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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)

… Romantic Golden Bay — Coming Industrial Centre of the Dominion

page 37

… Romantic Golden Bay
Coming Industrial Centre of the Dominion

The site of the proposed Iron and Steel Works on the shores of Golden Bay.

The site of the proposed Iron and Steel Works on the shores of Golden Bay.

A Way back in the seventeenth century, two tiny sailing vessels were making their way across the then unknown South Pacific Ocean, when upon sighting “a high mountainous country,” their commander, Abel Jansen Tasman, leisurely coasted northwards hoping to find a favourable landing place where the ships’ supply of fresh water could be replenished.

After rounding a long, low lying sand spit, he was able to turn into a wide shallow bay which was roughly semicircular in shape, and bounded by forest-clad mountains reaching in places almost to the water's edge. Dropping anchor in the vicinity of what to-day is known as Separation Point, these early discoverers quickly perceived that the whole of the shoreline was inhabited by a large population of dark-skinned aboriginal people. Numbers of canoes left the shore, but all attempts to establish friendly relations with the native occupants of the canoes proved futile.

Communication between the Heemskerk and the Zeehaan was usually carried out by means of a small jolly boat, and although several of the native canoes were only a short distance away, no particular danger was anticipated from these apparently shy and innocent-looking people. On returning from one of these communicating trips, and just as the jolly boat was midway between the two ships, one of the canoes darted in at amazing speed. Striking the small boat amidships, the crew were completely taken by surprise, and it became an easy matter for these ferocious savages to quickly despatch three out of the five occupants of the ill-fated jolly boat.

Such was the incident which gave to our lovely bay its first but happily now forgotten name of Murderers Bay.

“The Old Man of Puponga,” a prominent feature of the landscape near Cape Farewell.

“The Old Man of Puponga,” a prominent feature of the landscape near Cape Farewell.

There is ample evidence existing to-day to show that, at that time, the whole of the habitable land adjacent to the shore carried a large population of progressive and industrious Maori people.

Food was plentiful, the bay teemed with fish, while the sandy beaches not only were the feeding grounds of many varieties of sea birds, but were also literally packed with cockles, pipis and mussels, all extremely favourite foods of the old-time Maori people.

Inter-tribal wars and raiding parties of North Island natives in the early years of our first century soon decimated the original inhabitants. Massslaughter took place, and coupled with Tasman's historic experience our bay's unenviable reputation changed its name to the more sinister one of Massacre Bay. A grim reminder of the savage ferocity of these old-time Maori warriors may still be seen in the limestone country not far from the Golden Bay Cement Works; a locality full of natural caves and shafts, many page 38 page 39 of which can only be descended by ropes, and when explored have revealed scores of skeletons piled in heaps at the bottom.

There is very little record now as to when the first white people settled in the bay, but in the year 1857 an important event occurred which not only changed the name of the bay once more, but was destined to attract attention and people from the four quarters of the globe.

This was the discovery of gold by James Lightband, whose name is perpetuated in Lightband's Gully, near Rockville, a small farming village in the Collingwood County. New Zealand's first gold rush started, and with over one thousand men on the field, the first few years saw gold to the value of a quarter of a million sterling sent out from the Port of Collingwood.

Of course the old name of Massacre Bay would no longer do, and in the golden era then begun what more appropriate name than the present one of Golden Bay!

Out of our romantic past history comes the name of Cape Farewell, for it is a strange coincidence that not only was Golden Bay the first portion of our country to be discovered, but it also witnessed the final departure from our shores of that illustrious navigator, Captain Cook, who named the most northerly tip of the South Island, Cape Farewell.

This must not be confused with Farewell Spit, that long, low-lying sand spit mentioned by Tasman in his Journal, which leaves the mainland some two miles from the cape. For countless ages the ocean currents and the prevailing south-westerly winds have swept up the West Coast, carrying sand and debris until the comparatively sheltered waters of Golden Bay were reached and there depositing them over a wide area.

This can be seen at Puponga where the distance between high and lowwater mark is well over one mile.

As the northern end of the bay became shallow, the ocean rollers assisted by storms off the Tasman Sea simply rolled the sand up into a long narrow strip as a continuation of the West Coast, with deep water on the ocean side and tidal mud-flats inside.

Farewell Spit is now over sixteen miles long, and still growing, with an average width of half mile at high water. The wind-blown sand dunes are up to one hundred feet high.

Before the white civilisation, the whole of the spit was thickly covered with vegetation, and that it was for a long period of time a favoured home of the native people, the numerous old middens still to be seen bear mute witness. Some sparse vegetation still manages to survive in the hollows, but on account of the strong westerly winds constantly changing the configuration of the surface, only the very hardiest of plants manage to gain hold.

From time immemorial the long sand spit has been frequented by numerous varieties of sea fowl, including the migratory godwit, and to all bird lovers at least, it is gratifying to know that early this year the whole of Farewell Spit and its adjacent mudflats were gazetted a bird sanctuary. Directly behind Cape Farewell, a high rocky bluff with its “Old Man” rock, a perfectly natural and famous feature of the locality, looks down on the little village of Puponga, the most northerly settlement in the South Island. Here coal has been mined for over thirtyfive years and with its large coalfield (running into millions of tons of highgrade coal) will no doubt be called upon to assist the requirements of the new iron and steel industry to be established only a few miles away.

Until recent years the population of Golden Bay was in the main composed of direct descendants of the early pioneer farming stock, and cut off from the main portion of Nelson province by the Pikikiruna Range, commonly known as the Takaka Hill, which has to be crossed by road at 2,595 feet, it is not surprising to find a people a little more conservative in outlook than those more fortunate ones who enjoy a wider contact.

With improved roads and modern motor traffic, coupled with the introduction of large numbers of public works and industrial workers, the whole future outlook of Golden Bay is rapidly undergoing a complete change. The coming of the iron and steel works, the opening of large asbestos deposits and the introduction of hydro-electric power must certainly provide the district with an industrial complex in place of the present farming one. Isolated by its geographical position and handicapped by having only one access road, tourist traffic is negligible, but to the casual visitor who braves the beautiful and easy seventeen-mile trip over the marble mountains, a journey into Golden Bay is well rewarded.

Its climate is delightful, the scenery superb, while its people who are kind and hospitable by nature are ever ready to help and direct the visitor to this historic locality.

Picturesque MorereContinued from page 35.

ture the required atmosphere. Here, the moonbeams penetrating the foliage create strange and inspiring scenes. As one Stands in admiration there is nothing to disturb the calm serenity of the night except the weird calls of the “moreporks.” Progressing further, the density of the bush increases and there is no longer the light of the moon as a guide. As one becomes accustomed to the change from semi-twilight to pitch blackness one gazes spellbound, at the myriads of glow-worms that scintillate in every nook and cranny.

(W. L. Rapley, photo.). A fine road scene in the Lewis Pass, South Island.

(W. L. Rapley, photo.).
A fine road scene in the Lewis Pass, South Island.

These scenes leave a strange sense of unreality as steps are retraced to lead one back to the sterner realities of life. Reluctantly one leaves this beautiful haven and vows to make an early return.

page 40