Explore Matakana Coast history

The Matakana Coast region is rich in history. Immerse yourself in stories of Māori settlers, the Bohemians of Pūhoi, the cannibals of Kawau and Dalmatian immigrants who lived in tents on Snells beach to dig for kauri gum. 

Learn about boat building and spars from the kauri trees that lined the Mahurangi and Matakana rivers, and of how Warkworth became host to thousands of military men from America, with 25 military camps set up around the town’s farmlands during WWII.

Visit the old dairy factory in Matakana built at the turn of the century, and the unique Matakana War Memorial, the first sculpture of George V in the world, sculpted from Oamaru stone. Enjoy Goat Island within New Zealand’s first ever marine reserve.

Explore the museums of Warkworth and Pūhoi plus historic sites throughout the region. Walk the Heritage Trail in Warkworth. 

The Matakana Coast lies along the coast of Rodney District which took its name from Cape Rodney (opposite Little Barrier Island), named by Captain James Cook on 24 November 1769 after Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney.

Before the arrival of Europeans to the District, there were Māori settlements at Tāwharanui (Ngati Raupo), Omaha to Pakiri (Ngati Manuhiri) and Mahurangi (Ngati Rongo). 

Matakana Coast begins at Pūhoi, a little village only 30 minutes North of Auckland. Settled by Bohemian immigrants from former Czechoslovakia in 1863, Pūhoi is one of only two ethnic historic villages in New Zealand. A group of 82 immigrants arrived in Pūhoi 124 days after leaving their homeland, having traveled in Māori canoes for the final four miles of their journey up the Pūhoi river. The land had originally been purchased by the Crown, which offered 40 acres of free land to new settlers to try and attract Pākehā to the Auckland region. Descendants of these Bohemian settlers still live in and around Pūhoi, and its pioneer past is proudly remembered by the community today.


Situated between the mouths of the Waiwera and Pūhoi rivers, Wenderholm is the first regional park of the Auckland region. For approximately 1000 years Māori lived in the area because it featured several natural resources. Visitors to Wenderholm can still see physical reminders of past residents, such as Couldrey House, the historic trees, a carved pouwhenua (carved wooden posts used by Māori) and the remains of Māori settlements.

Across the Pūhoi River, at the end of Mahurangi West, you’ll find Mahurangi Regional Park which was the ancestral domain of Ngäti Rongo and there are four fortified pa sites at Opahi, Cudlip and Te Muri Points and above Sullivan’s Bay. More than 100 Māori and European settlers are buried in the Te Muri upupa (cemetery) in the park. The cemetery dates back to 1860, and is watched over by two ancient and sacred pōhutakawa trees. The Mahurangi West Hall is believed to be the oldest school in Northland that is still standing on its original site. 

The Mahurangi River runs roughly north to south between Mahurangi West and Mahurangi East.  Lining its banks were kauri trees which were used to make shipping spars. The river flows through the Warkworth township, and was once the lifeblood of the town with a busy steam of sail boats constantly cruising the waterways, trading between the town and Auckland. These days the river is still in use with the Jane Gifford taking tours down the river.

At the top of the river lies the historic township of Warkworth, the main town on the Matakana Coast. Warkworth was founded in 1853 by John Anderson Brown who named the town after Warkworth in Northumberland. The town of Warkworth was previously known as Browns Mill after the sawmill established by Brown on the banks of the Mahurangi, when the area was just a timber camp supplying kauri spars. 

Bridge House Lodge, established on the site of John Anderson Brown’s home next door to the Warkworth Bridge, is the oldest surviving building in the town and a great place to dine and stay. In 1922 Stubbs Butchery first opened and took over the site on Wharf Street that once housed Bowen’s Store, the first commercial premises to be built in the 1860s. The family-run Warkworth Butchery still stands on the same site.  Although Warkworth escaped the physical devastation of WWII, at the end of the 1930’s it hosted thousands of military men from America, with 25 military camps set up around the town’s farmlands. 

warkworth hotel
Warkworth’s history can be seen as you walk through the streets following the Heritage trail (Maps available from the Warkworth Information Centre and the Warkworth & Districts Museum). Old ruins of the first portland cement manufacturing works in the southern hemisphere still remain.

