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8 RODNEY TIMES, MARCH 20, 2012
Focus On: Matakana, Leigh, Omaha
The fishing village of Leigh was
named after Samuel Leigh.
He was a Wesleyan missionary of the Hokianga and friend of
Samuel Marsden, and had visited the small harbour on at least
The village was sur veyed and named in 1858 but was commonly known as Little Omaha
for many years. There was no road to Leigh until the 1890s. People had to travel to Leigh
by boat, go overland from Matakana or follow the coastline. The first settlers to the area
were from Novia Scotia following Scottish Reverend Norman McLeod.
They had a hard time as
there was no store, school
or post office and they spent
a lot of time gathering and
growing food. Many grew
wheat, fished the harbour,
ate kereru (woodpigeon),
felled trees for firewood
and building, and grew fruit
Leigh's first town hall was
built from kauri in 1886 and
used for church ser vices,
concerts, dances and
housed the library. It burned
down in 1958 with the loss
of valuable library books. Leigh's Cumberland Hotel had burned down a year before and
was rebuilt soon after. A new hall and library opened in 1960. Mail was first collected from
Pakiri by foot and delivered by steamer. A separate post office and telephone exchange
were built in 1927 and closed in 1989. The first store opened in 1884. The Goat Island
university facility opened in 1964 and the sea around the island became a reser ve. The
road between Leigh and Warkworth was tarsealed in 1960.
Early industry included tree-felling with timber exported to Australia, sawmilling,
boatbuilding and fruit growing and the making of timber cases to get the fruit to
Shipbuilders Duncan and Angus Matheson sailed to New Zealand from Nova Scotia
in 1856 and settled in nearby Matheson Bay. They built six vessels between 1864 and
1899, and were well known coastal and blue-water skippers.
Information: Leigh then and Now, by Bethea Frost and Jade River, A History of the
Mahurangi, by R H Locker.
Omaha Beach is the playground of many rich and
famous New Zealanders with their million-dollar baches lining
the 4km white sand beach.
In the late 1970s an usually high tide combined with a north-easterly storm severly damaged the beach. Groynes were
built at each end of the beach and a third in the middle to deflect water flowing past Ti Point away from the Omaha
peninsula and slow wave action on to the beach.
Further north on the road to Leigh, Whangateau Harbour was settled by a shipbuilder and his wife, James and Catherine
Meiklejohn, in 1858. The first Whangateau store was built about 1907 on the point of the gum flats (Pt Wells) and
exchanged gum for food with the Dalmatian gumdiggers. After World War One the store moved beside the Whangateau wharf.
"Goods were unloaded from the steamer 'Kawau' or Waipu' and packed in the store..." according to Leigh Then and Now by Bethea Frost. During the 1920s the roads became more
passable and early trucks were used instead of horse and cart.
Ti Point is home to New Zealand's only reptile park with two American alligators, tuatara, a huge tortoise, brown capuchin monkeys, native and exotic lizards.
The first settlers arrived in
Matakana during the 1840s and
lived along the coast either side of the Matakana River mouth as
access was only by boat.
By the 1850s settlers had moved up the river
to what is now known as Matakana village and
were soon busy timber-felling, saw-milling,
boatbuilding and selling fruit to the Auckland
market. The town soon had a boarding house,
flax factory, butcher's shop, library, store, hall,
church and school. The population was about
150 in 1881. The Matakana Presbyterian Church
was built from kauri in 1894. In 1902 the co-
operative dairy factory opened.
By the turn of the century much of Matakana
was in orchards, with crops shipped to Auckland
for jam making. But ripe rot soon wiped out the
fruit industry and dairy farming became more
profitable. Many farms have now been converted to vineyards.
Settler George Manners had a brickworks on what is known as Tongue Farm. Pottery
makers Morris and James started their business nearby in 1978 and continue to be a major
tourist attraction in the area.
The village has undergone a huge transformation in the last 10 years and now has a cinema
complex, plenty of shops, a pharmacy, medical clinic and the ever popular Saturday
farmers' market. There are plenty of wineries and good restaurants in the surrounding
Information: Warkworth Roundabout by Harry Bioletti and Jade River, A History of the
Mahurangi, by R H Locker
Back then: Matakana's main street in 1921 looking
towards the intersection with the Warkworth-Leigh
Road. Photo: CHANGING TIMES
The wharf at Matakana.
Banner picture: The Anglican Church of St Michael at Leigh.
Established 1870: Leigh's library
Winter's day: A rainbow over the southern end of Omaha Beach.
Kindly sponsored by Plume Restaurant
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