In Maori times, if one wished to go from Hauraki via the Ohinemuri to Kati Kati and ultimately Tauranga, it was in this vicinity, that after passing through the Karangahake Gorge by canoe, people had to disembark and go by land. The name suggests there was a convenient spot where one could draw alongside the riverbank at a convenient height the full length of a canoe, so everybody could disembark more or less at once. [I am not sure the Ohinemuri River was navigable through the gorge - E]
Owha means the sideboard or gunwale of a canoe, and roa is long.
A trodden and ridden way began to link up Mercury Bay and Tairua and Kati Kati and Tauranga, giving an economic basis for a string of Maori settlements or "kaingas" along the way.
Around 1840 the Thorps established themselves by the Puke junction of the Waihou and Ohinemuri, and around 1843 L.A. McCaskill set up quite a sizable sawmill at Hikutaia.
During the 1840s, from 1841 infant Auckland was a ready market for Maori produce, either through European traders, many established from the early 1830s, and the farmer-traders who had been buying land in the later 1830s. They had quite a fleet of schooners and cutters. The Maori people had quite a little fleet of their own schooners and cutters, as well as canoes, trading their produce direct, including from the extensive wheatfields of the Matamata region, where Wiremu Tamihana of the Ngati-Haua even had flour mills.
In 1852 there had been a short-lived little gold rush at Coromandel Harbour, of not more than 500, (the 5000 in official accounts being from a misprint in the English translation of the German speaking Austrian Hochstetter.)
In the Ohinemuri, the McCaskill sawmill, which had been supplemented by a nearby Baines for some years from 1853, had a mixed race labour force, from an originally mainly European one of "waifs and strays" having taken Maori wives, who brought up their children largely to Maoridom. And the original European settlers, especially the Thorps, were old friends, and during 1862 the sons went around with Maori friends they had grown up with, like Nepia te Ngarara, prospecting for gold. That was all right with Te Hira and the Ngati-Tamatera. Prospecting included the enormous and always very visible quartz reef on the Waihi Plains. They probably moved up the Ohinemuri by canoe at least as far as the Owharoa landing.
The movement of timber and kauri gum people, encouraging the growth of a string of Maori settlements along the East Coast, including to serve travellers on foot or horseback, was powerfully encouraged by the opening of the Thames goldfield on August 1, 1867, with a new centre growing to 5,000 (Mackay) by Christmas. By which time 500 diggers were encamped on a Thorp field not far from present day Paeroa, waiting for the Ohinemuri being added to the lands being successively opened for gold mining, with thousands of diggers paying a pound a year to go to "the native owners of the soil", a powerful inducement.
Another favourable sign had been noted on August 10, "A contract to a Thames gentleman for construction of a telegraph line from Shortland (Thames) to Tauranga via the Ohinemuri has been accepted."
1871. There was a refusal to let the telegraph line go from Thames to Tauranga via the Ohinemuri. Instead it had to be laboriously taken over the dividing range just short of Hikutaia, by a track still called "the Wires."
Thence it could go by the by now well beaten timbermen's coastal roadway via Whangamata, the string of Maori coastal settlements including Waihi, and on to KatiKati and Tauranga, as being outside the influence of the Ohinemuri people.
In ancient times a chief going along said sandy shore stopped to drink at a rivulet running across the sand, rather small to get down and drink from, but he used a long hollow reed to suck up the water - wai, with hi the sucking noise (or pronounced shee in Old Maori, when Hongi was Shungee (Marsden.) The present site of Waihi, with the last lazy coils of the upper Ohinemuri, was not a place with good water access, the practical limit of heavy navigation upriver being around Owharoa landing place, with the Waihi Plains empty lands between.
By December 8, 1874, James Mackay was conferring at Thames with various chiefs, "fixing the goldfields boundary, marking off native reserves and arranging other matters for the proposed opening of the Ohinemuri."
Actual signing of an agreement was left over to early 1875.