… in holes in the ground filled with provision and hot stones and covered over with leaves and Earth.”  

On 10 November Cook and some of his crew explored the Whitianga River by boat, accompanied by some locals. They stopped at Whitianga Pa (at Whitianga rock), by that time already destroyed for more than 15 years, and were invited to a delicious meal of hot pipi by the people of a small village nearby.

On 12 November Cook, Banks, Dr Solander and many of the Endeavour crew took boats to the north side of the Bay (to Wharekaho) to visit Ngati Hei’s stronghold. They first were invited to a small pa with only five or six houses, but reluctantly refused as they intended to visit the much larger Wharetaewa Pa. At Wharetaewa Cook and his crew were welcomed, for the first time in New Zealand, with karanga (ritual calls of welcome). They gave the local people gifts and were with a great deal of friendship shown around the pa.

13 to 14 November were used to collect celery and boatloads of oysters from the beds of the Purangi River. Later on 14 November Cook raised an English flag (the exact flag that was raised is uncertain) at the Purangi and claimed possession (either of the whole of New Zealand or just part of the country) in the name of the British King. Cook didn’t leave the flag and his action was without value as he didn’t, according to his instructions, obtain the local people’s consent to possess their land. “The raising of the flag wouldn’t have meant anything to the people of Ngati Hei at that time,” said Joe. “They wouldn’t have known why Cook did it.”

Early in the morning of 15 November Ngati Hei chief, Toiawa and other local Maori visited Cook on board the Endeavour, among them Horeta Te Taniwha, who later became a well-known Maori leader and who was only a young boy at the time. He recalled how Toiawa drew with a piece of charcoal an outline of the North Island on the deck of the Endeavour, how Cook gave Toiawa a handful of seed potatoes (the first time European potatoes were given to anyone in New Zealand) and how Cook gave him (Te Taniwha) a nail and how the nail became his “god.”

Later on 15 November the Endeavour sailed away from Mercury Bay.

According to Joe and Richard Gates, a Mercury Bay historian and member of the Mercury Bay Museum Trust Board, Cook’s visit to Mercury Bay was undoubtedly the first time Europeans developed some understanding of the way local Maori people lived, for the first time New Zealand was correctly positioned on a map of the world, for the first time Europeans were invited and welcomed to a pa with a karanga, for the first time European potatoes were offered to a Maori person and for the first time a British flag was raised on New Zealand soil.

So, what is the identity of this great place we live in? Is Mercury Bay the true birthplace of New Zealand as a nation? Or is it the place where the idea of New Zealand as a nation was conceived? Or is it the place where a future-shaping meeting of minds happened? Or is it simply the place where New Zealand was put on the map? Or is it, perhaps, New Zealand’s place of firsts?

Whatever it is, Mercury Bay has a place in the history of New Zealand. A history all of us who live here, Maori and Pakeha alike, can be rightfully proud of.

Police urges people to take care this Labour Weekend - zero tolerance for speeds 5km over speed limit

With skiers making the most of late snow on the mountains combining with holiday home owners making the most of warmer weather, Waikato Police are warning the region's roads will be a lot busier this Labour Weekend.

District Road Policing Manager, Inspector Freda Grace said varying weather patterns meant the public could be spoilt for choice over the long weekend which will make things challenging on the roads.

"We can expect large numbers of motorists to be heading down Auckland's Southern Motorway and then branching off on to SH2 to head to their beach homes in the  Coromandel, heading straight ahead on SH1 or branching off on to SH39 to head to the ski slopes.

"In each case they will be turning on to smaller roading networks that demand a higher level of respect and driver attentiveness to successfully share the road."

Mr Grace urged drivers to ensure they and their vehicles are fit for the road and that didn't just mean fuelling the car up and grabbing a pie on the road.

"We need to ensure our vehicles have warrants of fitness and we need to ensure we're fit for the road to.

“If you're tired from a long week on Friday, don't head out, get some sleep and head out Saturday instead.

