Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
By JACK and the LATE HARRY WATT
About 1893 Robert Henry Watt heard of a promising enterprise in a distant outpost. Leaving his wife and eight children at their home in Ellerslie he and a partner went by boat from Auckland to Whangamata where they took over the general store and the farm attached to it. Mining, bush felling and gum digging were being carried on in the area and prospects appeared to be good. Within three years the Watt family was once more a united one and for another seventeen years ran a successful business before selling it to Mr Goodfellow.
At one period over 300 men were working at the "Wentworth Mine" which was about 7 miles away, the "Luck at Last" being 12 miles distant and the "Wharekeraupunga" [Wharekirauponga – E] about 10 miles. The Store supplied many of the needs of the Miners, and of the Kauri Timber workers, who were employed by the Leyland O'Brien Coy. Logs were brought out of the bush by flooded streams, into the Otahu and Wharekawa harbours where they were made into rafts and towed to Auckland. The Kauri Gum industry was also a thriving one in which local Maoris participated and the store bought and consigned many tons of this commodity. Provisions for the Miners, Bushmen and Gumdiggers were carried on pack horses, a load for each horse being about 2 cwt. Mail arrived once a week, carried by pack horse from Omahu. Roads, of course were non-existent, and even riding tracks were rough - 22 miles to Waihi or to Hikutaia, whence people could eventually get to Auckland by train.
Shipping was very important to the isolated community, and some of the Northern Steamships Coy's boats were Chelmsford, Waitangi, Waipu, Waiotahi, Ngatawhia, Aupouri, Apanui and Daphne. The Tara Nova (paddle boat) called every Tuesday. The steamers used to arrive a little after high water, anchor in the channel till about half tide and then run aground just about where the wharf is now. It was not an uncommon sight to see a horse drawn punt being loaded and towed through the water for a considerable distance. When crossing the channel it was necessary for the horse to swim.
The cargo that could not be taken away by punts and pontoons was carried by the sailors and put in the goods shed. Goods, including gum, were loaded into rope slings and transferred from punts to the boats. As the tide came in the boats would float off and ride on the anchor till nearly high tide when they would leave.
Most of the mining machinery was brought by scows which used to go aground at high water at the top of the harbour (where the Forestry Office is now [but is no longer – E]). Sledges were brought alongside when the tide went out and the machinery was lifted on to them by winch. They were then drawn by heavy draught horses owned by Mr Hamilton of Paeroa. The rest of the cargo was stacked on the bank above high water mark.
Note: Later the store the family had owned for so many years was burned down and the farm reverted to the Watt family. Mr Harry Watt, the eldest son of R.H. Watt, married Isobel Patton in 1913, and on his wedding day became licensee of the Whangamata Hotel which was then situated at the northern end of the harbour.
(Mrs J. Shaw of Paeroa built the present Hotel). Mr Watt died 4 years ago, and after being 50 years at Whangamata where she was greatly loved, his widow now lives in Paeroa in order to be near her daughter, Mrs June Welch.
Mr Jack Watt, the youngest of the original family married Catherine Patterson at Komata Reefs, and later they farmed at Waitawheta, but now live in Waihi. Their two sons Trevor and Roy are in business in Paeroa. (Ed)).