On the other side of the Mahurangi River lies Mahurangi East peninsula. The end of the peninsula is a continuation of Mahurangi Regional Park encompassing Scotts Landing and the Scott Homestead, once a hotel and boarding house built in 1877 at the centre of a shipbuilding business.

Travelling back along the peninsula to Scandretts Regional Park, there are a number of sites of past Māori settlement, including two headland pā. The land was purchased by the Scandrett family in the 1860’s and run by generations of Scandretts before being sold to the Auckland Regional Council in 1998.

Further up the coast you’ll arrive at Algies Bay. Alexander Algie purchased land here in 1867, sight unseen. He and his wife firstly lived in tents while a large Nikau whare (hut) was built, followed by the building of a wooden house. A boarding house was built by the sea in 1893. The guests arrived by steamer from Auckland and were met out in the bay and rowed ashore in the family punt and dinghies.  The site of the boarding house is still owned by the Algie family who run the Bethshan Motel, offering waterfront accommodation.

Snells Beach was purchased by Cornish miner James Snell who arrived in Kawau in 1854. Prior to this, the beach had been known as Long Beach. Dalmatian immigrants would live in tents on the beach and dig for kauri gum when the tide was out. 

Tucked in at the top of the peninsula is the small seaside settlement of Sandspit which has a great boating community dating back to the 1840s. Sandspit is the gateway to Kawau Bay with Kawau Island only a quick ferry ride away. Kawau was named after the Kawau Paka; the white throated or little shag-cormorant which breeds on the Island.

A manganese mine was established on Kawau island in the 1840s and completely by accident, the discovery of copper was made. The underground seashore copper mine ruins, a pumping engine house and a small smelter remain today. One of NZ’s first governors, Sir George Grey, purchased the island in 1862 where he extended the mine manager’s house to create his stately home and exotic gardens, now restored and open for viewing in Mansion House Bay.

Amongst the surrounding islands in Kawau Bay is Moturekareka where you can see the old wreck of the Alice A. Leigh (renamed the Rewa), a 3,000 tonne four-masted steel barque built in 1889, whose history is directly linked to the end of the days of sail. Alice carried 31 sails on her lofty rig and ran trades from India and Australia to London until 1922.

History of Matakana

Timber resources in upper Matakana (now Matakana Village) resulted in settlers moving up the river around 1848 and squatting on the land until it was surveyed in the 1850’s. By 1853 John Heydn was operating a sawmill at the falls on the Matakana river, he and Peter Campbell subsequently obtained licenses for the area a year later. During the mid 1850’s, flax was being harvested from the area. 

1864 saw the establishment of the first public building in Matakana Village, the Presbyterian School, which served as a church on Sundays. The church, after some time away, has been relocated to The Matakana Country Park and is still in use.

By 1881, the Matakana population stood at around 150. By this time, all the Kauri in the area had been removed, it was then that agricultural practices took over, with fruit being an important industry. Peach wine was popular at the time.

Fruit growing gave way to farming around the turn of the century and a Dairy Factory was operational from 1902, the building is still used today, but as a gift store. (Ironically, many farms have now been converted to vineyards since the 1970’s).

Matakana House Hotel (now The Matakana) was built in 1903. Electricity came to Matakana in 1936, however it still has no ‘town water supply’ even to this day. 

One of the Matakana resources still in use now is clay. Clay from the area was made into bricks at the factory in Brick Bay, near Sandspit. In 1978, Anthony Morris and Sue James set up their pottery factory which grew to become one of the town’s largest employers and 43 years on one of its main visitor attractions.

Discover Matakana Coast’s ‘Top 10’ places to visit

Discover New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve at Goat Island

This marine reserve surrounding the tiny Goat Island or Te Hāwere-a-Maki is one of the most popular snorkelling/diving spots in the Auckland Region as is New Zealand’s first marine reserve.  As a “no-take” zone fish are fearless and plentiful, which makes the whole trip worthwhile and you don’t even have to get your feet wet to enjoy it!  

Less than 10 mins from the township of Leigh you can make a day of it at Goat Island picking up essentials from Matakana Village on your way in, to enjoy on the beach or check out one of the cool eateries including The Leigh Sawmill for a taste of Leigh Fish no doubt caught that day. 

