Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
By Lance Deverell.
This popular holiday resort received its name from the fact that an early New Zealand Governor once camped there, presumably about the year 1869.
The first settlers arriving in Katikati in 1875 called the twin headland the Katikati Heads, this term being used for many years by local people and scow masters, but then it faded out completely with a new generation coming on, and with the desire to preserve the memory of Sir George Bowen over the entire peninsula. The local people looked on Bowentown as that area where the Maori Settlement was situated and the locality of the ford north of the Heads, known today as Athenree. The original Athenree was the lovely homestead and farm property of Capt. Hugh Stewart, just off the main highway, some 2½ miles from the fording place to the Heads. (Read "My Simple Life in N.Z." by Mrs. Hugh Stewart, obtainable through your local library on request; it is excellent reading).
Sir George Ferguson Bowen, when a young man, held a position as Chief Secretary of a Republic of the Ionian Islands, on the Greek Adriatic Coast. He was a classical scholar with literary tastes as well as an able administrator. It was there that he fell in love with one of Corfu's most celebrated beauties, Diamantina Roma, the daughter of Count Roma, who was president of the Ionian Senate. They were married in 1856.
In 1859 Sir George was selected as the First Governor to take up residence in the infant town of Brisbane, where he spent nearly ten years. It was after this period that he was transferred to New Zealand and was designated Governor from February 5th 1868. His term of office terminated five years later on March 19th 1873, when he was appointed (again to Australia) as Governor of the Colony of Victoria. The town of Bowen in North Queensland, on Port Denison, was named after Sir George Bowen, while the Diamantina River and the township of Roma commemorated the bride he brought from the Islands of Greece. Lady Bowen was noted for her elegance and charm, which conquered, it was said, all hearts wherever she went.
During the year 1903 a Domain Board was appointed by the then Katikati Road Board to arrange for improvements at the Heads. The revenue for the first year was £10, gained from grazing leases and camping rents. Two well known men had grazing rights, Chas. Harley, a local resident, and. Noble Johnston of Katikati.
The first store, trading in 1906, was probably one occupied by Noble Johnston and was situated in the valley on the left of the road-way going down to the beach at the Bay. It had kitchen and bedroom attached. Mr. Johnston had a light waggon and pair ["waggon and pair": waggon with two horses – E], and used to go into Waihi for goods, while in his absence Jock Young of Katikati, then a youth, was left in charge of the premises. In later years an iron Douglas hand pump was erected in this valley to draw water from a nearby well.
Sailing scows traded regularly down the coast from Auckland, calling at Katikati for kauri timber which was milled by Cashmore Bros. on the Wharawhara road near the township, and taken by tramline to a jetty on Diggleman's Point[east of Tetley Rd, opposite Tutaetaka Island? – E]. On many occasions local people made up a party and were able to hire a scow for an excursion to the Heads, where it was desirable to moor close to the bank in deep water. This operation proved difficult with tide movement, as the stern would swing out and stay there, so the Domain Board decided to build a jetty. This task was carried out under the direction of William John Grey. Three well known men who were employed on this job were, Sam Middlebrook, Bob Harris, a carpenter and Albert Ardern, a. Waihi bricklayer, This was about the year 1910. Dimensions of the jetty were 35 feet by 5 feet 6 inches, height 8 feet, depth at high water 6 to 7 feet. Above this strong jetty was built a large shelter shed with an open fire-place at one end. The site provided a splendid view of the harbour and the ranges beyond. In later years some visitors mistook this prominent building for a school because of the similarity in appearance. Unfortunately it was decided in recent years to demolish this very attractive relic.
The stone jetty now remains as the only reminder of the good work carried out by the first Domain Board. Other necessities installed in the early years were two bathing sheds, one at each end of the beach. At the far end from the jetty they placed the ladies' shed, which was quite unique, with a shark proof fence constructed of ti-tree stakes and plain wire, which would at low water have been high and dry. It was observed that large sharks and stingrays frequented the bay, and why take chances when the answer was a simple one!
Sporting events were held annually at the Maori Settlement, people coming by sailing boat from Katikati. There was quite a variety of amusements, the ever popular football match being one of the high lights. The ground was rough, with pig rootings everywhere. The men were keen; some of the Maori players were extremely clever and very hard to stop, experts at dodging and very alert. Well known players of note were Dave Faulkner, the three Witere brothers and Dave Morehu. The day ended with a delicious meal from the Hangi, and later a dance in the Meeting House.
As the years went by about 30 small homes were erected above the bay, some of the early occupants being Shergolds, Skinner, Gardner, Hearn, Mac Edwards, Roy Hawke, Dave Walker, Ted Jennings, Bob Coffey, Bill Lunn, Broadfoot, Bowman the bee man, Bob Busby (Katikati), Hales, Plugger Bill's son (name forgotten). Mrs. White kept a store about 1926 and. Bill White had caretaking duties. In later years there were Sam Ulich, Mr. Spice and his son Joe, and Percy and Mrs. Brightwell who paid a visit in 1928 and so much enjoyed the peaceful and attractive locality that they returned to live for some twelve years.
Motor cars used the only available route via the Waihi Beach township entrance; at low water the five mile ocean beach was hard and safe. At the Bowentown end the wide soft sand approach to firm ground was often a problem and real hard going. The roadway down to the ocean beach here was formed by Tommy Rae, a Katikati contractor.
During the very early years all horse drawn vehicles used the crossing at the Ford (opposite the present Athenree store). Maori people used mudflat routes for short cuts. Coach trips were very popular from Waihi via the Hikuranga gorge [Hikurangi, this is now known as the Athenree Gorge? – E]; these were exciting picnic journeys, full of merriment and romance and were sometimes quite an adventure. Vivid incidents are related by some people who return to have a look around after 60 years away.
The "Bowentown Domain" as it is appropriately known today is still under the management of a progressive Katikati Domain Board, and in 1965 they arranged for a sealed road to be laid through the sandhills, parallel with the ocean beach. This has now provided excellent access for the extremely large number of visitors who wish to enjoy the great outdoor atmosphere and delightful views so readily available around the Bowentown Domain.
(The author is indebted to Bert Middlebrook, Jock Young and Les. Lunn for facts which have helped greatly to recall, in part, this story of the Katikati Heads and Bowentown.)