Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
By OLIVER PIPE
My earliest impressions of Waihi Beach go back close on 50 years. My father, Bert Pipe [now] aged 86[,] bought a one-roomed bach from Bill Darlington an early Waihi Carrier. It was gradually built on to and now consists of three rooms and a long glassed in verandah. My father and sister still live there.
As kids we went to the beach each year from Xmas to Easter and Dad would ride to Waihi by horse to work in the Mine each day, three shifts. We always travelled to the Beach in Len Benner's four wheeled brake with four horses, of which two were usually in the process of being broken in. The wagon was loaded with all our mattresses and furniture and then we kids piled on top. There was always excitement when we reached the top of the Gorge as to who saw the sea first. We had a Parrot which swung in its cage on the back of the load, a tame goat which also rode and bringing up the rear our house cow, which was driven in turns by my brother Roger or myself, riding our hack. We had been told that if cows ate Tu tu, a native plant that grew all along the beach road it would have disastrous effects, so we used to drive her at a trot most of the way, which had a tendency to distress her and put her off her milk for several days.
In the early days Mrs Shaw's cow shed and Piggeries were situated on the flat in the Camping Area right behind the present Butcher's shop and were later shifted closer into Waihi after she sold 100 acres to the Waihi Borough Council. The creek that flows through the camp used to cross the main road as a ford and then wend its way behind the Surf Club and finally enter the sea at the North end of the Beach. Mrs Shaw's old Homestead which stood on a bank where the Baker's shop now is, acted as the first Waihi Beach School which we used to attend for the period between Xmas and Easter while we were in residence at the Beach. The majority of the pupils were Maoris from Bowentown who used to travel down the Beach in a wagon with a canvas top called the "Covered Wagon", drawn by two horses. On the high tide the kiddies walked behind or pushed through the soft sand. The driver was George Smith.
In my earliest memory the Boiler house for the Mine still stood alongside the shaft. Back towards the Beach in the Gully stood the long tin Cook house (later removed by Alec Harvey and re-erected behind Camp), also two baches above the road and 3 below. These baches all had brick floors. The only other Mine building I recollect was the Assay Office which stood on a small flat above my father's bach. The creek at the northern end of the beach used to be the main source of water for the Mine and a Hydraulic Ram stood there for years after the Mine had closed. About fifteen years ago after a huge storm which gouged all the sand out of the corner, I was able to recover about 10 20 ft. lengths of ¾ pipe which had been covered by sand for about fifty years. I promptly put this to use to carry water to six baches in the corner and it is still in use.
The coal used in the Waihi Beach Mine was brought from Hikurangi, North Auckland and unloaded from scows onto the clay bank now known as Pios Point at the Athenree Ford then transported by wagon down Waihi Beach and up the Mine Hill. The Contractor was Mick Manning who had one of the first Stores at the Beach. This stood in the corner behind the Punga Band Rotunda and was later purchased by Clarrie Kennedy and removed over to the township and now known as Spencers. The earliest stores I recollect were Mannings, later Kennedys; Miss Twomey, later White and now owned by me. I.K. Patterson, two, one on beach front and one opposite Spencers, later owned by Ted Brown and now run by D. & A. Jones; Norman Keating who was a Baker and ran a Restaurant. This was later purchased by the late Kathleen & Nellie Mullins. Mrs Cecilia Burke ran a Restaurant opposite Spencers and the Mullins family also ran a Restaurant called Te Whare and now known as Mullins big house.
At the base of the Mine Hill there used to be a long bach propped up on stilts which was owned by a man named Munro who was a Commercial fisherman and had several men fishing for him. He had a smoke house right in the corner, later owned by Sonny Hovell. During a storm a slip cane down the hill and carried half Munro's house into the tide so it was removed. The flat on which it stood is still there also the holes in the rock below where the jack studs which supported the verandah were placed.
In the first little bay out towards the Point there once stood a small bach owned by Dad Dawson, who could only get to it at low tide. It was later removed and is now part of the B.N.Z., Waihi Beach. The earliest commercial fisherman I recollect was Charlie Petley who had only one leg and used to get about on a crutch. It was a marvel how he could manhandle a 14' open clinker boat in and out of the water and row countless miles in all weathers. He was also a very able drinker. Later fishermen were Frank McKee, Paddy Griffin, Jack Son Hovell, also two Austrians whose names I forget. Mrs Shaw who owned all the land from half way to Bowentown to the far end of Orakawa Bay employed a man named Tom Hamilton to do all her fencing and he used to sledge Puriri posts on to a flat above our house and then shoot them down a veed wooden shoot onto the beach from whence they were carted by waggon. This shoot used to make a great slide for kids but was very hard on trouser seats. There must have been thousands of Puriri posts cut out of all the Gullies around the Beach and Orakawa Bay.
Mrs Shaw also employed two Austrian drain diggers to divert the big swamp on the now Wilson Estate and direct it out to the sea. It is now known as the two mile creek. Prior to that all the water flowed north and entered the sea at Ocean Beach Rd. There used to be a big swimming hole at the mouth of the creek and we had a spring board for diving erected there.
