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Location of the Hauraki Plains.
The Hauraki Plains are an area located in the northern North Islandmarker of New Zealandmarker. They are located 75 kilometres southeast of Aucklandmarker, at the foot of the Coromandel Peninsulamarker and occupy the southern portion of a rift valley bounded on the east by the Kaimai Rangesmarker and the west by a series of undulating hills which separate the plains from the much larger plains of the Waikato River. Administratively, they are largely within the Hauraki district.

The alluvial plains have been built up by sediment deposited by the Piakomarker and Waihou Rivers, which flow north to reach the sea at the Firth of Thamesmarker, and earlier by the ancestral Waikato River. The resulting land is flat, peat-heavy, and partly swampy, but it is also excellent land for dairy farming, which is the main local industry.

Tourism in the Hauraki Plains region has been growing rapidly over the past few years which directly contributes to the district’s economy. During the summer months the occupancy rate is higher than the national average for New Zealandmarker.

The largest town in the plains is Ngateamarker, and the nearest town to Ngatea is Turuamarker, although the larger Te Arohamarker is located near their southern boundary with the Thames Valley.

History

Formation

Around 2-3 million years ago, a large block of the crust slumped down 500-2000 metres, forming the Hauraki graben. The ancestral Waikato River often flowed through the resulting valley into the Hauraki Gulf, most recently through the Hinuera Valley some 20,000 years ago. Over time, the Hauraki Basin slowly filled up with pumice, mud and gravel.

Swamp country

After the last shift of the Waikato River back to the west coast, the Waihou and Piako Riversmarker were formed. These two rivers carried silt out into the Firth of Thamesmarker or Tikapa.

The plains were full of mangroves and was a dense forest of Kahikatea. Most of the land was raw peat, varying in depth from a metre to more than twenty metres. It was a morass, the home of wild ducks and eels.

Once a year the Waihou and Piako Rivers would overflow. The people who lived around Hauraki wanted permission from the Government to drain the land but the Government said it could never be done. After all, parts of the Hauraki Plains were two meters below sea level.

But the people persisted so in 1908, an act was passed to give the people permission to drain the land. The Government paid the workers to dig the drains. It was going to be a huge job that would take a good ten years.

First land ballots

In 1910 the Government decided to open an area of for settlement on the Hauraki Plains, and that ballots would be held for the blocks. This brought great interests. Not just to future settlers but also to businessmen in the Thames Valley. Miners in the South Islandmarker were saying, “If only one could draw a section one would be made.”On the 18th of May 1910 at the Miner’s Union Hall in Thames, the first applications for land blocks were made. Prices ranged from around $10-$15 an acre, depending on how much land was being bought and whether or not the block was in a good location. Some of the top spots had up to 99 applicants.

Drainage systems

Control works in the floodplain of the Piako River played a big role in the draining of the Hauraki Plains
started immediately after the passing of the Hauraki Plains Act. The first step was to control the flooding. The Piako Rivermarker, which overflowed at least once a year, needed stop banks constructed to prevent flood and tidal overflow.What the farmers had to do was to dig drains through their land. These would be about one to two metres wide. The drains would join onto the main drains, which brought the water out and into the canals. Floodgates were put in so water would flow out of the drains and into the canals but not back out them. Once the draining was completed over 75% of the wetlands of the Hauraki Plains was lost because of the draining.Drainage was only the first step to making farmland. Once the land was semi-drained, it had to be turned into pasture. This meant clearing scrub, logs, tree stumps and levelling the earth. The workers usually stacked all the scrub and peat waste in to a big pile and burn it off."…But I can never forget the smell of burning peat in the hot summers. I liked it; the haze from the fires hung over everything, and the sunsets were glorious…" Mrs E. Bashum.

River transport

River transport was definitely the best means of getting goods, people and animals to the Hauraki Plains in the early days, when the roads were non-existent or poorly maintained.

Quote – “It was undoubtedly the waters of the Firthmarker, Piakomarker and Waihou that gave access to the plains for human enterprise and settlement for both Māori and Pakeha” – Ruffus Tye (Hauraki Plains Story).

Ship traffic

Ships of all sizes plied the rivers of the Hauraki Plains, from tiny row boats to huge barques although, most of the boats were steamers and the engines were made at A & G Price in Thames.

As industries progressed (like the mining in Waihi) bigger ships were required to carry the bigger loads. The majority of the boats were steamers, but some were paddle steamers. Larger passenger ships had luxurious lounges for men and women decorated with velvet upholstery and paintings on the walls. There were even brass bands on some boats and room for dancing on the decks. There was also room for horses and general cargo. Some cargo boats and punts were designed with drop sides to assist in loading and unloading on the river banks. This was especially useful when animals were being loaded.

During the mining strike the hotels were closed by the government but you could still drink on a moving boat. So people would get on the boats and take a trip for the day just to use the bar.

In 1877 massive timber ships called barques traveled up to Bagnalls’ mill in Turua to collect the kahikatea logs and transport them to Auckland and Australia. You can still see the remains of the wharf where the ships berthed. When the Bagnalls first arrived in Turua and wanted to go to church in Thames, they rowed to Kopu then walked the last five miles (8 km) to Thames.

At Orchard (now called Ngatea), Pipiroa, Kopu and Paeroa there were punts (floating platforms) that carried people, horses and carts across the rivers for a small fee. At Te Aroha, there was a wire rope stretched across the river which originally had a Māori canoe tied to it on which people could pull themselves across and was later replaced by a punt with a crank and for two shillings people could crank themselves across.

River systems

Geologists have shown that a very long time ago the Waikato river came through the Hinurea valley and filled the Hauraki Basin with pumice, mud, drift wood and gravel to a depth of over 1200 ft. You can still see evidence of sea beaches between Shelly beach and Maukoro.