Goat Island Marine Reserve - Matakana Coast

Discover the boutique Matakana Coast vineyards

Less than one hour’s drive north of Auckland City the Matakana vineyards offer boutique wines for tasting, luxury accommodation, restaurants and stunning views of the region a must add to your day out in Matakana Coast. 

The vineyards are constantly evolving and reflect with distinction their sense of place, climate and community and offer one of the most diverse mixes of grape varieties in New Zealand: 28 different French, Italian, Spanish, even Austrian varieties, comprising 11 whites and 17 reds.

Our white wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Albarinõ show consistent excellence, and the climate is also warm enough to ripen such red wine varieties as Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Be sure to taste the silky Italian varieties such as Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Montepulciano.

 

Autumn Vines - Matakana Coast

 

Discover a local favourite Charlies Gelato 

The most challenging part of visiting Charlies Gelato on the outskirts of Matakana is weighing up which flavour to choose. Luckily they provide tasters so you can make an informed decision. From dairy-free sorbetto, to deliciously creamy gelato you’d be mad not to sample several. 

There are a ludicrous number of flavours, ranging from delicious takes on old classics, sorbets (elderflower and boysenberry is a standout) as well as recognised Kiwi flavours including Feijoa and Jaffa.  Unlike other faux-gelato makers, the flavours are truly on par.  The banana gelato tastes exactly like its real-life counterpart, and when paired with a scoop of their dark chocolate, it has an almost uncanny resemblance to freshly made banana cake.  

One successful visit to Charlies will confirm that these Matakana locals are doing their bit to better gelato, in all of its varying forms.

Charlies Gelato - Matakana Coast

Discover the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail 

If you are spending time in the Matakana Coast make sure you take a detour to visit Brick Bay Sculpture Trail (and winery), located less than 10 mins from Warkworth.  Little and large come together seamlessly on the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. Nestled in the grounds of its namesake vineyard, you need only to step into the foyer to find a selection of bijou art pieces – handbag-sized and ready to go.  

Once on the trail itself, which forges a route through a surprisingly wild environment largely managed by Mother Nature, some sculptures grow in scale, while others sit modestly in the foliage. There is a spectacle to see (and often hear) in every corner, from the water lily lake to the burgeoning kauri forest. You can easily spend hours here. Bright dinosaurs are currently proving a big hit with kids, while the commanding follies, constructed every year following an annual competition to elicit emerging Kiwi talent, always draw the eye.

 

Brick Bay Sculpture Trail - Matakana Coast

Discover the riverside town of Warkworth

Everyone often passes through Warkworth on a road trip to Northland or heading to one of the white sandy beaches on the east of Matakana Coast.  People need to plan to stop either for an hour or two, or consider making it their base while exploring the Matakana Coast.  Warkworth is a picturesque riverside town located on the banks of the Mahurangi River, packed with heritage architecture shops and some seriously awesome cafes and restaurants – hint: Chocolate Brown Cafe, Warkworth Hotel just a couple of ideas?

If Heritage and Architecture is your thing a visit to Warkworth Museum with a mock up room of a home that would be the style all over the Warkworth area back in the 1920’s The museum is set in the stunning surroundings of the Parry Kauri Park where you can see the largest Kauri Tree on the East Coast of New Zealand estimated to be over 700 years old.

Mahurangi River Warkworth - Matakana Coast

Discover Pūhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store

Go ahead and pinch yourself. With so much gourmet goodness on offer, you might just think you’re dreaming.  Pūhoi Valley is every turophile fantasy. Brimming with stacked camembert in the chillers, creamy wedges toppling over the counter, cheese tasting by the bucket-load and award-winning blues churning behind large picture windows – and that’s all before the fresh milk, yoghurt and ice cream. 

Just 40 minutes north of Central Auckland, the venue sits in grounds as heavenly as the produce and even non-cheeseaholic will enjoy the native forest and water fountains. Dine like a king on the terrace and then pop indoors to admire the new wheels of cheese residing in the cellar. Polish off your visit with a bottle of Puhoi flavoured milk, the sweetest of treats no matter what your age.

Puhoi Valley Cheese Board - Matakana Coast

Discover Oyster shucking in style

If you’re bivalve-curious there’s no better experience for sampling seafood than on board the Shuckleferry.  Departing daily from Scotts Landing at the very tip of Māhurangi East Peninsula, the Shuckleferry is a unique, flat-hulled boat that takes you on a tour of the harbour’s oyster farms. 

