Whitianga and Cooks Beach in the summer of 1964.
By Stan Stewart.
How did Whitianga look?
“A town that lives for the future. We wandered down the main street and saw a service
station with banana palms growing alongside of it. We found pleasant shops and friendly
people. Whitianga seemed fresh and tangy …. The very sight of it suggests, ‘holiday’”.
The town had a population of 700 which rose to 10,000 during the Christmas holidays”.
Holiday batches, camping grounds and motels were multiplying. New developments were
being planned and land prices were spiralling.”
What were Whitianga residents hoping for?
“Conversations invariably included the remarks, “When we get the bridge”…. and “When
the new road is finished”.
“The bridge is a harbour bridge already discussed by the Ministry of Works to link the two
sides of Whitianga Harbour, now connected only by a launch ferry. The road they speak of is
the new Kopu-Hikuai highway across the base of the Peninsula”.
Businesses and local government officials said they were hoping for a growth of tourism –
especially the number of overseas tourists.
The authors reached the conclusion that “the key to future growth depended on the
completion of the Kopu-Hikuai Highway”. (Sounds familiar?)
Fishes, crays and mussels
Fresh crays could be bought on the wharf. They found fish very scarce and not available for
purchase. Mussels were in short supply and those available were much smaller than the
mussels they had read about.
“What was undeniable was the fact that Whitianga was a wonderful stepping off place for
big game fishing”. “An interesting note that experts have designated the waters off Cuvier
Island and Mayor Island as containing the greatest concentration of Tuna around NZ shores.
“One Whitianga fisher man is quoted as finding himself in a shoal of tuna extending for a
mile and a half.”
Believe it or not, they found high hopes for growing tropical crops. They encountered
“displays of exotics, such as bananas, pawpaws and hibiscus…. Efforts have been made to
grow pineapples, there is talk of planting coconuts widely at Tairua, and tree-ripened
bananas are no novelty in parts of the Peninsula.”
Buffalo Beach and Sharks
“Buffalo Beach is the best known of the Mercury Bay beaches -a two mile stretch of gently
sloping sand, safe for swimming at all times. Many people compare Buffalo Beach to
The authors could not resist taking a dip and found it strange that they were the only ones
in the water. However, a headline in the paper next day explained why all the other bathers
had made quickly to the beach. “SHARK SCARE AT WHITIANGA”. One shark had been shot in
several feet of water and a number of others had been sighted just off the beach”.
Stories of the wreck of the HMS Buffalo alerted them to the fact that powerful squalls from
the NNE were not uncommon in Mercury Bay.
“When we arrived in Whitianga we were
warned it could blow there, so we pitched the tent accordingly. Using king size pegs, we
enthusiastically hammered them in so well we began to think we might have made the tent
But not so. That evening the wind blew with force and some tents seemed as
though they were about to take off. The tent of the authors remained safe and secure.
Their experience motivated them to research the wreck of the HMS Buffalo.
“A dreadful, howling gale broke the ship from its moorings in the Bay, drove it across the Bay and grounded it in the sands near to where the hospital (now a retirement village) is located.”
Fifty-nine years have passed. Growth, housing development, the Lost Springs, the
Waterways and the beauty, the friendliness the sense of holiday still pervades our town.
The idea of a bridge has been dropped, but once again as in 1964, our future potential is
greatly dependent on the creation of a suitable and reliable highway.
Based on ‘COROMANDEL COAST’ – a first rate travel book by New Zealand authors, Eugene
and Valerie Grayland - Published A H & A W Reed Wellington 1966.
Caption: Eugene and Valerie Grayland.