Before the arrival of the European settlers the Hauraki Plains was 400 km² of peat and swamp land which acted as a big ponding area, through which ran two main rivers - the Waihou and Piakomarker.

Māori used the rivers for hundreds of years to get to the rich food resources in the swamp. When the Europeans came they also used the rivers for transport. Because the Hauraki Plains were swamp land and there were no roads the easiest way to transport people, supplies, food and produce was by boat.

Gold brought many ships up the Waihou and Ohinimuri rivers with heavy machinery and miners aboard. There was even a special hard wharf built at Paeroa for fear of a conventional one collapsing while the machines were unloaded.

Bagnells’ mill at Turua was established to mill the tall kahikatea trees growing there. Huge barques (sailing ships) came up the river on flood tides to collect the wood, some of which would be taken to Australia and be made in to butter boxes.

After the scrub and kahikatea had been cleared farming was taken up and the farmers needed everything from food to animals and boats and the rivers carried it all in.

In pioneer days the rivers were the lifelines of the Hauraki Plains, but as roads improved and bridges were built the need for river transport diminished. Today it has all died away except the ferry that goes up the Waihou to Paeroa from Auckland, and the metal barge that comes into Kopu to pick up a load.

The Waihou

In 1769 Captain James Cook travelled up the Waihou River to look at the “lofty trees which adorn its banks”. He was the first European to travel up the river. The Waihou reminded him of the River Thames in London so he named it the River Thames. Although this name stuck for quite some time, now it is known as the Waihou. His discovery of the Kahikatea tree later brought many ships to the area looking for masts and spars.

In the 1900s the Waihou was navigable right up to Matamatamarker, because development had not yet silted up the river. Travelling up stream you would pass Kopu on the left then Turuamarker on the right, Matatokimarker, Puririmarker, Hikutaiamarker, Paeroa and Te Arohamarker on the left and eventually Matamata on the right.

The Piako

The Piako River is much smaller than the Waihou but, it was still just as important as the Waihou in the development of the Hauraki Plains.

Travelling up the Piako you would see Pipiroa on the right, then Ngaeta on the right as well followed by Kerepehi and the last town accessible by boat was Patetonga.

Supplies were brought up the Piako by a small yacht and later by a launch. The boat was the main outlet to civilization for the settlers who were mostly male bachelors and it was easier for them to eat stale bread brought up by the boat weekly than to make it themselves. It also brought mail and took creamback to Kopu which took four hours.

The rivers were a major life line for the Plains in the early days and they are still a part of every day life but no where as much a they used to be.

Industries

Dairy farming

Dairy farming is the most important industry on the Hauraki plains, providing the most income for the region.The sizes of dairy farms range from around 100 cows to over 500. 66% of the total land area of the plains is used in dairy farming. This equates to 779.34 km² of land.http://www.hauraki-dc.govt.nz/Overview/welcome_to_hauraki.htm

Other farming

Although dairy farming is the main industry it is not the only farming industry. Sheep and dry stock farming are beginning to catch on with farmers. There is still the demand for wool and meat, which the Hauraki Plains region helps to provide. An ostrich farm has been developed near Turuamarker which deals in tourism, meat sales and gifts.

Education

Hauraki Plains College is a co-ed school, situated in the end of Kaihere Road. It has approximately 650 students. Hauraki Plains College offers a junior diploma of learning for year 9 and 10 students. A wide range of extra curricular activities are available for students at all levels. In 1912, the school was first opened and called Ngateamarker Orchard School. It only had 15 students. Later on in 1923, the name was changed to Ngateamarker District High School. Finally in 1963, the name was once again changed to Hauraki Plains College.

Wetlands conservation

In the 1840s an estimated 1100 km² of wetland covered the lower Waikato area and Hauraki Plains. Since then 85 to 90% of New Zealand Wetlands have been lost. DOC estimates of wetlands that remain in the Waikatomarker are around 320 km², which is 25% of what we had. This figure includes Whangamarino, 59.23 km², and Kopuatai Peat Dome, 102.01 km². Roughly 80% of New Zealand’s remaining wetlands are in areas across the Waikato, Matamata-Piako, Hauraki and Franklin District. Five of New Zealand’s wetlands are listed on the International Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites); there are three of them in the Waikato Region:



Kopuatai Peat Dome

The Kopuatai Peat Dome at 102.01 km² is New Zealand’s largest unaltered restiad peat bog in New Zealand, and is also globally unique. The area is protected by the Wetland Management Reserve under the Conservation Act 1987 and is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).Fifty four species of birds have been recorded in the Kopuatai Peat Dome. Twenty seven are protected, 17 are unprotected and 10 are game birds. The endangered Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) is found in the wetland with other endangered birds such as the Banded Rail (Rallus philipensis assimillis), Marsh Crake (Porzana pusilla affinis) and the North Island Fernbird (Bowdleria punctata vealeae).

Whangamarino

The Whangamarino wetland, situated in the Miranda/Kaiaua area, and is the second largest bog and swamp wetland in the North Island of New Zealand. The Ramsar Convention (Wetland Protection Treaty) site includes 59.23 km² of peat bog, swampland, mesotrophic lags, and open water river systems are managed as both Wetland and Wildlife Management reserves by DOC.

References

  • Tye, RE, Hauraki Plains Story, Thames Valley News Ltd, Paeroa, 1974
  • MacDonald, E, Western Hauraki Plains – It’s History, photocopy of handwritten book held by Hauraki Plains Library
  • Sullivan, Captain William, “Kotuku” Log Book, handwritten, 1877
  • Historical Maritime Park, Paeroa
  • The Gulf and Its Catchment, Auckland Regional Council.



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