"Likewise, we would ask that people don't over indulge on alcohol Sunday night and drive home - impaired on Monday putting themselves, their passengers and other motorists at risk."

Waikato Police will be out in force with a highly visible presence on popular holiday routes over Labour Weekend, which will see the return of the successful zero-tolerance to speeds 5km or over posted speed limits.

"But really, road safety isn't just about enforcement, it's about the community doing their bit in sharing the road.

“This means not speeding, not drinking and driving, pulling over to use the phone or text and planning your route allowing plenty of rest and time to get to your destination and back home safely.

"If we're all doing that then the Police's role becomes one of chaperoning, not enforcement because everyone will be doing their bit in ensuring Labour Weekend in the Waikato is fatal and injury free."

Whitianga Summer Concert heading towards a great success

With show day just three months away, Greenstone Entertainment’s Whitianga Summer Concert, featuring HEART, FOREIGNER and THREE DOG NIGHT on 25 January Auckland Anniversary long weekend, is already proving to be a great success.

At present the concert, to be held at the Whitianga Waterways Arena, has already sold over 5,000 tickets, with 75% of the “locals $89 tickets” also bought. In addition, the transport options on offer from Thames, Whangamata, Matarangi, Hot Water Beach, Hahei and Coromandel to the concert, pre-purchased for $30 (return) and only through Ticketek, have been in high-demand. With limited bus transfers available from all areas, concert-goers are urged to purchase in advance as they will not be on offer on the day.

Amanda Calvert, CEO of Greenstone Entertainment said, “We’re absolutely thrilled with Whitianga’s response to the Summer Concert Tour. To kick off our five year commitment with Whitianga Waterways with a rocking crowd, is a fantastic feeling.

“With children 14 and under being free - we’re hoping the Summer Concert Tour will be an annual family affair for the Coromandel!”

“This Summer Concert Tour is arguably the best line-up to-date and we can’t wait to show these iconic rockers, Heart, Foreigner and Three Dog Night, what New Zealand has to offer.”

While there will be a wide range of local food outlets on offer, concert-goers are encouraged to bring in their own picnic with non-alcoholic beverages. The bars at the concert will sell a wide range of Gibbston Valley wines including Gibbston Valley Gold River Pinot Noir 2014, Gibbston Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Gold River Pinot Gris 2014 and Gibbston Valley Gold River Chardonnay 2013 along with Steinlager Pure, Speights and Steinlager Lite and cider. A wide range of non-alcoholic beverages and free water will also be on offer at the concert.

The concert is free for children 14 years and under. See the official concert banner here.

Whitianga fisherman took out Holdaway Award for contribution to conservation of Hauraki Gulf

The Southern Seabird Solutions Trust publicly congratulated Whitianga commercial longline skipper, Adam Clow last night on winning the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s prestigious Holdaway Award.

The Holdaway Award recognises a leader who has made a significant contribution to conservation in or around the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

“Adam is a great role model when it comes to seabird smart fishing practices and the Trust is thrilled to see his efforts publicly acknowledged,” said Janice Molloy, convener of the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust.

“Adam is one of the leaders in the fishing industry who is active in doing all he can to avoid harming seabirds while out fishing. His passion for seabirds has also positively affected the attitudes and behavior of others involved in fishing,” said Janice.

Adam’s interest in seabirds was kindled after attending the Trust’s Seabird Smart Fishing workshop in Whitianga a few years ago and since then he has made two trips to Great Barrier Island to help scientists band black petrel fledglings at the colony.

“Black petrel are a threatened seabird species that come home to the Hauraki Gulf to breed every summer. Fishing is the main threat to black petrels and the actions of fishers like Adam will make a difference,” said Janice.

Adam is a third generation fisherman and has been on boats since he was old enough to fish.  He is a skipper on the Southern Cross, fishing out of Whitianga for OPC Aotearoa Fisheries. In 2012, Adam won the 2012 Seabird Smart award presented to him by Prince Charles, patron of the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust.

