Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968

By Joe Anderson


Maori legend tells us that a Maori travelling down the Bay came over a bluff on to a beach and scooped a hole in the bed of a low creek to get a drink, and when the water rose in the hole, he got a hollow reed to suck it up and called the stream "Waihi". (Rising water). The beach then became known as the Waihi beach and many people have the mistaken idea that it was called after the mining town that is situated 6 miles west of it, but old maps show clearly that the Waihi stream is the one that flows through the camping area at the beach. Perhaps the townspeople later borrowed the name.


However, we had gold out there too. Early mining reports tell that Sir James Hooton visited the beach in 1870 and he panned gold in small quantities from the Waihi stream, the Orakawa stream and Fraser's creek which flows onto Homunga. He also found traces of cinnabar at Homunga. At that time the Government was trying to come to some agreement with the Maoris regarding prospecting rights on the Coromandel Peninsula, and probably for that reason nothing further was done at the beach until 1894. From then until 1898 claims were pegged out and registered and gold bearing lodes were uncovered, the two most promising being Treasure Island and Taipari lodes. About this time there was an amalgamation of interests and the Waihi Beach Gold Mining Company was formed and registered in Auckland, the object being to exploit the Treasure Island and other reefs known to exist in the area.

To test the Treasure Island reef, Shaw and party cut a set of steps in the rock, down over the cliff, known to-day to fisherman as "Chain ladder". After driving on the reef for a short distance they sank a winze and took out 2 tons of quartz, which when crushed and treated showed a return of £14. High value in those days. In 1899 the Waihi Beach Gold Mining Company sank a shaft which reached a depth of 365 feet.

Early mining reports describe the Waihi Gold mine as being on a high bluff at the northern end of a 5 mile stretch of sandy beach and when it came to sinking the shaft all the gear that was required had to be carted from Waihi through the Athenree gorge, across the Ford and sandhills and on to the beach and along the beach, up the bluff and all they had in those days was horsepower. I wonder how many horses they used to haul the steam engine, also the heavy winding gear into position. The late Bert Pipe remembered that the coal to feed the fire for the steam boiler came by scow from Hikurangi and was dumped on the beach at Pio's point and that a chap called Joe Kirby had the contract to haul it along the beach to the mine. He had a dray and three horses and when he came to the bluff, he had to take half the load off, take half to the mine and return for the other half.

Old maps of the beach show that the Company had plans for a tram line from Pio's point to the mine. All this was happening early in the century, long before there was a rail link with Waihi or a beach road and shipping provided the cheapest means of transport and no doubt transport would be in the minds of the Directors at this time, as the shaft had been sunk to a depth of 365 feet and the reef had widened out to 5 feet (a good-sign) and they would be thinking of building a battery to process the ore.

Little water had been encountered in the workings even though they were well below sea level, until a big water bearing cross course was intersected in one of the drifts and there was such a large volume of water that work had to be suspended. It was not sea water that was encountered and a large amount of money was squandered in trying to unwater the mine to the 360 feet level by means of a 90 horse-power Cameron pump. To save the pump having to lift the water the full 360 feet, a drive at sea level was driven near Sea-gull Rock to the shaft and this meant that the pump had to lift the water only about 200 feet but it still could not cope with the volume.

On July 7th 1909, a miner named Joseph Foster, lost his life when he fell down the shaft and soon after the cage got away and went to the bottom. No one was hurt but the cage was never recovered and the Company went into liquidation in 1911.

The famous "Long Drive Walker" of Thames, later a Manager of the Waihi mine had a scheme to put a long drive from the Waihi mine to the beach to pick up the reefs out there and any in between, but nothing ever came of it. The gold that America has won from the soil and bought in the markets is kept at Fort Knox in vaults, and to make sure that no one gets away with any of it they fill the vaults with water. It is strange that Mother Nature used the same method to keep the gold she had at the Waihi Beach. If the mine had been a success, we at the beach would have had a centenary celebration in 1970, only two years after Thames. A near miss and no reason why we should not have a celebration.


Who owned this land with all the gold in it? George Vesey Stewart, Founder of KatiKati. When he was looking round this country for land to settle his farmers on, he was looking for land that was handy to a goldfield and somewhere close to a fair sized town where the farmers could sell their produce, and it was the Waihi mine that decided him in favour of KatiKati and when gold was discovered at the Waihi Beach he took up 1760 acres.

James Willian Shaw was the next landowner at the beach. He bought 150 acres off Vesey Stewart in 1900. Shaw had been interested in the mine and it was he and his party who took out the 2 ton sample of quartz and was Manager when the Company went into liquidation. He eventually bought all of Vesey Stewart's land, with the exception of 30 acres. This 30 acres was a strip at the north end of the beach that had batches built on it. No doubt he kept this strip for the rent he got from the batch owners.

In 1908 the Waihi Borough began to take an interest in the beach and by 1911 had spent £3600 on a road to it and every penny was spent in somebody else's rating area. Government Auditors must have been very lax in those days. It is amusing to note that farmers on the beach road, paying their rates to the Ohinemuri County were complaining to the Waihi Borough about the state of the road and one man claimed 7/6 for an axle that was broken on it. Gold Duty was flowing into the Waihi Borough at the rate of about £70,000 a year at that time and they were certainly spending it. We find reports of the Borough paying camping fees for their ratepayers at the Bowentown camp and at Waihi Beach.

