As we approach the Summer season for 2020, the Pohutukawa (Metrosideros Exelsa) or New Zealand Christmas Tree, with its crimson flowers has become an established part of the New Zealand Christmas tradition. This iconic tree which often features on greeting cards, decorations, in songs and poems has become an important symbol which heralds in summer and holidays and the planning of our recreational activities.
Our thoughts turn further back to yesteryear when recreation was an important part of the social life of the district.
Methods of reaching these activities were varied, had to be well planned, and residents thought nothing of travelling by the most basic methods - walking, rowboats, which had to be worked in with the tides, horseback and horse and cart.
Dances, balls and fancy dress
Adults, often with children, travelled by horseback from as far away as Coroglen (Gumtown) and Whitianga to attend dances at the Wigmore Homestead at Hahei. They often stopped at a nearby residents to dress for the occasion, and after the event bunked down for the night.
Dances, balls, and fancy dress balls were always lively affairs with music supplied by the locals either on the piano, accordions and fiddles. Pianos were often transported to the various halls in the area by horse and cart or by truck just for a nights entertainment
A story is told of a local woman who played the concertina and was so skilled she could dance as she played, holding the concertina behind her partners back !
Sharing a meal
Supper was always a major part of the evenings activity, the food being brought along by those attending. Local produce played a large part in the evenings contributions, with large quantities of fish, pipis and mussels, wild pork, and homemade baking being provided and always gratefully accepted by all. Especially enjoyed by the bushmen who were occasionally able to attend the dances.
Silent and later talking movies at the Mercury Bay Hall were also very popular for many years with people attending from all the outlying areas. The early projectionist had to operate the film machines by laboriously turning a handle. A very big drawcard to these picture evenings and matinees came with the advent of the "weekly" serials, which always seemed very dramatic and could not be missed. The cost was one shilling for adults and sixpence for children.
Sweets and peanuts, roasted by a local Baker, were available throughout the showing and locally made ice creams were available in the 1940's and sold from the shop next to the Hall.
Once again the journey home had to be well planned, especially on a cold evening if travelling by water. Those that did the rowing were generally the warmest!
Summer touring groups
Many touring groups also visited Mercury Bay and Gumtown over the Summer months. One in particular was an organ grinder with his monkey. As the music played the monkey performed his tricks and entertained the children, who besides making donations, would often bring food along for the monkey.
The visits of travelling circuses to town were always eagerly looked forward to by young and old for many years and was always a summer holiday must see.
In the very early days of European settlement it was thought to be too dangerous to swim at Buffalo Beach or in the Whitianga Estuary. Consequently an area on the top side of the Upper Wharf was fenced off and it was possible to swim here at high tide. No mixed bathing was allowed. Men would swim one day and women the next. Taputapuatea (Mother Brown's Creek) was a favourite area for swimming for children as the water was always warm due to the natural warm springs.
Establishment of sports clubs
Many sporting activities were played and clubs established in the area, such as Tennis 1898, a Gun Club, Golf courses, Cricket, Croquet, outdoor Bowls, a Pony Club and even a Lacrosse Club. Dog trials were always a popular event in the area.
A Rugby Club was formed in 1888 and over the winter months players and supporters were prepared to travel great distances. Miners from Kuaotunu walked the 12 miles over muddy, slippery tracks to play against the Mercury Bay Mill (KTC) worker's and then make the return journey after the match, often in the dark and after a few hours of celebrations.
Horse racing also had a keen following during the height of the milling era with three racecourse in the area. One in Mercury Bay, one at Gumtown and even one located at Kuaotunu. These occasions took on a "fair " atmosphere with a local brass band playing, watermelon vendors, stalls of local produce, peddlers, gambling games and always present were the "bookies" calling out the racing odds. Before the racecourse was established in Mercury Bay the races were held on Buffalo Beach at low tide. The Mercury Bay Jockey and Horse Racing Club was formed in 1881.
A more unusual form of entertainment for that time was set up by Leonard Lee in 1884, when he built a skating rink near the Whitianga Estuary on Owen St, which was popular for many years.
Camping and caravans
Memories of caravans, boats, laden trailers, tourists and holiday makers all making their way over the Tapu Hill on unsealed roads to fill the then many campgrounds for a few weeks each year.
The excitement and anticipation of fishing, hunting, days at the beach, picnics under the Pohutukawa’s, catching up with friends made the previous summer, and eagerly awaited planned events. Regularly held at the Simpson Farm, also at Ohuka and McLeods Field Kaimarama and even at Coroglen were sports days, rodeos, where steer riders and buck jumpers displayed their skills, and the always popular wood chopping events.
There was also a greasy pig which would be let out of its pen and attempted to be caught by the children.
Whitianga New Year’s Day events
Crowds would gather along Buffalo Beach foreshore to watch the New Year’s Day Regatta, speed boat races, dinghy rowing races, sand castle competitions, beach running races, and of course the annual Miss Whitianga Beauty Contest. Not forgetting the annual Talent Quests held at the Whitianga Sound Shell where the local library is today.
This article was provided by Larissa Jackman, Secretary Mercury Bay Historical Society (2020).
The Mercury Bay Historical Society
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