History of The Coromandel Peninsula

As isolated as it is, the Coromandel Peninsula still has one of the earliest documented histories on European colonisation. The township is situated on McGregor Bay and was named after the British Navy ship HMS Coromandel which anchored off Colville on 13 June 1820. Yet, this was not the first known visit by a ship. Captain James Cook visited the area in 1769.

The first European settler in the area was a trader by the name of Bill Webster, a jovial American who was a deserter from a whaling ship. He set up his trading post on Whanganui Island, at the entrance to the Coromandel Harbour, in the 1830s. He was a carpenter by trade and after learning the Maori language, he used Maori labour to build small schooners and prepare timber cargoes for the Australian market.

The Coromandel Peninsula was a natural stopover for traders because of its heavy stocks of the native hardwood tree, the massive Kauri. These ancient forests were mercilessly milled, clearing the countryside of its natural cover. Thousands of feet of timber were taken from the forests. The decimation of the great kauri forests began.

While the kauri tree had been the initial ‘gold’ of the region, hard on the heels of that came the discovery of the real thing. The first recorded gold discovery in New Zealand was in the Coromandel in 1842, although it was only traces. Mining for gold began in the early 1860s.

In the peak of the gold rush days -during 1880 through to the early 1900s- the population of the Coromandel Peninsula was well over 12,000. Waihi, which is situated at the southern end of the peninsula between Thames and Whitianga, was also experiencing its own gold rush and once boasted no less than 97 hotels. Today, Waihi has the only mine still operating in New Zealand, producing both gold and silver.

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