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Waiheke Island

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Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is situated in the Hauraki Gulf (Tiikapa Moana-o-Hauraki)

Latitude (DMS): 36° 47' 60 S Longitude (DMS): 175° 5' 60 E

The 175th meridian passes through the island in Church Bay and Matiatia, not far from Mud Brick Restaurant. The apogee of Waiheke Island is in Spain, not far from Gibraltar.

Only 17km from central Auckland, Waiheke is an easy 35-40 minute ferry ride from the city's downtown piers. It is the second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, after Great Barrier Island. Its proximity to Auckland means it has become New Zealand's third most populated island, after the North and South Islands (and it is the most densely populated island in New Zealand).

The climate is often said to be generally warmer than Auckland with less humidity and rain, and more sunshine hours. The evidence for this claim has not been supplied, although in the summer locals note with frustration the dark rainclouds over the Isthmus whilst the island remains parched and smaller water tanks run dry.

Waiheke Island has an area of 9,324 hectares (approximately 100 square kilometres, almost twice the size of Manhattan Island) and a permanent population of around 8,000 residents. Visitors at the peak of summer are said to bring numbers on the island up to 25,000 to 30,000 but there is no real proof. According to former City Councillor, Faye Storer, an earlier community board made up that number when they were pressed to provide a number. The actual estimate could easily be calculated by the ferry counts (inbound minus outbound over a six week period).

For many years considered something of a refuge for anyone in need of refuge, Waiheke has these days become an eclectic community, made of all social strata. Luxury homes pepper the hills and coastline, while the valleys are still full of modest houses and baches.

Tangata whenua

Tribal area: Ngati Paoa, Ngati Maru, Patukirikiri. Tangata whenua for the island is Ngati Paoa, one of the tribes in the Hauraki Confederation. The island's marae, however, is Piritahi Marae, a pan-cultural centre established on a city council reserve at the western end of Blackpool. Its long-term chairman and prominent kaumatua was Kato Kauwhata who died on 11 November 2007.


See also Waiheke local history at Auckland City Library Waiheke was probably among the first places to be settled by Polynesian travellers when they first came to Aotearoa/New Zealand some 800 years ago. A natural crossroads on the routes north and south, many of the smaller gulf islands hosted non-permanent communities. On Waiheke and Great Barrier, however, permanent populations developed. Some of the island was cleared by fire, particularly in western areas. At the eastern end tall forests, later to be mined for tall naval spars, stood.

Soon after the arrival of humans and their companion species (rats and dogs), many indigenous
species disappeared from Waiheke including the giant eagle, huia, fur seal and tuatara.
Investigations of middens (old rubbish sites) on Motutapu show that bird remains virtually
disappeared after the Rangitoto eruptions, and kai moana (fish and shellfish) were the main wildlife
consumed. Following an initial wave of extinctions, for several centuries Maori successfully
maintained a relatively stable co-existence with the remaining indigenous fauna based on
horticulture and harvesting kai moana.
- Auckland City District Plan - Hauraki Gulf Islands Section - Proposed 2006

As he left the Hauraki Gulf in 1769 Captain James Cook dropped anchor off the eastern end of Waiheke and noted its rich resource of tall trees and brought to the attention of Europe the riches of the area.

In 1821 Hongi Hika raided the Auckland isthmus and nearby islands. Local Maori who were not killed or captured fled to the Waikato and the area remained depopulated. Not till the 1830s were the tribes again at peace. By the time traders and missionaries had arrived. From the late 1830s to the mid-1840s much land was sold to Europeans. In the 1850s the Crown bought more.

Extensive crown land purchasing in the gulf in the 1850s left Maori with only two substantial
blocks: Te Huruhi (2100 acres) on Waiheke and Katherine Bay (3510 acres) on Great Barrier. The
sale of Te Huruhi before World War I left only Katherine Bay in Maori ownership until the return of
the Waiheke Station (2050 acres) to Ngati Paoa in settlement of a Treaty claim in 1989.
- Auckland City District Plan - Hauraki Gulf Islands Section - Proposed 2006

According to local historian Paul Monin, no evidence can be found as to what the name "Waiheke" means. Anecdotal stories circulated by tourism groups are urban legends. Monin explained that because of the Maori wars in the area, by the time Pakeha began recording local history, those Maori who would have known the original meaning were dead. The conventional explanation is that it means "Cascading Waters" with an attached story relating to a modest waterfall on the island. This explanation is doubtful in part because except in storms, most water on Waiheke drips - the island does not have cascading rivers. However, Wai also means a form of memory, explained by some Maori scholars as the memory of all that was and will be, and Heke means a migrant or party of migrants. Could this be the island of migrants remembering who they are? Seems to accurately describe many folk on the island.

Note: Some Maori from Ngati Whatua suggest Waiheke may have been a family name. This needs to be investigated.

In a scholarly and comprehensive book called Te Takoto o te Whenua o Hauraki - Hauraki Landmarks (Reed, 2000), however, Taimoana Tuuroa tells a very different story. He says the literal translation of Waiheke is indeed 'descending waters' but Maori history has it that during exploration of in the inner gulf, the waka Arawa made a call at the island and Kahumatamomoe, the son of Tamatekapua, came ashore. "On landing upon the flat rocky shore, he needed to relieve himself and did so proclaiming that his micturating waters had descended upon the land," writes Tuuroa (P193). In this version, the waterfall is even more modest.

Tuuroa spent many years researching the Hauraki lands and their people, having grown up among tribal leaders. His life was filled research encounters, helped by his job as a surveyor. Reed's page about the book is currently down (Nov 07).