Story: Hauraki–Coromandel region
From the mountains and coasts of the Coromandel Peninsula, to the green dairy-farming land of the Hauraki Plains, Hauraki–Coromandel is a region of contrasts. It has a rich history of Māori occupation and European settlement, and was the site of kauri-timber and gold rushes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the 2000s tourism causes a sixfold increase in the peninsula’s population over summer.
Full story by Paul Monin
Main image: Cathedral Cove
The Short Story
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The Hauraki–Coromandel region has two distinct geographic zones – the flat farmland of the Hauraki plains and the mountainous Coromandel Peninsula.
Polynesian migrants arrived in the region around 1250–1300. Later Māori settlers were from the Te Arawa canoe, and Tainui tribes from the west and south-west. The area was rich in resources such as fish and building materials. Some settlements were built in swamps, using sand and shells to raise them above the water.
Captain James Cook visited the region in 1769, and later British vessels came to harvest kahikatea and kauri timber for building ships. Māori traded with the Europeans, exchanging food and labour for goods such as crops, tools and muskets (guns). European settlers, including missionaries and traders, arrived from the 1830s.
Māori after 1840
In the 1840s and 1850s Hauraki Māori supplied Auckland markets with food. Māori lost much of their land through confiscation and sale. By the early 2000s only 2% of land in the region was owned by Māori. However, there were strong Māori communities and many marae.
Kauri timber and gum
Before Europeans arrived the Coromandel Peninsula was covered with kauri forest. In the late 1800s most kauri trees were cut down for timber, and kauri gum was dug out of the ground for making things such as varnish.
The region was rich in gold, but it needed to be extracted from quartz rock, which required expensive machinery. Many towns grew during the gold rushes – in 1906 Waihī was a bustling town of 5,600 residents, while Hamilton only had 2,000. Mining ended in most parts of the region in the 1920s, but started again from 1987.
The Hauraki Plains were originally swamps covered with kahikatea forest. European settlers cleared the forest and drained the swamps for farmland. Dairy farming is the main type of agriculture in the region.
The region has many rivers and a lot of coastline, so boats were the main form of transport until railways and roads were built. The rail line reached Paeroa in 1895. Many communities on the Coromandel Peninsula didn’t have roads until after 1945.
The Coromandel Peninsula is a popular place for overseas and domestic tourists. The population is about six times greater in summer than it is in winter.
Rugby has long been a popular sport in the region. There are a number of surf lifesaving clubs along the coasts, and horse racing in Thames and Paeroa.
Alternative lifestylers were attracted to the Coromandel region, and several communes were set up there. Some are still going in the 2000s. Artists and craftspeople have lived in the region, including potter Barry Brickell, writer Michael King, and leading Māori carver Pakariki Harrison. Museums and historical societies keep the region’s settler and gold-mining history alive.