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Kaitaia - Centre of NZ's Far North

Kaitaia is a bustling town, the centre of a busy tourist area and there is much for the traveller to see.

There are beaches everywhere around both sides of the peninsula – the Ninety Mile Beach on the west coast (which actually stretches about 60 miles) and the beautiful Doubtless Bay on the east – comprising Coopers Beach, Taipa, historic Mangonui township on the water, Hihi and many others.

A trip to Cape Reinga along the Ninety Mile Beach is one of the favourite haunts for tourists, but there are plenty of other delights – fishing, wine tasting, glow worm caves, restaurants, shopping, museums etc and not forgetting Mangonui’s world-renown fish and chip restaurant over the harbour.

Up to at least 1920 Mangonui township was the main centre for the North, with regular steamship services and other shipping arrivals keeping the place busy.

It was a clearinghouse for the North and contained everything from the Press, hotels, police station and court, a sizeable hospital, the local council offices and the Masonic Lodge.

Video of Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach.

When Colonel Allen Bell and his brothers arrived in the North they bought large holdings of land around the Kaitaia township and subdivided it into farm lots and building and shop sites.

They were certainly visionary as there had been little growth in the town since the first white settlers – the missionaries Rev Joseph Matthews and William Gilbert Puckey - had started a mission station there in 1833.

A massive advertising and publicity campaign by the Bells, promoting cheap land, and a ‘Winterless North’ brought many settlers to the district, and the slogan ‘Go North Young Man’ was taken up by many of all ages and family situations.

By the 1920s, the county council, Press and Masonic Lodge had moved to Kaitaia, much to the anguish of the local Mangonui settlers.

The hospital followed (after many fights and bitterness) in the early 1930s.

But by then Kaitaia was already the main centre for the Far North and has maintained that position ever since.

There were many events over the century that helped the economy of the Far North.

The rise of the dairy industry from 1901 was rapid, and as gum became increasingly scarce the land was turned into dairy farms.

From the 1950s/1960s tourism increased and became a major economic resource.

Kaitaia business community catered for a countywide customer base and particularly on the 20th of the month when the dairy payouts took place the town would become crowded.

Socially, Kaitaia had always been active, and particularly during the 1950s/1960s almost every form of club, society and organization was there for the joining.

Sporting activities included golf, bowls, croquet, tennis, fishing squash, rugby, racing, swimming, basketball and many others.

Although the movies had been available since the 1920s there was every form of entertainment available – amateur dramatics, orchestra, choral, brass bands, dances and balls..

There were plenty of Kaitaia organizations to join; the Rotary club, Scottish society, Plunket, Beautifying society, Fire Brigade, Ambulance, many Lodges, Horticulture, Aero clubs, Racing clubs and of course Political groups.

There were Lions, Jaycees, Kiwanis, and all the rest of them.

The Far North of New Zealand is unique in many ways.

Relatively self-contained there is always something to do – with its beaches, bays and lakes, picnics, sports, social life and fishing.

The weather is usually (although not always) benign and mild, although the North has had its share over the century of flooding, tornados and gales.

But, hey! No place is perfect, but the Far North is about as perfect as you can get – unless you prefer big city life and the buzz of traffic and noise!

By Keith Parker.

Keith Parker, prolific writer about Kaitaia’s history, has devoted 13 years of his retirement (after a lifetime in banking) to literary pursuits.

He has written four historical books covering the years from 1900 -1979, two family histories, two murder/mystery novels with the Far North as the focal point, and a couple of specialized books – one on aging to commemorate 50 years of the Switzer Home for the elderly, and the other to commemorate 100 years of health and hospital care.

Keith Parker was born and bred in the Far North; his grandparents arrived from England in 1904, and from Auckland travelled to Awanui’s wharf on board the Apanui, a small boat with cramped passenger facilities and carrying everything from live pigs to His Majesty’s mail.

Conditions were generally primitive but there had been some industry around the area since the middle of the 19th Century – flax milling, logging and timber milling, kauri gum digging, whaling and some subsistence farming.

Because of the hilly terrain that virtually cut the Mangonui County off from the rest of New Zealand (the formidable Mangataniwha Ranges, through which the Mangamuka Gorge road eventually passed over – but an access not to be built until the 1920s), the Far North remained an isolated community for many years.

The main access was by boat from Auckland and it wasn’t until the 1920s that land transport superseded shipping.

Keith’s books on Far North history are covered in four volumes; 1900-1939, the 1940s which covered the war and post-war periods (when the Far North was threatened by the possibility of a Japanese invasion); the 1950s and the 1960s/1970s.

These four books between them contain over 1,000 pages and more than 1,500 photographs.

(Dangerous Coastlines, one of Parker’s novels, takes place in 1942 when a Japanese invasion was at its most threatening).

The four historical books cover the problems of local councils and roads to sports, the arts and everything in between.

There are many anecdotes, humourous items, and hundreds of photographs, including a number of Arthur Northwood’s, the celebrated Kaitaia photographer.

Keith Parkers books are available from:

Keith Parker, RD 1 Kamo, Northland.

Phone: (09) 435 4198 Fax: (09)4353656


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