A couple of years after the swamp was diverted Shaws cut thousands of Totara posts out of the logs exposed; they also found lots of Maori Artifacts including a beautiful carved Canoe Paddle. In later years Son Hovell discovered a Maori work shop and recovered a lot of valuable things. It was at the base of the Knoll on the left over the Wilson Road Bridge.
I remember when the Sandhills stretched from Waihi Beach to Bowentown and had no vegetation. There was one Pohutakawa which still stands at the seaward end of the Bottom Camp, the next one was known as the ½ way tree and stood between the Two Mile Greek and Littlejohn Creek, but later died and the clump about ½ mile short of the Heads. We used to climb them all to rob the birds nests. The sand drift in those days was terrific. One day you could walk over Mrs Shaw's fences and the next day they would be suspended between the Dunes and you could walk under them. With the prevailing westerly wind there was always a drift to the Corner or Northern end of Beach and there used to be a vast sandhill about 100 ft. high in the Corner. We used to swing on ropes suspended from the trees above. Waihi Beach's first life saving gear, a Catamaran, used to be tied to a tree on the base of sandhill, but was later broken in a storm. Who was responsible for its purchase I never did know.
To curtail the sand drift which allowed her stock to walk under or over fences Mrs Shaw instructed my brother Roger who was employed by her to ride through the sandhills and distribute lupin seed from a split sack slung behind the saddle and so began the end of sand drift at Waihi Beach also the decline of our sandhill at the cliff face. Incidentally hundreds of tons of sand were carted to Hamilton by the Air Force during the last war to be used for sand blasting of Airplane fuselages.
Another common sight on Waihi Beach and Orokawa as well as all around the coast, was Kauri logs washed ashore, probably carried down in drives as logging was in full swing all along the Coromandel Peninsula. We, as kids, had great times riding on these improvised boats. A vivid memory was the arrival of some of the jettisoned cargo from the coaster "Mania", which foundered on Slipper Island. Tins containing 50 packets of 10 Capstan, Green, Yellow, Three Castles and other brands of Cigarettes began to come ashore. They were yellow with salt water stain as each tin had been slit before it was jettisoned. It was our first introduction to smoking but we persevered and probably smoked more matches than tobacco.
Another recollection was the first and only Motor Racing on Waihi Beach, in which a promising local Waihi Boy, Bill College who was a good Boxer was killed. I worked that day in a stall, collecting Hoop La hoops for a showman and was presented with a pair of Opera glasses for my payment. Magnification was nil but then not everyone had a pair those days.
Every Summer then as now the sharks would come into the corner and it was an annual event for local marksmen to shoot at them from the Mine Hill with .303's, George Henry and Bill Verey were regular triers. One year a whale washed up on the beach and the local Maoris from the Ford cut up and rendered down quite a lot of it for harness oil while they could get close enough to it before it got too high. A party of Miners going to Bowentown for the weekend were inspecting it and one climbed on to the carcass and promptly fell into it. He was not allowed to ride in the sulky any further and was always called "Jonah" after that. Another year several black fish washed up in a bay past Orakawa and we kids would run over the hills to see how they were decomposing and later carted some of the huge vertebrae back to Waihi Beach.
In the early days the Annual Waihi Beach Sports held each New Years Day were run by a Committee of Local Residents and were always held down by the Cliff. In latter years the local "Surf Club" has taken over the organising of this event which now as then, still draws a crowd.
The first motion Pictures held at Waihi Beach were shown on a screen erected on the Camping Area behind the present Caretaker's House and projected from the bank above. The projectionist was Bill Henderson who ran the Academy in Waihi for years. He probably put this treat on for the locals at no charge. As I have tried to confine my observations to the period between 1912-26, when of course I was only a boy, I would ask to be excused if there are any omissions.
MR. OLIVER PIPE, now of Tauranga, is a son of that grand "old timer" (87) of Waihi Beach, Mr Bert Pipe, ex miner, borough councillor, beachcomber and "raconteur". Oliver spent his school days in Waihi and then for 12 years worked on Farms (Mangaiti, Manawaru, Matamata, Waihi and Kerepehi) plus a year droving. Subsequently he was at Waikino Battery for six years before moving to Karangahake (1937-38) where he bought the Irishtown store from Mrs Haslam, conducting a coal and grocery business, besides working at the New Dubbo Battery. This was forced to close during the War, one reason being the inability to import vital spare parts of machinery, and the plant was moved to Fiji. The store was also closed and later Mr Pipe moved it to Waihi Beach where he rebuilt it as a house, and lived in it for 16 years (now letting it at holiday periods). Besides some months in Military Camp Oliver sampled various jobs, qualifying, in his own words as a "Jack of all Trades". He has three daughters, (one married, one a Teacher, and the youngest at College). His wife is a member of the well known Deverell family of Waihi.