Mahia Whaling History.

One aspect of the surroundings that cannot be missed is Mahia’s distinctive fishhook shape. This promontory curve out to sea and back towards the land creates a natural whale trap and alludes to the rich whaling history of the area.
The echolocation of whales is confused by Mahia’s unusual tomography. By following the curve of the land, whales can find themselves trapped in shallow water.
Te Hoe, just past Taylors Bay, was a thriving whaling community in the 1800s. At the time, locals believe a large hillock of sand in the area was a “mauri”, a type of talisman that apparently attracted whales ashore. Today, Mahia still has one of the highest rates in the country of sperm whale strandings, largely due to the shape of the peninsula.

Another place of interest is the Coronation Reserve where Maori were baptised by William Williams in 1842.  Close by rests the anchor from the S.S. Tasmania which foundered in 1897.

Mahia’s whaling history is slowly but surely being pieced together. The mysteries of Mahia's whaling heritage are slowly but surely being pieced together by archaeologists in Dunedin and Auckland.University archaeologists from Otago and Auckland spent a month at Te Hoe in January and February last year excavating the site of a former whaling settlement.

Their findings will help to paint a more detailed picture of New Zealand whaling in the 1800s.
Professor Ian Smith from the University of Otago, who co-led the archaeology team has spent the past year pouring over the numerous artefacts taken from the site.

Mahia was a popular spot for whalers as it was on the main migration route of the whales. There were many whaling stations dotted up and down the East Coast of the North and South islands, particularly in the 1830s and 1840s.

"The Mahia Peninsula was a very important place in terms of shore whaling," Professor Smith said. It was a great place for whaling because right whales came into Hawke Bay to calve.

At Mahia in particular, the whales came right into the waters of the bay and the geography of the peninsula formed a natural trap from which whalers could readily take advantage.
Professor Smith said the bluffs provided an excellent vantage point for whalers to spot their quarry.

When whalers first came to the district around 1839 or 1840, Mahia was still well off the beaten track.It was something of a "frontier place" and had acquired a reputation for being "outside the law".
But Professor Smith added that many early New Zealand settlements had that reputation, including New Zealand's first capital at Russell, once described as the "hellhole of the Pacific" until central government was established.

It was difficult to get a complete picture of life on whaling stations as there were few surviving records on the industry from the time, but Professor Smith said archaeology was helping to provide a more complete story.
There was evidence found of at least five buildings at the site of the Te Hoe settlement. They are likely to have been small family dwellings for the whalers.

One of the buildings was much larger than the others and this may have belonged to the head whaler, according to Professor Smith.It was impossible to say this for certain but based on what he had seen at other sites around the country, this was likely to be the case.

Coins found at the Te Hoe site showed that people were still living at the whaling station in the 1890s. One such coin was a British silver shilling, dated 1891, with Queen Victoria on one side and the royal coat of arms on the other.

Small-scale shore whaling was made obsolete by the turn of the 20th century and the advent of the motorised launch, muzzle-loaded harpoon gun and industrial¬scale whale oil factories.Many of these whalers married local Maori women and stayed on.

The interaction between Maori and Europeans is one aspect being explored in the Te Hoe dig, as it is in research on the whaling industry around New Zealand."Everyone talks about (Taranaki whaler) Dicky Barrett, but they don't talk about his Maori wife (Rawinia)," Professor Smith said.

"We are looking to redress that balance. Most places were operating under the protection or patronage of local Maori."Evidence of a pre-European Maori settlement at Te Hoe had been found but only a small part of this occupation had been excavated.

Archaeologists had discovered hangi stones, along with shells and other food remains.Those remains were still being examined by one of the professor's students and the results would form the basis of her master's thesis.

Professor Smith said archaeologists normally take away hundreds of thousands of items from their digs, and Mahia was no exception.Approximately 244 kilograms of material left the peninsula bound for Otago laboratories.

Most of the items taken from Te Hoe have been identified, counted, weighed and photographed.They include 100 different kinds of bottle in various bits and pieces.

Ninety different kinds of dinnerware were recovered, including plates, bowls and cups."Mostly Willow Pattern, but there are others."

Paraphernalia relating to the whaling industry was also in great abundance, such as the iron head of a whaling lance, which was found intact."There were lots of clay tobacco pipes, and often they have the maker's mark. Most were of Scottish manufacture which was quite common around New Zealand at the time."

There were 65 different kinds of buttons found, made from shell, metal and china. Other items include boot heels, slate pencils, belt buckles.One of the standout items for Professor Smith was the discovery of a copper fishhook at the site.

Normally the discovery of a fishhook at a whaling outpost wouldn't raise too many eyebrows, but this one was of a uniquely Maori design.

"That item does stand out, and I have just written an article on it. I compared it with other items in the museum and it fits in with a style of fishhook made for catching kahawai," he said.The professor said it was clearly made by Maori and dates from the 1840s - almost from the beginnings of the whaling site.Once the items have been dug up, they must be cleaned and if needed given special treatment to ensure their preservation.

This was quite expensive so the merits of each object had to be determined. For example, the treatments would not be used to save all of the hundreds of nails found at the site.When all the research and fmdings have been written, when every last scintilla of information has been extracted from every last button, Professor Smith said the artefacts should probably be returned to the district and given a new home at the Wairoa Museum.

"It is such a fantastic place, which has an incredible history and wonderful archaeological sites that help to tell that story," he said."I just hope that there will still be good sites there if and when I get the opportunity to go back."The book is likely to be published at the end of this year and will feature Te Hoe's whaling settlement and similar whaling communities at Banks Peninsula.