Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968

By Phyllis Cory-Wright


There were no roads connecting Tairua with the outside world till the Slump period, when one hundred men were brought from Auckland to work on the formation of that end of the Tapu-Coroglen highway, and were encamped on the Tairua hill. Until then our nails, stores, furniture, new babies, visitors, pigs and other live stock, villagers and farmers on holiday from Hikuai, all travelled to town on the smallest boats of the Northern Company's fleet.

Captains and crews, our familiar friends, were greeted by practically the entire population on arrival weekly, or sometimes only fortnightly. Farmers from Hikuai soldier-settlement, collecting their goods also added to the excitement. There was no tine lost unloading or "SHE" night miss the tide and be forced to wait till morning. The Captains were revered up and down the coast, and were what Tairua folk described as "characters", who could speak their piece loudly and forcibly when stuck in the river, or when late on the tide, which meant too little water on the bar for safety.

The bar really ruled our lives. - "Is it workable? Will she get in"? How we watched that entrance, scouts would climb up a hill and report progress. "She's waiting outside by The Shoe" (an island) - "She's gone away nearly to The Slipper" [(another island) – E]. On some occasions she would steam about for more than an hour in hopes that more water would lessen the roll on the bar. This was pain and grief to seasick passengers who got more for their money, but were not amused.

"She's coming along by the sandhills" meant a wild rush for our family to climb into the farm cart and arrange ourselves on boxes, and there we perched till old Bess took us to the Pepe river where she waded or swam across. When swimming was needed for a few yards the water washed through the cart and out again round our boxes. But, "He's turning back to The Bay – Oh! not coming in". This was awful. Some girl's dress for the dance, urgent medicine, a new part for the milking machine or shearing engine, benzine to run those engines, beer, even the Pub got low in that important item sometimes, and the Daphne or Apanui had taken them away again. Then we really felt cut off.

When I came here in 1919 Captains Wilson or Keatley were on this run mostly, and I have happy memories of trips with both. The kindness of the latter when I was travelling to Auckland to have my first child was something to remember. We had not realised what a heavy sea was running outside - so rough that the only other passengers, two travellers, determined to leave the boat at Mercury Bay and go by fish-lorry on the newly-formed road to Thames. It was still unmetalled but these trucks were getting through except in very bad weather. "I'd advise you to do likewise" one said to me. "You don't want to roll round The Cape in this swell". The inexperienced stewardess panicked at the sight of me - much to the Captain's disgust, which he showed when we consulted him. I told him I was a good sailor, and was advised to stick to the ship - two hours by lorry on a clay road after rain did not sound good to him.

It was a rough night and the poor Stewardess had collapsed with seasickness, but I was visited every now and again by different members of the night-crew and offered cups of tea. This was a bit staggering to one who was rather prim and shy of strangers, but I learned much that night of the sterling qualities of men who go down to the sea in ships. Sleeping towards morning I woke to find we were coming through the Rangitoto passage. "Captain came round in front of the wind for your benefit" I was told on enquiring later, and "See how important you are" the mate added with a grin.

Later there were Captains Donovan and Goetz, also our very good friends, and ever ready to help in any way possible.


There were riding tracks over the ranges and a regular mail was got in by packhorses over the Puriri trail, which had been cut by bushmen in the early days of timber-felling. On urgent occasions people rode out this way and our heroic District Nurse made this trip monthly, even in bad weather when summoned urgently. Even to-day flooded roads can cut Tairua off entirely, but it was seldom the nurse failed, and that would mean it was impossible. In her day a patient was still led out over this track tied to the saddle. She told me of an appendix case she managed to get out to Puriri and I gathered it was an agonising journey. Sometimes sick people were carried out by sixteen men working in relays of four, also a big ordeal for all concerned.

Harold Cory-Wright rode regularly to sales at Puriri, and to County-Council meetings over this route, and would return, weather permitting, the same night. Several old-timers tried to stop this, but he had a clever hack that had been born and bred in these hills and it would stop dead and wait, if "bushed" [lost – E], till he flicked a torch on when it would pick its way carefully back to safety. This track wound steeply through heavy bush showing numbers of green Kauris saved by their inaccessibility, in fact the range was called "The Slaughter-house" because of the many accidents to timber workers on the steepest slopes.

