Te Awanga village evolved over several decades as families camped by the beach near the Maraetototara river mouth and squatters built rugged baches on the dry, swampy and stone strewn riverbed adjoining Clifton Station’s oats paddock.
Easier access to the remote coastal area was provided when the first Black Bridge spanning the Tukituki river was opened in 1888 enabling horses and drays to bring greater numbers of people to camp, picnic, swim or go boating on the large Maraetotara lagoon.
There was always the hope that someone with a horse and cart or sturdy vehicle might offer a trip around to Cape Kidnappers to see the gannets. As popularity of the area grew the Gordon’s who were the legal owners began clearing the swamp, tussock and flax for subdivisions, finding strong interest from those who wanted holiday batches or more permanent homes.
Te Awanga was originally part of the 13,500 acre (5463 ha) Kidnappers station, stretching from the Tuki Tuki valley in the west ranging south from the Maraetotara River including all of Cape Kidnappers and down to Ocean Beach.
The land was acquired from Maori then on-sold or leased by the Crown to Joseph Rhodes and others before most of it was purchased by Scotsman James Gillespie Gordon between 1859-61. The part what became Clifton Station that was to evolve into Te Awanga village was originally the Clifton Station oats paddock.
The Maraetotara River which has its origins in Mohi’s bush at Waimarama used to flow midway between present day Te Awanga and Clifton with the swampy lowlands subject to heavy flooding. There was a large estuary at the river mouth which attracted campers and visitors in the early 1900s and further south toward Clifton Beach were a series of lagoons close to what was once an established Maori fishing village.
During land negotiations between the Crown and local chief Te Moananui and others in the 1850s, an unknown portion of this land was allegedly set aside for a Maori reserve but at the last minute left out of the official documentation, says local historian Pat Parsons.
After the 1931 earthquake, the mouth of the river moved north to its present location, the lagoons were washed out and what was left of the estuary, now known as Te Awanga Lagoon was greatly diminished.
The Hastings District Plan, describes Te Awanga as the ‘the Gateway to Cape Kidnappers’; slightly smaller than Haumoana, with residential streets of distinct characteristics having developed in a linear fashion along the shingle crests of the coastal strip with mature trees and vegetation.
“Kuku Street, Pipi Street and Wellwood Terrace are narrow, having an absence of footpaths or kerb and channeling and have wide grass verges”, something locals continued to lobby for.
The Te Awanga Hall, still owned by the community, has undergone several renovations and additions and is regularly used for public events, birthdays, celebrations, concerts, fitness and hobbyist meetings, with the adjoining playground and Te Awanga Domain frequented by local families and those from surrounding areas.
From the hall carpark, built on the ocean’s edge, to the left of the Te Awanga Lagoon, the waves rise and shape off the reef near the mouth of the Maraetotara River in what is referred to as Te Awanga Point surf break. This location is of local and regional significance with up to 60 cars seen parked-up during peak conditions.
NZ Surf magazine describes it as “a right-hand point break on a sandy beach (with)… a nice soft fun wave…good for surfers of all levels”.
Oats to oasis
The Burden family were among the first to stake a claim to the area north of the river from the late 1890s, regularly camping there until they purchased a residential plot in 1905 and 14-years later the land that became the local campground. Thomas Burden began using an old whaler’s bach 300m to the south side of the river to store his fishing equipment; it was surrounded by macrocarpa with rose bushes still growing in front.
The family built a number of huts on the Te Awanga side of the river while others began building fishing baches or in some cases rough accommodation where they stayed for longer periods on the other side of the river. One early squatter’s bach, says Burden’s grandson Rod Heaps, was known as ‘Muldoons’ for the former tenant. The chimney and foundations were still evident in the 1970s.
The Gordon brothers were annoyed at people camping on the Clifton side of the river mouth. Between 1908 and 1909 Edward and Frank wrote to several families asking them to desist, but no-one took any notice.
In November 1907, the local newspaper noted that locals “at Clifton and Kidnappers” were anticipating easier access across the Maraetotara River as the timber for a new bridge had finally arrived. It was hoped the County Council or Clive Road Board would “waste no time” in its construction so the public road to the beach would be more clearly defined and travelers could complete their journey “without trespassing on private property”.
