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Image Waiheke Pioneers Islands of the Gulf
Early settlement of Waiheke's eastern side


Whares were built as temporary structures by early settlers: made well, they could last several years. Roof & walls were often thatched with nikau fronds while the framing was of tea-tree sticks lashed together. A family would live in them while their permanent house was built; often for some time, as the kauri usually came from their own property, having first to be felled, milled & seasoned. Bush camp whares were even more temporary, making use of other vegetation as well: for example, mingimingi as bedding.

Cemetery & School

Te Matuku Bay became one of the first pioneer 'settlements' on Waiheke thanks to its strategic location, providing pivotal access to both land and sea. Waiheke's first school, serving also as a hall & church, was built at the head of the bay in 1882, whilst nearby the island's first cemeteryPioneer Cemetery was established in 1886. But as the island population expanded west, during the '20's & '30's, the importance of this area declined: the school was closed in 1932, while the cemetery's final burial followed soon after.

Family Names

Permanent reminders of early settler surnames are scattered around Waiheke, in the form of roads (such as O'Brien) & headlands (such as Kennedy Point). Many bays around the Bottom End, once known by their Maori names, became associated with their original or most well-known owners. Te Matuku Bay was called McLeods Bay for some time, before reverting back again. Unlike Connells Bay: once known as Oriote Bay, it is now permanently linked with the family that once ran a thriving store there.


Once the original bush was cut down & the remaining debris burnt, pasture for grazing was sown amongst the ashes. But natural soil fertility quickly fell, leading to poor grass growth in those days before fertiliser could be easily applied. The reduced competition encouraged relentless regeneration of natives, primarily tea tree: being a rapid coloniser tea tree became the farmer's 'curse', requiring regular removal. Scrub was the name given to this regrowth.


Once a section of bush was cleared by early settlers for grazing, danthonia, a native perennial, was sown - a hardy grass able to grow in poor arid soils, but not always palatable to sheep. Over summer the clumps grew rank, becoming too high to graze, requiring an annual burn-off: the fresh growth that resprouted from the scorched clumps began the next cycle, which continued until improved grass species were introduced. Burn-offs were also used to control scrub.


Home-grown fruit & vegetables were essential produce for self-reliant early settlers, thus a good fence was vital to protect their vegetable gardens & orchards from roaming stock. Equally, boundary fences were critical too, to prevent stock being lost in areas of bush still uncleared. Puriri was a favoured choice for fence posts as the timber proved to be extremely ground-durable, lasting for decades before needing to be replaced.

Colonial Cooking

"Outside was a cookhouse which had an open fire with a bushman-type chimney about 10ft wide. My mother had several camp ovens on this fire in which she could cook bread, all sorts of stews, and roasts. In Summer she did most of her cooking out there as the cookhouse had no sides, only a roof and was cooler. Often we had our meals out there."

- Excerpt from 'Waiheke Pioneers'Waiheke Pioneers by Dixie Day -
Memories of Matiatia: the early 1900's as remembered by Don Croll


Stock were ferried down the tidal channel & then out to boats anchored in deeper water - they were then taken to the mainland for sale. They were mustered first into stockyards on land adjacent to the tidal channel, near the cemetery, awaiting for what was (& still is) only a small window of opportunity in the tidal cycle.

Scrub Cutting

'On a further hill a tiny figure was moving rhythmically up & down against dark swathes laid like mosaic on the bleached pasture. "That's an old-fashioned sight", says Henry. "Someone slashing scrub by hand. Mostly they do it with a tractor now, or just let it run."'

- Excerpt from 'Islands of the Gulf'Islands of the Gulf by Shirley Maddock (1966) -