Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 25, November 1981
Mr. H. Rawle.
With no roads in the area Waihi people travelling to Whangamata in the 1880s followed a bridle track through thick scrub as far as Whiritoa, then passed through orchards and maize plantation owned by the Maoris before taking to the Otahu River bed for the last few kilometres of the journey.
In those days Whangamata was a sandy flat covered with stunted ti-tree and flanked by rugged bush where kauris flourished and wild horses roamed. A small community of bushmen, gum diggers and goldminers, built primitive dwellings around the nucleus of Sainsbury's Hotel and the general store where Maoris bartered gum for pakeha tools and clothing.
There were a number of small gold mines in the district but while they provided work for several hundred men, none proved very profitable and were soon abandoned when costs outstripped returns. The mis-named "Luck at Last" at Wharekawa suffered the fate of all of them when it closed down after a few years of operation.
The settlement's only link with the outside world were Northern Steamship Company vessels which brought in a variety of merchandise, returning with cargoes of gum, sawn timber and crayfish. With no wharf or landing- stage, boats had to nose into the sandy bank at high tide and float off with the next. Stores were unloaded into punts and passengers had to walk the plank to get ashore.
The isolated townsfolk set up their own telephone link with Hikutaia, following the route of an obsolete telegraph line erected during the Maori wars. The line went through the bush and over the ranges and required regular maintenance by the settlers, their repair parties clearing a track through some of the most picturesque areas of the Peninsula. To-day the route followed by the old line is still known as the "Wires Track" and is a popular Walkway for trampers visiting the district.
Other tracks lead to old goldmining sites at Wharekawa and Parakiwai and rusted machinery from the "Goldwater" and "Wentworth" mines can still be seen in the Wentworth Valley. A road south of the town winds up into the hills giving access to various tracks through the old kauri forest, one of which climbs to the spectacular Wentworth Falls.
Whangamata began to emerge from isolation in 1923 when a clay road was formed through the 31 kilometres of bush-clad hills and valleys which separated the settlement from Waihi. When the road was metalled some years later sea-front sections were offered at ₤70 and even in 1955 one could still purchase a similar plot for ₤200. It says much for Whangamata's development in recent years that a prime section to-day could cost $18,000.
The Wentworth Causeway, opened in 1976, brings the hotel and airfield within easy reach of the town and gives access to the Tairua State Forest where a major timber company is felling for its new chip board mill at Kopu. The causeway cuts out a long drive through narrow country roads and leads into the new Moana Point estate, one of four subdivisions opened up in recent years.
Whangamata has a permanent population of 1,900 swelling to an estimated 30,000 in the summer months when holiday-makers from all over the country converge on the town. Fishing, good surf, and five kilometres of sandy beach, are only a few of the attractions of this resort. The harbour gives safe anchorage for boats and charter launches are available for deep-sea fishing around Slipper Island and the Aldermans; with frequent cruises to Mayor Island.