Whitianga (pronounced "Fitianga") is the main settlement of Mercury Bay on the North
Island of New Zealand. The population is now 4100.
Whitianga has been continuously occupied for more than a thousand years since Maori
explorer Kupe’s tribe settled here after his visit in about 950 AD. Following this visit,
many of Kupe's tribe settled here. Te Whitianga a Kupe is the original place name of the
town, meaning Kupe's crossing place. There is still a passenger only ferry crossing from
Whitianga to Ferry Landing, close to Cooks Beach. The alternative to the two minute
ferry crossing is a 45 minute drive.
Captain Cook's visit - 1769
The people of Hei commemorated their leader in a few place names, one being the bay
at the head of which he had settled, Te Whanganui A Hei, (the Great Bay of Hei). This
large sheltered bay was later renamed by Captain James Cook when he came here in
November 1769 to observe the transit of Mercury. Cook was accompanied by Charles
Green, the Royal Society expedition astronomer who died on the homeward journey in
From Cook's journal - "my reasons for putting in here were the hopes of discerning a
good harbour and the desire I had of being in some convenient place to observe the
Transit of Mercury, which happens on the 9th instant and will be wholly visible here if the
day is clear between 5 and 6 o'clock." Cook also named the Whitianga Harbour "River of
Mangroves" and this area is still referred to as "The River".
The sighting of the Transit of Mercury is commemorated at Cooks Beach by a cairn of
Coromandel granite which tells the story ; "In this bay was anchored 5 Nov 1769, HMS
Endeavour, Lieutenant James Cook RN, Commander. He observed the transit of Mercury
and named this bay."
The original European settlement was situated on the opposite side of the river from
approximately 1836 to 1881.
Whitianga is located on the Eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, 208 km from
Auckland, 93 km from Thames, 42 km from Tairua. It is situated on the coast of Mercury
Bay, the body of water stretching from the Mercury Islands in the north to approximately
Historically Whitianga was a centre for boat building, kauri milling, flax milling, gold mining
and gum digging. For many years, it was a leading timber port, with sailing ships from
Norway, Sweden, France, Italy and Great Britain coming to load timber. Overseas vessels
of 2000 tons with a draught of 18" and carrying with their decks loads over a million feet
of timber worked the harbour entrance. The larger ships were towed into the port from
near Centre Island. Over a period of sixty years, it is estimated over 500 million feet of
kauri was exported from the Whitianga district.
The first kauri gum was exported in 1844. It reached its peak in 1899 when over 11,000
long tons of gum was exported at an average of $120 per ton.
Today Whitianga serves as a small regional centre for the eastern side of the Coromandel
Peninsula / Mercury Bay area and is a focal point for local fishing, farming and tourism
Hot Water Beach - Some volcanos develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated
water. Over time, this water will escape to the surface — cooling on the way. There are
two fissures at Hot Water large amounts of salt (NOT salt water), calcium, magnesium,
potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. There are other hot water springs nearby but the
location of these two springs on the beach make them unique. The hot springs are only
accessible at low tide, however more often than not two hours each side of low tide,
will still provide you with an opportunity to dig your own spa. Spades are available for hire
at a local store
Hahei - from the lookout of this attractive beach (named after the Maori Chief Hei) there
is access to Cathedral Cove and the Marine Reserve.
Cathedral Cove - Accessible only on foot or by boat, famous Cathedral Cove is one of the
“must visit” sites on the Coromandel Peninsula. The track begins at the northern end of
Hahei. Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, Te Whanganui- A-Hei, covers 9 square kilometres
and is New Zealand’s sixth marine reserve. It is administered by the Department of
Conservation. This site was chosen for a marine reserve because of the rich and varied
habitats associated with the coastline and outlying islands. Reefs of hard rock, soft
sediments, intricate caves and underwater arches provide homes for complex
communities of plants, crustaceans, molluscs and fish. Sheltered from the worst of the
southerly winds Te Whanganui-A-Hei gives visitors an opportunity to learn from and enjoy
an unspoilt marine environment.
Cathedral Cove Walk There are several scenic tracks on land adjacent to the reserve,
including the 2hr return walk to Cathedral Cove track, which gives access to Gemstone
Bay, Mares Leg and Cathedral Cove. Foot access to the Cathedral Cove car park is at the
western end of Hahei Beach and vehicle access is up Grange Road (turn left past shops
and go all the way to end of Grange Road).
Cooks Beach - flanked by Shakespeare Cliff to the west and the picnic spot of Purangi
River to the East, this is a popular visitor destination.
Buffalo Beach - named after the H.M.S. Buffalo wrecked here in 1840, this beach offers
safe swimming, plus good fishing and shellfish collecting. Further north is Wharekaho
Beach, where the areas main Maori Pa was located.
Kuaotunu - once a thriving gold mining town, this area offers a good beach, fishing and
access - via the famous Black Jack Road - to the picturesque white sand beaches of
Otama and Opito.
Whitianga Wharf - the centre for boating and fishing activity, where you can take the
passenger Ferry to Ferry Landing and Flaxmill Bay or the shuttle to Cooks beach, Hahei,
Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.
Matarangi - a purpose-built, resort town offering 4.5km of beautiful beach and safe
swimming. Amenities include a golf course, tennis, boat ramp, airfield and dairy.
Mercury Bay Museum - located in the old Dairy Factory, the museum offers fascinating
relics from the areas past.
Wharekaho (Simpsons Beach) Cooks first landing place in NZ.
click on images to enlarge
Restaurants of Whitianga
Whitianga is famous for its restaurants. Sea food, ethnic food and traditional style
restaurants are here to serve you delicious dishes.
Sangam Indian Cuisine Ph. 07 867 1983
Dino's Ph. 07 867 1010
The Salt Ph. 07 866 5818
Museum in Whitianga
The Coromandel Peninsula's most visited museum with exhibits dating from 800-950 AD.
Kupe Maori Artifacts, HMS Buffalo (sunk 1840), Kauri and Gum Industries, Dairy Factory,
early settlers records and photographic collection. View the 35 minutes video "Twelve
Days-Captain James Cook in Mercury Bay".
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