Māhurangi Harbour is also known as the Jade River because of its colour and length, with the head stretching all the way back to Warkworth. The western coves and bays are ideal growing grounds for oysters, as nutrient-rich currents circle through the narrow harbour entrance and into the shallow tidal waters. 

Today, the harbour is home to 13 separate farms, with the largest covering more than 250 acres. 

Aboard the Shuckleferry you’ll learn all about the delicious kaimoana. Like the fact that it takes 12 months for an oyster to grow to full size, depending on the amount and quality of nutrients in the sea. As filter-feeders, each oyster will process 100 litres of water each day, and if they’re left high and dry when the tide goes out, they seal shut. Which also means they’ll keep for up to three days once harvested, retaining all their juices in the shell. 

You’ll have an opportunity to shuck your own oysters and sample them straight from the shell or gently steamed on the barbecue drizzled in garlic butter. 

Shuckle Ferry Tour - Matakana Coast

Discover Tāwharanui Regional Park

After visiting Tāwharanui Regional Park you can see how it can boast of being one of New Zealand’s most beautiful white sand beaches, surrounded by rolling pastures, shingled bays, native coastal forest and regenerating wetlands.  It is considered to be one of the best swimming and surfing venues in the Auckland region and with the shady pohutukawa trees a perfect spot for a picnic which many families can be seen doing during the warmer months.  

A favourite activity is the Ecology Trail where you encounter multiple native bird life – think Takahē and Dotterel: fauna and forest and if you are on a Kiwiwness Tour at night you might might even come across a Kiwi.  Remember as an Open Sanctuary you need to leave ‘Rover the dog’ at home and bring supplies you won’t find in a corner store here!

For those of you who are interested in an overnight stay you are in luck, there is a large campground in the Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary, situated on the north eastern coast behind the sand dunes and between Phoenix Reef and Comet Rock. Beware this is a popular camping spot and you must book to ensure a spot.  

Kiwiness Tours Tāwharanui Regional Park - Matakana Coast

Discover the walkways of Matakana Coast

A fantastic way to discover the Matakana Coast is on foot, exploring one of the many walking tracks on offer with varying degrees of fitness offered.  From sheltered leisurely bush walks containing waterfalls and native trees including the mighty Kauri to coastal pathways offering breathtaking views you will not be disappointed.  

A section of Te Araroa – New Zealand’s Trail also runs through the Matakana Coast, starting in Mangawhai and travelling through to  Pakiri, connecting to the Mt Tamahunga Track then onto Govan Wilson to Puhoi Valley track and finishing in Puhoi

Two of the favourite local walks include Ti Point Coastal Walk a family-friendly walk starting at Ti Point wharf near the Whangateau harbour.  Offering amazing views out to Omaha beach and out to Little Barrier on a clear day.  You are likely to catch sight of local fisherman fishing of the end of Ti Point along with divers looking for the crayfish along the rocks.  There’s a nice picnic spot with a table just a few hundred meters from the start and several good swimming spots and places to play on the rocks at low tide. 

The second is the Dome Valley Summit Track which offers amazing views including a mystical Kauri grove.  The walk itself starting at the Dome Valley tearooms starts fairly easy going but does turn into a serious tramp – so make sure you are fit.  Enjoy the views you will get across the Mahurangi peninsula before heading up to the Dome Summit, making sure you listen out for the native birdlife.  Please note this track does cross land sacred to local iwi so please be respectful and stick to the track.   

Walking Tracks Matakana Coast

Discover one of the oldest Farmers Market in New Zealand

Pick up fresh local produce at the Matakana Village Farmers Market on Saturdays.  Fill your basket with delicious local cheese, artisan breads, handmade chocolates, olive oils, craft beers & ciders, make sure you munch out on a fresh Manaki Whitebait Fritter by the river’s edge while enjoying a coffee from Matakana Coffee Roasters – watch out for the cheeky eels and ducks checking out all the visitors and hoping for a morsel. 

If you can’t make Saturday don’t worry, many of the producers at the market can be visited at the Matakana Village 7 Days a week or purchased at the local ‘4 Square’ and at a number of the boutique food shops located throughout the Matakana Coast region. 

Matakana Farmers Market - Matakana Coast