In 1913 we find the Waihi Borough making approaches to the land owners at the beach for a suitable area of land for use of the public of Waihi. Soon after this the First World War broke out and the land owned by Shaw's was leased to Mick Manning for 5 years. In 1917 circular letters were written and forwarded to influential people around the district. The letters read as follows:-

"Gordon Bros.,

Waihi. 19 – 1 - 1917

Dear Sirs,

A meeting of the General Committee of the Waihi Beach Residents and others interested in the proposed Borough Reserve at the Beach was held in the Borough Chambers on Monday last.

I was instructed to write to you and ask your kind co-operation in the effort being made to resume land as above for a health resort for the people of the district. I shall therefore be glad to add your name to the list of those who have already signified their willingness to take up debentures. They are £1 Borough debentures, carrying 5% interest, redeemable, one fifth per year.

I do not doubt but that this will, if carried out draw many visitors from your district, as the beach being controlled by a Local Body will have many improvements made and thus attract a far greater number of beach and pleasure seekers.

Thanking you in anticipation of an early reply,

Yours faithfully,

J. W. Tetley. Hon. Secretary, Beach Residents Committee.

On 2-11-17 Dawson Donaldson, Mayor of Waihi, offered £500 towards metalling the Beach Road, on condition that owners of land at the Beach sell the Waihi Borough Council suitable areas of land for the use of the public of Waihi.

On 22-2-18 Vesey Stewart wrote to the Borough Council offering to lease his Waihi beach property of 30 acres at a rental of 5% on a value to be determined, for a period of 999 years. The Borough did not accept this offer. (Probably wanted right of renewal).

On 7-9-19 at a Council meeting, the Mayor of Waihi moved that the Council reserve 200 acres of land at the beach. This would include Vesey Stewart's 30 acres and some of Shaw's.

On 11-9-19 a deputation of the Beach Resident Committee met the Council and promised to take up £1,000 worth of the Council's debentures to assist in the purchase of the beach property.

On 23-9-19 A Commission sat in the Waihi Magistrate's Court, Mr. H. A. Young S.M., being the Chairman. The Borough in evidence stated that it wanted to reserve 200 acres of land under the Public Works Act for the purpose of making a reserve for Miners and ratepayers of Waihi to build baches on. A lot of evidence was given by the Mayor and Councillors and Doctors of the town stressing the beneficial effect that the sea air had on miners' health.


On 26-11-19 the recommendation of the Commission was that the Borough take 69 acres, starting from the creek in Vesey Stewart's property, taking 8 acres of that gentleman's land, and continuing thence along Mrs. Shaw's property, taking in the homestead and the portion being cut up for sale, taking in Waikino town, also all land on which shanties had been erected, with the exception of the section on which Jack Bank's shanty was erected.

It is hard to understand this recommendation but I suppose refrigeration was just starting and gold was our main export and had done more to develop New Zealand than anything else. It was 11-8-21 before a price for the property was settled and Mrs. Shaw's assessor, a member of Parliament, J.S. Dickson, told the Mayor of Waihi that he thought that the Borough of Waihi was doing a fine thing and promised support at Government level. The Council soon found that they needed Dickson's help, as the land being a recreational reserve the Council had no power to let or lease sections, so in 1922 special authority was given by Section 17 of the Reserves and other Lands Disposal Act 1922, for the Borough Council to lease sections for 10 years.

In the meantime the Beach Residents Committee and debenture holders were making their presence felt. They were demanding some of the amenities that the Council had promised them and they made things so hot that the Council had to go back to Mr. Dickson and the Government, this time for authority to borrow £6,000. This covered the cost of the land and redeemed the debentures. The £6,000 also served as a good excuse, as whenever we asked the Borough to do something there was no money. The loan had to be paid off.

Fenn Haszard made a great job of planning the Beach reserve and surveying the sections off. His plan shows an Esplanade Road from the north end of the beach and all other roads in the reserve leading down to it so that access to the beach was easy. It was just as well that this was done as later subdivisions left very little access to the sea.

The area of 28 acres was divided into 297 sections. This means that the sections are only 14:4 or 15 perches in size and how the Council got permission to make them so small we shall never know. They should have been 32 perches. The Health authorities have prosecuted section holders for keeping fowls, installing pit type lavatories, and unsuitable sceptic tanks and to-day we are faced with the cost of a sewerage scheme.

On 31-10-23 we find the Council advertising sections at the beach for lease. Now, if you lease a section, you expect a road to it and to build a road you must collect rates and before a Council can strike a rate for a road, it must be connected to its Borough and this could only be done by making the connecting road between the Borough and the beach, part of the Borough. So it was back to Mr Dickson in Wellington.

On 17-6-26 a Department of Internal Affairs proclamation issued extended the boundaries of the Waihi Borough to include the Beach Road. In 1933 the Thames Valley Power Board extended their lines to the Beach. This was a major step forward. These were depression years and the beach had its fair share of unemployed. They were paid relief rates of pay to work under the Borough supervision and quite a lot of useful work was done at this time, such as forming and laying dorm of tennis courts, bowling greens, filling in swamps, forming roads and the rock wall in the Waihi stream was also done.

In 1938 the Waihi Beach Leaseholders Association brought pressure to bear on the Council to extend the term of the leases to 21 years. It was found that the State Advances would not lend money for buildings on a 10 year lease, so back to Wellington again. This time section 18 of the Reserves and other Lands Disposal Act was passed, which repealed section 17, and gave the Council power to lease under the Public Bodies Act for a period of 21 years with the perpetual right of renewal.

TO BE CONTINUED.[Journal 10: History of Waihi Beach continued - E]