Clive Leyland had purchased land north of Clifton Beach from Frank Gordon around 1890 and began subdividing it into “30 quarter acre sections” in 1908, the same year the bridge was completed. Hastings Standard, 7 May, 1908 In 1911 Frank Gordon sold a further 10 acres (4 ha) on the north side for sections along the road, accelerating the growth of what was becoming a popular seaside location.
Life at the lagoon
In 1913 photographs appeared in the local newspaper of “surf-bathers” crossing the Maraetotara Lagoon at Te Awanga with groups seated in row boats. Havelock North resident John Joll commented on family picnics at Te Awanga but had his doubts about its future. “I can never understand why a township was laid out there it was purely and simply swamp”. Wright, Havelock p.55
Just how popular the place was in those early days is contested. Boyd in City of the Plains suggested in relation to Haumoana and Te Awanga, that “on hot summer Sundays about 500 people would leave Hastings for the beach”. Maureen Heaps (nee Burden) suggests the area wouldn’t have coped.
Even as a young girl in the 1940s she never witnessed that many people coming into the area. In the early 1900s access was limited and the roads basic. Entry was still via a rough track from East Rd south to Clifton which divided at the Te Awanga Domain, near the present-day hall, leading along the lagoon or mud flat and through a portion of what is now the camping ground. The other led inland to Clifton.
In 1914 Frank Gordon sold another 10 acres (4 ha) between the river and the first block to Norman Wellwood and John Holden. This completed the triangle of land now within Wellwood Terrace, Clifton Rd, Leyland, Pipi and Kuku streets. Te Awanga was now recognised as an official settlement.
“As Mr Wellwood had left the country and John Holden was killed in an accident, John Holden Jnr as mortgagee wanted the property to straighten the affairs of the estate,” says Maureen Heaps. A group of Hastings businessmen wanted to divide it into sections but baulked at the £300 price. In January 1919, Thomas Burden paid the deposit, on behalf of his son Mick who had recently returned from the war and was operating lighters (barges) along the East Coast. Mick then undertook to settle all outstanding payments for ‘the Willows’ area.
From that time the Burden family camping spot, fronting the beach near the mouth of the Maraetotara at Kuku St and adjoining Wellwood Terrace, was further developed to became an official holiday destination known as Burden’s Camp.
Few permanent residents
Walter and Lizzie Bye establishing the first house in Te Awanga on the corner of Kuku and Clifton Rd at a time when there were about eight permanent families in the village. Their daughter Alice Steel was a two-year-old when her parents moved to the area in 1918. In the early 1920s she would walk along Clifton Rd and cut through the paddocks to attend Clive Grange School (later Haumoana School). Her father kept cows and delivered milk around the village.
Alice learned to swim in the lagoon, which in those days extended the length of Wellwood Terrace. She remembered it as a “wonderful wide clean stretch of water” in which boats could row and moor in the shingle while people swam in the sea. There were only two or three children her age living in the area and she looked forward to the holidays when the village would fill up with holidaymakers.
In the 1920s, Peter Circuit’s grandfather Dr Barcroft; one of only three doctors in Hastings, built one of the first beach homes along the front of Wellwood Terrace. “It was all blackberries, shrub, raupo and bull rushes …there were no trees.”
Circuit’s father purchased a section from the Gordon's and built a concrete home that had no reticulated water or electricity. “We just wanted a bach where we could come down, get out of the car and go to the beach. We always had to take our turn to cut the lawns … pump half an hour every morning to fill the tank up with water and work in the garden.” All cooking was done on a kerosene stove until the area was connected to electricity.
The village remained predominantly a holiday settlement for many years with beach front sections north of the domain developed between the two world wars. One of the earliest, the Tong family holiday bach on the western side of the Te Awanga Hall, was added to as the family grew. Lew and Willa Tong lived there for many years, remaining there long after their family had moved away.