During the last world war our Home-Guard decided they would evacuate women and children to the wreck of the old Neavesville Hotel, in the event of a landing on this coast. Details were vague except that it was terrible to get up to. I was quite relieved to hear my duty would be to stay behind and bind up the wounded! A Doctor visited us from Mercury Bay once a month, either coming by boat when it was a day trip, or riding over from The Bay. For many years Dr. Hinds was a friend in need, and would spend a night visiting and counselling patients from Hikuai, as well as local people, sometimes riding over when cases were urgent, or bringing a boat and taking the sick person back to the Bay hospital.

We had a Parson sometimes who would take a service in the Schoolroom. The Rev. Mr. Norrie of backblock fame was a truly heroic worker making visits to all parts of the Coromandel Peninsula, and I remember him when he was nearly eighty, almost too stiff to climb out of the saddle after his long ride, but very cheerful and pleased to see us again.

A policeman rode in sometimes, which would make a little stir of curiosity, but his arrival was never a surprise as we did have a telephone and a really good "grapevine" system, and he found a quiet well-behaved village with not a sign of fun and games like "Two-up" going on, and a Pub shutting at the correct hour. Later on we had an occasional Police raid by the "Lightning-Squad" which descended suddenly on country hotels to see if the laws were being kept regarding drinking hours. One of our young residents, driving along for a "quick one" one evening received warning of an imminent raid so drove on smartly. A few yards further on he had the bad luck to skid into the water-table and was badly stuck. To his relief a car appeared and out got two strangers who helped him back on to the metal. He thanked them and offered a warning in return for their help. "Don't go near the pub for a spot to-night, there's going to be a raid". "Oh, thanks very much, but we know about that. We ARE the police".


We had to make our own fun and Tairua dances were popular with many riding long distances to attend, but the sports were the great event of the year. There were races and lolly scrambles for the children, and a big lunch was put on. A large ham or two would be prepared by the Petley family who remembered things done lavishly in the old bush and mining days, when there were thirty houses in the main street, and a hundred men employed in a Sash and Door Factory and the old mill. The street of houses had dwindled to half a dozen, mostly quite tumble-down by the 1920's. These houses had been built by the Kauri Timber Company who had owned the village, but their day was over and small farms were slowly being developed on what had been bush and mining lands.

We had Maori Hangis filled with wild pig and a bag of kumaras, and with fresh, and locally smoked fish. Mr. Jules Lopes, one time carpenter on a whaler [whaling ship – E] had settled here in 1899 and been a gun-digger, or the local carpenter, when any building was done. He had raised a fine family and could turn his hand to anything, even to doing the work of a midwife on several desperate occasions. His job on sports day was to keep gallons of tea going and he brewed it in a large copper. Charlie Beach, our storekeeper since 1919 was a returned soldier and a real wit, full of strange and humorous war-stories and he would be called on to make a speech.

The "Chop" would be run by real bushmen. Martin and Arthur Heath had grown up in the bush-working days and now worked at some of the remaining bush-camps that still operated, so we had experts on the job, and the speeds were amazing. This was a big draw but the horse events were outstanding. The paddock was the early-day racecourse, and the ridge running along it was a natural grandstand. Every race except a straight-out gallop was tried. The policeman attended so that explains that omission. There was walk, trot, gallop, tentpegging - gallop down the three-quarter mile run, dismount and toss the saddle over a fence, remount and race back. Remounting the excited horses was fun. No private bets went on as you never knew in this race. The fastest horses would play up, and sometimes there would be a few bucks and a spill or two. Roars of laughter and jeers from onlookers added to the racket. To end the day there was the greasy pig race when small boys yelled, and the pig shrieked, and every madly barking dog had to be restrained by its owner. That really was bedlam and a grand finish.

Fishing outside the bar was the joy of the menfolk and the catches were plentiful and various. Rockcod and Hapuka were favourite and often a launch brought in sufficient for every family. The womenfolk and children fished for the large Snapper that were found in the channel at turn of the tide, and flatfish were plentiful inside. Also quite small children were sent to the Pipi bank when other fish were lacking, and "We'll live off the Pipi bank" was quite a saying when work was scarce, or hard times threatened. In the slump-time small children were a common sight on the big bank filling their buckets. There were crayfish to be got close at hand and sacks of pauas for the getting.

"What you lose on the roundabouts" - The fish have gone further and are harder to find. The cars have ousted the horses mostly, and we have Beauty-Queen contests instead of horse-events. A large part of the beautiful flats are built on, and lovely old trees cut to let power in with its many comforts, so we do make it up on the swings, but the old days had a lot of freedom and living closer to nature, and some of us miss the wild beauty of the place that progress is so rapidly changing.