Even before motor transport was available, picnic parties and summer campers found their way to Snells Beach. My grandmother, like others of her generation, brought her family to stay in home-made ridge pole tents. A letter survives, written in 1917, telling of a boating mishap offshore. The unfortunate people were rescued by the campers and room was made in the tents for them to spend the night.
An early photograph of Snells Beach shows a very rural scene. Clearly visible is a stand of mature pine trees. These were felled in 1935 and among them were found some Russian pines grown from seed from Siberia. The seed was reportedly given to pioneer settler James Snell by Captain Krippner from Puhoi. A contractor, Mr Thomlinson, was pleased to find such good milling timber and the beach proved to be an excellent outlet for shipping by scow.
A photograph of Snells Beach in 1928 – a very rural scene.
Prior to 1940, only a handful of people lived at the beach making a living from their small dairy farms, raising pigs and chickens.
Cream cans were taken to Dawson’s Landing and from there by launch to the nearest dairy factory. At first, the factory was at Pukapuka and later at Warkworth. Children and their teacher walked or rode ponies to Mullet Point school along a clay track which eventually became Mahurangi East Road.
The popularity of the beach as a venue for organised picnics led to a request received by the Rodney County Council in 1934 for an access road through Mrs Phillips’ paddock.
Mrs. Susanna Phillips was the youngest daughter of the Snell family and occupied the original homestead. The road was formed two years later and was called Snells Beach Road. No record could be found of exactly when the beach frontage became a reserve, but it was certainly used by the public from very early times with the approval of the landowners.
For the children of the 1940s, learning to swim was an important part of the school programme. The highlight was the day we were taken from Warkworth school to Snells Beach to swim for certificates. The tide was full and along the beach stakes had been driven into the sand at 25 yard intervals.
Around 1940, Mr Ed Dalton bought the southern end of the beach. He was granted a camping ground licence in 1941, and after WWII ended, the first sections came on the market. The buildings erected were holiday retreats with little architectural style and for a time the area looked like a shanty town. Further subdivisions brought more regulation and, in time, more substantial homes outnumbered baches. It would have been impossible to imagine some 70 years ago the development that was about to take place. Though some things now exist only in memory, the charm of warm weather sand and sea is still there to enjoy.
Judy Waters, Warkworth & District Museum