The Lambert children, Myrtle, Michael and Beryl, were of similar age to the Burdens and lived at 9 Pipi St. Their father Jack Lambert the local rabbitter “was quite a character”. He kept dogs and ferrets. Mrs Amy Lambert owned and milked a cow which grazed on neighbouring properties. At times cream and homemade butter were sold to local residents.
Bill Shaw, who was born in Te Awanga, confirms Wellwood Terrace was named after Robert Wellwood, the first mayor of Hastings, whose son Norman acquired and then subdivided some of the land. Leyland Street was named for a former farm manager who worked for Wellwood. In his childhood Shaw thought maybe Leyland Street was named after the buses that were the only connection with town.
More sections sold
Lynette Boaler (nee Burden) says in the 1940s the permanent families living in Te Awanga could still be counted on two hands. Permanent residents along the riverside were the Burdens, Miss Dudding, Mr Raisey who owned a Napier butcher’s shop, Mr Grant; Mrs Love and her sons Jim and Jack (her husband was killed in WW1); the Thompsons then after a couple of paddocks the Bye’s who also owned adjoining properties.
The Hawke’s Bay Health Board had a house for its nurses. Mr Patterson, Alf Dillon, two Miss Cowans and Mr Anderson “who grew carnations and other flowers”.
Opposite the camp on Kuku Street corner was the home of the Lange sisters, one a milliner (hat maker) and the other a nurse along with their cousin Miss Lottie Sandilands. “Mr Reichenbach lived at 47 Kuku Street used to tap his walking stick on the pohutukawa tree each evening just on dusk to stop the birds roosting in it,” said Lynette Boaler.
Holiday home owners included the Fryers, Mr Shattky (founder of Shattky & Weber), Lindsay Bone the plumber and the Apatu’s who had a section next to 50 Kuku St. Other early residents included the Hursthouse family including Dan Hursthouse the dentist, the Hutchesons, the Warrens, Miss South who lived on the corner of Pipi and Clifton Road, the Rules who owned the Pipi Street store, the Battersbys opposite the community hall in a two storey house and their aunt and uncle the McNeils.
Peter Circuit recalled a Mr and Mrs Amos Atherton who came out from England and built a home in Pipi Street and became involved in pump repairs and installations. They began building baches, including a two-storey home which became the Te Awanga Store. Another Englishman, Mr Sheffield, ran the store and lived upstairs.
“The boys used to tease him and one New Year’s Eve they decided to get outside the store and sing some songs in the middle of the night to wake them up, because they hadn't waited up to see the new year in. Sheffield got a bucket of water and tipped it out on them, there were many yells and they promised to get even with him.
Circuit recalled being in the store when somebody wanted an item from under the counter; “Mr Sheffield bent down to pick it up and as he came up, a nail caught his hair and dragged off his wig and he was bald underneath. We never knew that …from then on he was called Wiggy Sheffield.”
For many years much of the area between Clifton Road and the beach was overgrown in mingimingi or Muehlenbeckia (in Maori twisted or Latin astonii or wirebrush) which Maureen Heaps describes as “bouncy bushes” where children used to play in on their way home from school.
Even after the war there were few families in permanent residence, most homes were holiday cottages surrounded by vacant sections and paddocks. Slightly to the west of Kim Crawford wines (Te Awanga Estate Wines) gate was the Te Awanga rubbish dump, where children used to “fossick and while away their time”, often arriving home late from school.
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Pat Parsons interviews 2017, 2018
Hastings District Plan, Haumoana-Te Awanga Strategic Management, March 2013
HB Today, 100-years ago today, 7 Nov 2007 City of the Plains, A History of Hastings, M.B Boyd, Victoria University Press (for Hastings City Council), 1984, p.155
Jenny Carlyon & Diana Morrow, Cape Country, Random House- Penguin, New Zealand, 2016, pp. 106- 107
Lorna Willis interview
Peter Circuit (born 1915) interviewed for TAPA newsletter
Memories and notes from Jesse Burden (nee Mitchell) transcribed by Maureen Heaps (nee Burden)
Maureen Heaps typewritten notes and interviews
Rod Heaps interview
Newspaper clipping from the Te Awanga Progressive Association (TAPA) archives
Te Awanga our Home, Burden Childhood Days, self-published 2009, pp 73