Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 5, May 1966
By LES MORGAN
While enjoying a leisurely drive along the new road to Bowentown a few weeks ago my mind went back to the difference between that and my first visit to our Waihi beach.
I cannot now recall the year but it must have been about 1907. There was much excitement at our home as my mother's brother Uncle Bert was coming on a visit from Dunedin, which to me at that time was the other side of the world. During the discussion about entertaining him the beach was mentioned on several occasions. Up to this time I had never seen a beach and was much intrigued and I was promised that if I behaved between that time and the day of the beach visit I would be taken along.
When Uncle Bert arrived and more discussions took place arrangements were made that some of my cousins, whose father had a grocery store at the East End, would come along in the delivery cart to take the party to the beach. Then followed a study of the times of the tides as it would be necessary to get to Athenree when the tide was low so as to be able to cross the Ford. The beach road, as we now know it, was not in existence at that time.
The great day arrived and we were up about daybreak ready and waiting for the conveyance to arrive. When it did come I remember that the men had to sit on boards which were placed across the cart, resting on the sides while I, being a very small lad, sat on the floor.
We started off at a steady jog and travelled out past the cemetery and I recall the old racecourse being mentioned. This to me was a very long distance from home. We travelled steadily on to the gorge and here again I recall that there was a spring on the bank at the side of the road, just before reaching the bottom of the first hill, and there was a trough hollowed out of the rock to catch the water. Here we paused to allow the motive power, one horse, to cool his innards.
I had occasion in later years to remember this spring as a stopping place, when I accompanied my father on bicycle trips to Kati Kati. We were never allowed to drink there but were permitted to bathe our arms in the cool water until we were refreshed. Drinking was not allowed as Dad used to say that if you had a drink at one of those places you would be wanting to stop at them all, so drinks were out until the journeys end.
Well back to our beach trip. After our worthy steed had satisfied his thirst we went on through the gorge, which was much as it is now, with the exception that it was a metal surface, to the Athenree turn-off.
I well remember the thrill of my first view of the sea from the top of the hill, not for a moment thinking that I was only looking at a small tidal inlet and that beyond the heads and Matakana Island there was ocean as far as the eye could see.
We eventually arrived at Athenree and I was intrigued by a shed built on piles out in the water. This shed had large sliding doors on each side and a platform also ran along each side. I was told that it was the loading shed for launches which then plied between Athenree and Tauranga and that a lot of goods were taken between Waihi and Tauranga by that method in those days as the road beyond Kati Kati was a very poor one. The shed was built on the edge of the channel and the launches came to it at high tide and unloaded and then at low tide wagons were driven to the shoreward side to remove goods. Passengers were also carried on this run.
We crossed the ford and emerged on to the sand-hills where all had to get out of the cart as it was a very heavy pull for the horse without any passengers.
What a thrill it was to reach the top of the sand-hills and see the vast expanse of the ocean stretched out in front, with the Mayor Island standing out, seemingly only a stones throw away. The large Bowentowns Heads to the right appeared to tower over us and stretching away to the left that great white beach with the waves rolling in and breaking in turbulent surf on the white sand. It appeared that one day would not be long enough to get to the end of it, let alone come back again. However we all got back into the cart and off we went along the beach. It did not seem to get any nearer until suddenly we could see the road up to the old mine and then found that we had arrived.
While the men were preparing lunch I ran around the sand, thrilled at my first beach visit.
Some time was spent roaming the lower hills and having a look at the old mine shaft and then there was a consulting of watches and talk of being sure of not missing the tide at the Ford as that was the only way for a vehicle to get away from the beach so in the early afternoon we set out to return home having thoroughly enjoyed the visit, although it had taken as much time on the journey as we had spent there.
Some years later I recall talk of the new road being made to the beach and that a lot of people were putting up beach huts and then there was a great day when the then Mayor of Waihi, Dawson Donaldson, if my memory is correct, declared the Waihi Beach road open to general traffic, at a ceremony at the junction with Tauranga Rd. Journeys to the beach then became more frequent although after rain it was sometimes a very trying experience. The general mode of transport then was by horse-drawn wagon and one who took many parties out there and whose name comes readily to mind was Charley Cole. It was necessary at the approach to the Christmas holidays, if one wished to go to the beach to camp, to book the wagon a long time ahead as two trips per day were as much as could be managed.
By this time I was the proud owner of a bicycle and one of my mate's parents had a cottage at the beach so we often used to ride out there to spend the week-end. The middle of the road was metal, but over near the fences there was a decent clay track worn by the many bicycles.
Even as late as 1925, when there were a few motor cars in Waihi, I remember being stranded at the beach and a brother having to ride out on horse back with some provisions to tide us over until it stopped raining and the rest of the party could get out. The flat on the Waihi side of Trig Road used to become a regular quagmire and many vehicles used to travel round Trig Road to the Tauranga Road instead of risking being bogged. Waikino town, about half a dozen cottages, a mile or so from the shopping area was then the extreme extent of the settled area of the beach.
After an absence of many years from Waihi, it was amazing to see the development, brought about, no doubt by the good road, increase of motor cars making it so much more accessible, and with the new road to Bowentown, the adventure of a day at the Heads has now lost its glamour, when we used to trudge along the sand from Waihi, make lunch in the old hall on the hill and then trudge home again, tired and happy. So much for progress but the memories live on.
In l939 when Miss Jefferson was teaching at the Waihi Beach School the children did a comprehensive project on the Beach area. It is at present housed in the Museum and contains valuable information which we hope to use.