Check out The Informer's latest fishing report.

Hot Rods coming to Cooks Beach

Harbour City Rod Club is a small club of 25 members based in Glen Eden, West Auckland which has been established for 47 years. The Hot Rods in the club are classified as pre-1949 vehicles of American origin.

The club has an annual “Rod Run” to Cooks Beach and participants come from other clubs from all over the North Island. This year the club wishes to give back to the community by hosting a free Hot Rod display at Cooks Beach Reserve on Saturday 1 November from 1:00pm until 3:30pm. They will be running a kids colouring in competition and there will be a sausage sizzle.

Colouring in competition forms are available from Raewyn at the Cooks Beach Liquor Store. The winners will be announced at the display at 2:00 pm. Winners must be present to collect their prize.

The club is expecting 50 Hot Rods in the display.

Witnesses asked to come forward regarding Mill Creek Road crash

The Westpac Helicopter was called to a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Mill Creek Road and SH25 outside Whitianga yesterday evening. The Fire Service and St John were in attendance. The Helicopter transported two patients (a young girl and an adult female) to Starship Hospital and Auckland City Hospital. The girl was Status 1 (critical) with a head injury and the female was Status 2 (serious).

Mark Cannell, one of the helicopter crewman, said, “It was a very busy job. Volunteer fire staff, the Police and St John personnel had done very well. They had secured the scene, extricated the patients and set up a landing site for us. Members of the public assisted with moving equipment for the helicopter crew.”

Senior Constable Graham Fitzpatrick of the Police’s Waikato Serious Crash Unit said he and his fellow investigators are working to build up an understanding on the cause of the crash.

"Initial indications are that at about 5.45pm the female driver of a Nissan Bluebird car travelling from Whitianga on SH25 has gone to turn off the highway on to Mill Creek Rd when an Isuzu Bighorn SUV travelling in the same direction has collided with the rear of the car,” he said.

"The impact of this collision appears to have shunted the car into the opposite lane resulting in a collision with an oncoming Holden Colorado utility.

"Attending emergency service personnel acknowledged the work done by several members of the public who assisted the casualties before they arrived, in particular off-duty medical staff.

“We would like to hear from any of these Good Samaritans who haven't already been interviewed by the Police."

Mr Fitzpatrick said due to heavy traffic flows, the Police believe there may be many more people who witnessed the crash than they have so far spoken to and for that reason investigators are asking those people to contact the Whitianga Police.
"The challenge for us is many motorists in this area are visitors or maybe even overseas tourists and we need to speak to them before they leave for home or head out of the country.

"For that reason we're asking that if you saw something then do something, ring Sergeant Andrew Morrison of the Whitianga Police on 07 866 4000."

Burden of wastewater treatment plants to hit home in TCDCs ten year plan

After three years of successfully reducing the average property rate, Coromandel's community boards have been briefed by Thames Coromandel District Council’s mayor, Glenn Leach this week about the need to continue exercising financial restraint as they plan capital projects for the next ten years, or face a significant rates increase.

Mr Leach said ratepayers will have to pay cost overruns from the building of the eastern seaboard wastewater treatment plants, even though they were completed in 2009.

TCDC has received a draft report calculating lower capacity in some aspects of the plants than was modelled in previous 2009 and 2012 Long Term Plans. This issue, along with subsequent incorrect growth assumptions used before the plants were built, along with the overruns from additional capital works on these plants, is now coming home to the ratepayer. A full report will be delivered to TCDC before the end of the year.

"On the basis of emerging capacity figures, Council has no legal choice but to transfer more of the remaining debt onto ratepayers," said Mr Leach. "The growth projections given to the previous Council by independent professional experts, to make decisions to build the treatment plants were flawed, so we are now having to deal with this.

"We are working hard to soften this impact. More public information and the history of the plants and the costs will follow."

