Early settlers began arriving at Mangawhai in the late 1850s. There were no roads, so it was a matter of getting a passage on a coastal cutter or schooner, which took them to a landing site along the Mangawhai River. Passengers were then directed into the craft’s small dinghy, which was then rowed to shore. On first arrival in Auckland, new settlers were given directions on how to build a temporary shelter. Known as ‘whares’, they were made out of natural materials growing nearby. Raupo, fern, nikau, or ti-tree were some of the foliage used.
Those heading for Te Arai, Hakaru and Kaiwaka had difficult tasks ahead of them as they trudged through scrub and thick bushland. The women wore long frocks and layers of petticoats, with hats and gloves they braved swamps and creeks. Many couples had several children with them. Luggage, bags of food, and furniture were carried on the back of the man, while his wife carried what luggage she could, along with a baby or small child. On reaching their site, the man would build some sort of shelter for his family, before returning to the landing place to collect the remainder of their belongings.
In a very short time, Samuel Mooney, manager of the Mangawhai Hotel, secured a bullock to supply a cartage service for new settlers. A priority was to clear a patch of land, cultivate it into a vegetable garden and sow grass seed on a patch large enough to cater for a cow. At first, cows lived off fodder from the bush, but this was unsuccessful as the animals became ill with bush sickness. Some early settlers were visited by Maori from Oruawharo. They gave advice on what was available from the sea and seaside. They also pointed out various plants from the bush that were edible. My folk were very grateful for knowledge gained from Maori neighbours.
As communities formed, folk began to collectively organise what was first needed. In each district, the first communal project was the erection of churches. Prior to that, services were held in family homes. Hakaru was the first to have its tiny building of worship created and opened in 1861, Mangawhai’s Presbyterian Church opened the following year and Te Arai Interdenominational church opened in 1863. Services at Kaiwaka were held at Robert Ross’ house and then at the school when it opened in 1870. Services were later held at the church when it was built in 1878 and where the Kaiwaka cemetery still stands.
A delightful tale of those times was when one night an early settler heard a man “coo-eee”. The settler coo-eee’d back and a voice replied, “I am a Catholic Priest and have lost my way”. The settler replied, “Pauper, priest or king you are welcome here”. The lost man was Bishop Pompallier who was given nourishment for his horse, was taken inside and made welcome with food, drink and water to wash with. On offering the Bishop a bed for the night, the settler told him to help himself to night attire that was in a chest in the spare room. The settler’s daughters were highly amused, in the morning to find that the Bishop had slept in one of their frilly nightdresses.
Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum