Saturday 8 June 2013, 2 - 4 pm
Despite the overcast skies and threatening showers, a large crowd of several dozen, including a significant proportion of local residents, gathered at Anzac Bay, Bowentown on Saturday afternoon for this well advertised walking tour, organised by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as part of their Heartland Archaeology series.
Brigid Gallaher, a local resident and archaeologist with plenty of experience both locally and abroad, gave a thoroughly entertaining introduction to the geology, prehistory and recorded history of Waihi Beach and Bowentown. The remnants of a volcanic cone, the flat sands of the tombolo spit, and their position on the coast relative to the harbour, Coromandel, Mayor Island and the waka arriving from the Pacific to the north-east were all discussed in relation to patterns of early habitation, food gathering and defensive pa building on the peninsula.
There have been few formal excavations in the area, but Brigid demonstrated that this is no barrier to investigating its prehistory. We were invited to examine the landscape with fresh eyes and look beyond the obvious fortifications at the top of Te Kura a Maia Pa, and terraces extending down the western slopes. Minor undulations and depressions, almost imperceptible changes of grass colour in the mown areas, variations in vegetation height, straight lines and corners where nature never intended them to be, etc. were all used as potential indicators of previous human activity.
Brigid has had the opportunity to examine a considerable number of artifacts recovered from the Waihi Beach area by Mair and colleagues shortly after the turn of the century, currently held at the Auckland Museum. Sadly the exact locations where they were excavated, and therefore much of the context, have been lost, but they probably relate to earliest Maori settlement in the Bay of Plenty. We were shown evidence of more recent pre-European habitation levels in the vicinity of the car park, where recent erosion has revealed soil horizons buried beneath layers of sand. Remediation work to stabilise and protect the area from further damage is planned. The effect of settlement on the peninsula over the last century was also discussed, and the concrete remnants of a wharf examined at the western end of the beach.
Brigid kept us entertained, and the showers mostly at bay, with her depth of knowledge, obvious enthusiasm and passion, finishing with a question and answer session appropriately on the tihi of Te Kura a Maia, which must have one of the best views in the bay.
Many thanks to Brigid, as well as to Rachel Darmody, Cathleen Hauman, Fiona Low and Janet Hetherington of the NZHPT for organising this event, and we look forward to the next one. We hope to give notice of future events of historical interest on the Society blog, and would encourage members to attend - they are very worthwhile.