In his briefing to the community boards, Mr Leach used this example to remind elected members to concentrate on the must-haves when it comes to projects rather than the nice-to-haves. "I'm preaching restraint," he said.

"We need to keep doing what we suggested when we were first elected. We need to prioritise where our money is spent."

TCDC is busy preparing its next Long Term Plan (2015-2025). With a number of Coromandel areas now rebounding after the global economic downturn, the shopping list of requests for capital projects from some community groups is growing rapidly.

"If a project isn't in our upcoming Long Term Plan, then we can't get development contributions for it," said Mayor Leach. "Our three anchor projects - the Coromandel Great Walks Project, the Hauraki Rail Trail and the Coromandel Harbour Facilities project - is not going ahead without government funding," he said, reminding elected members of the work TCDC has put in to avoid unnecessary burdens on ratepayers.

The first draft of TCDC's upcoming Long Term Plan will be available in March for public consultation.

Community boards support WWI national memorial forest for the Coromandel

A national war memorial forest is being supported by community boards throughout the Coromandel.

This week Thames Coromandel District Council mayor, Glenn Leach has been at community board meetings to gauge support for the concept, which would be a series of forests, totalling approximately 18,500 trees to be a living, growing memorial for the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers in World War One.

It's proposed that the National WWI memorial forests would consist of five individual plantings in each Community Board area of the Thames-Coromandel District - commemorating soldiers in each year of the war and/or in each of the battles and campaigns.

It is also proposed each Community Board would lead and coordinate their part of the forest - engaging with local groups, iwi, RSA's and schools to plant and care for the plantings and the soldiers that each tree memorialises.

“It’s a fantastic idea," said Mr Leach. "Each community board needs to think about where there is at least 1.5 hectares of land on Department of Conservation, Council Reserve or QE2 land or land gifted to the public. The community boards are the glue that can link in with the schools, the local RSA’s, retirees who can actually help to make this happen."

Chris Adams, the first CEO of Tourism Coromandel (now known as Destination Coroamandel), who now runs a successful marketing tourism consultancy, approached Mr Leach several months ago with the concept.

“New Zealand is blessed with some of the largest, longest lived and most magnificent living things on earth - our iconic native trees, totara, rimu, puriri and of course kauri can grow not only to huge size, but all are capable of living for 2,000 plus years," said Mr Adams. "The oldest war memorial in the UK, All Sould College in Oxford, built in 1438, is barely one quarter of that age.  

"These iconic native trees are also in the Maori tradition ‘guardians’ of the forest and in this case also of the memory of a specific fallen soldier. A living memorial forest would therefore be a ‘guard of guardians’ to remembering these sacrifices and their stories and to the restoration and protection of the natural environment.

"This resonates in the Coromandel where many wonderful groups such as Kauri 2000 have worked and toiled over many years to help restore our magnificent forests from the ravages of mining and forestry.

"A national WW1 forest is therefore a far more permanent, enduring and generous memorial than anything man can build. It is also as far as we have been able to determine a world first. And the Coromandel is the perfect home for it.”

Last month a meeting was held with interested stakeholders, including DOC, Waikato Regional Council, Forest and Bird, Kauri 2000 and Destination Coromandel to be involved as a district working group.

The first planting is looking to be launched on ANZAC Day, 25 April 2015, with the “Gallipoli Grove,” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The initial planting of 100 trees will grow to a memorial forest of 2,779 native trees for each one of the fallen New Zealand soldiers of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. There will be a three-year time period for different memorial forests to be established throughout the Coromandel to mark a different WWI campaign or battle.

The objective would be to finish all the plantings and complete the memorial forests at a ceremony on 11 November 2018 - the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.

At it's meeting yesterday, Mercury Bay Community Board member, Deli Connell put her hand up to spearhead the Mercury Bay involvement in the memorial forests.



Is freedom camping a problem on the Coromandel Peninsula?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.