• Keith Newman

Whaling era bones recovered

Discovering dozens of whale bones at Rangaika on the southern side of Cape Kidnappers (Te Matau-a-Maui) in the mid-1980s was a lifelong highlight for well-known Cape Coast identity, Neil Burden.

Neil Burden standing tall with two of the recovered whale bones forming a heart shape

Burden, 85, says Rangaika, is a favourite place where he and friends would occasionally camp in summer months enjoying the abundant fishing opportunities, the coastal environmental and a site important to Maori and colonial history,


It was the site of two onshore whaling stations from the early 1840s including that of William Morris, and is 300 metres from where the steamer Go Ahead was wrecked in “terribly thick weather” at 2am on 20 May 1887 through “negligent navigation”.


During Burden’s visits from the 1960s onward three trypots and a large winch used to pull whales were still in evidence at the high tide line along with the boiler of the Go Ahead, which was partially buried on the beach.


Toward the end of January 1984 Neil received a phone call from his friend Bill Shaw, a Te Awanga farmer, who’s hobbies included flying a Tiger Moth plane. He’d spotted a number of whale bones that had been uncovered by the tides at Rangaika.


“It was the first time that the sand had washed away in this particular spot. Bill said, ‘Neil you’d better come for a ride with me’, so he took me up in his aircraft to show me these bones.”


They found a place to land and discussed taking two rib bones with them. “Bill said ‘No way, they’re heavy and wet’. We agreed to take one, with me holding it in the passenger cockpit and two thirds of it outside the plane.”


They struggled to take off into a northerly wind with Neil holding on with all his strength to the massive rib. “We had to fly right around the Cape because of the wind and then tried to land at Bill’s farm up in Charlton Rd but there were bloody sheep on the airstrip.”


The plane had to “buzz the sheep” about five times before it could land. “By that time, I was absolutely knackered from holding on to the whale rib.”


The next stage of retrieval took place several days later when two boats, carefully gauging the tide, went out to Rangaika. The bones were still exposed on the half tide mark, heavy and wet and hard to get into the boats which had to wait for exactly the right tide to be refloated.


“We bought home 32 rib bones and five ear bones, which are the densest bones in a whale’s body,” says Neil. He kept two and the others went to museums and schools.

He recalls a trypot, later removed to Clifton Café (now Hygge) was still on site as was a large winch “just above the high water mark”, once used for hauling in Southern Right whales for processing.


A couple of years later he recalls an overseas company looking to recover old whaling equipment and boiling down pots along the coast using a bulldozer. “They came down from the top just went mad, ran the bulldozer through it and wrecked everything.”


Neil has no knowledge of who was responsible or what their motive was but was saddened that such an historic site was not preserved.


Source: Keith Newman

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