Traditional and early historical significance
This area is of particular significance to Ngatiwai, who are the tangata whenua. Puhimoanariki, the first ancestor of Ngapuhi, named this place "Whangaruru" while sailing up the coast. It took Puhi a long time to find a good sheltered place to settle, so when he did he named it "Whangaruru" Whanga (to wait), ruru (to shelter), or alternatively the sheltered harbour.
Traditionally Whangaruru Harbour is a stopping place for sea travelers between the Bay of Islands and Whangārei, and between the Ngatiwai populations on the off shore islands. Other hapu with ties to Whangaruru were Ngaititai, Ngatitura and Te Uriohikihiki, all with connections to Ngapuhi.
By the 1820, Whangaruru had come to the attention of the missionaries Marsden and Rev. John Butler who passed through with Chief Te Morenga.
Maori living between Cape Brett through to Whangaruru and south to Mimiwhangata and Whananaki were keen for their company due to the benefits of a trading relationship with the newcomers.
Marsden's third journey to New Zealand in 1820 had been made at the request of the Admiralty with the purpose of facilitating the purchase of kauri spars. By 1821, spars were being provided to ships of the Royal Navy from bush workings at Whangaruru controlled by Chief Timarangi. Te Morenga himself died at Whangaruru in 1834. In the early 1840's, Whangaruru was becoming a regular stop by those travelling south by land from the Bay of Islands via Waikare. In July of 1842, missionary Charles Baker the Waikare catechist records baptising eight Maori at Whangaruru and taking communion with 30 Maori christians.
Commercial opportunities up and down the coast continued to grow as the missionaries, traders and settlers expanded out from the Bay of Islands. In the 1840's, Tod Henderson and Ben Savage were taken to Whangaruru by Tane, the son of a chief from Waikare to build a boat.
G. M. Henderson in his book Taina says "They found Whangaruru a splendid place for their purpose-on a peninsular with two waterfronts, one to the open sea and one to the harbour, and both with fine sandy beaches. They set up their slipway at the north end of the beach that faces the harbour, where there is a permanent spring of good water , and close to the foot of the hill on which the fortifications and stockade of the Whangaruru Pa. Over on the ocean beach front, about a mile away, stood the magnificant terraced pa of Whakaturia." (Both these significant pa are privately owned; Whakaturia means "To make a stand".)". Tane, who had great mana, although still young, took Tod and Ben with him to pay their respects to Te Ari, chief of the pa. The deep forest that surrounded the harbour was alive with birds while the sea and harbour teemed with fish."
The bush covered hills noted by Marsden in 1820 were systematically logged, and then greatly expanded to supply wood for building European settlements around the Pacific. By 1900 when the bush resources around the harbour were worked out, the harbour became the collection point for logs felled in more distant inland parts of the region between Whangārei and Kawakawa. From Whangaruru huge log booms were towed down the coast to the timber mills in Auckland, or loaded on ships to service the building booms in Sydney and San Francisco.
Nevertheless Whangaruru remained something of a backwater. Towards the end of the 19th century over 2000 Maori were living in the harbour, but while local timber felling continued to supply distant markets, and the coastal scows and other craft regularly stopped in on their travels to and from the Bay of Islands, only a few Europeans had settled in the area by the late 1870s.
The settlement of the Whangaruru North Head
In 1871, the Whakapara Block behind Admiralty Bay on the Whangaruru peninsula was made a Crown grant to Mohi Paka, Paratene Te Manu and Hori Wehiwehi and a fortnight later they sold it to a Mr Nesbit for eighty pounds. Nesbit subsequently gifted the block to Helen Lloyd who, with her husband William were the only settlers on the harbour in 1876.
The Papakura Block, which comprised the southern part of Whangaruru south and east of the Whakapara Block, was granted to Paratene Te Manu, Mohi Kaingaroa, Hotorene Tawatawa, Hori Te Watua, Hiria Te Wara, Reupena Puni, Wiremu Puanaki, Renata Te Maaku and Wiremu Te Tete in 1872. It was transferred to William Lloyd and his son Charles in 1887, and farmed with the Whakapara Block every since.
In 1876, the "Southern Cross" newspaper edition of 4 April 1876 noted that "There is only one settler's family in the harbour, that of Mr Lloyd...the rangeoverlooking the harbour is covered in virgin forest of Kauri, within easy distance of a tidal river. A large block of land is now to be leased for grazing and judging by the condition of the wild cattle killed on it, containing capital feed. This could be obtained from the two chiefs, Pratani and Moses, at a small rental"
Donald Sinclair arrived shortly after the Lloyds, perhaps having been inspired by the Southern Cross story. SInclair began running sheep in the area after being granted the grazing rights to all the land between Cape Brett and Cape Home at Whangaruru, by Chief Mohi Kaingaroa (The 'Moses' of the article quoted above, along with his kinsman Paratene or 'Pratani').
Despite the isolation and general infertility of the land, Pawhoao Bay (at the north end of Sandy Bay) became a focal point for shearing, with some animals being driven there from as far away as Cape Brett. The wool cut was shipped out by scow as there was no road access until World War II. Sinclair sold his property during the Boer War (1899 - 1902) to Mr. George Lloyd (Charles's son) who in turn had sold his holdings to Mr Corbett by 1900.
Alfred Cooper, Mr Corbetts son-in-law, purchased the adjacent blocks called Kirikiri Pawhaoa and Papakura in 1934 so increasing the size of the property to 575 acres and covering nearly the entire headland of Whangaruru. Cooper was also responsible for the building of the beach cottage, the farmhouse and the wool shed. The final private owner was Admiral George Walter Gillow Simpson, who (along with a fellow officer) purchased the property in 1943. In 1968, the Admiral Simpson donated the property to the Crown, and it became a recreational reserve. Admirals Bay is named after Admiral Simpson.
Archaeological and historic significance
Sixty-three archaeological sites are recorded in the Whangaruru Recreation Reserve, mainly along the western and southern shore, but also along the high ridges that run through the center. Ten of these recorded sites are pa while the rest are either undefended terrace sites or midden. The 100 recorded pits associated with living sites are disproportionate to the area of fertile land on the peninsula. It is possible that produce stored in these pits was grown on the sand spit, where an extensive area of agricultural channels are visible on early aerial photographs.
Settlement in this sheltered harbour with its rich and diverse land and sea-based resources appears to have been continuous from the period of earliest arrival. Archaic midden on the sand spit reflects early occupation, supporting this view. Later in the prehistoric period the ten pa within the reserve were likely built in response to an increase in conflict in Maori society after 1500AD. It is significant that in the early 1800's one of these traditional pa was modified for gun fighting, showing that Whangaruru was still considered valuable land.
Whangaruru North Head is also significant as the site of the first permanent European settlement of the Whangaruru Harbour.