Whaingaroa is located on the west coast of the central North Island of New Zealand, nestled beneath Mt Karioi (TeAra 2011). It is known as an international surfing destination (Corner 2008) and is home to a number of commuters who work in Hamilton (TeAra 2011). As of the 2006 census the township had a permanent population of 2,637 (Statistics NZ 2006). The demographics of this population was slightly older than that of the wider Waikato Region signifying its popularity as a place of retirement. Sarah Corner’s 2008 Master’s thesis exploring gender in surfing in the area records the summer population of the township as 10,500, indicating the fluctuation in visiting populations (Corner 2008). This summer influx helps to support local businesses which are known to struggle during the winter months.
Of the permanent residential population of Whaingaroa, 72.6% were identified in the last census as European (compared to 70% in the wider region), 29.8 % identified as Maori (compared to 21%), 3% identified as Pacific peoples (compared to 3.2%), 1.2 % as Asian (compared with 5%), 0.2 % as Middle Eastern/Latin American/African and 8.8 as Other ethnicity (Statistics NZ 2006). This breakdown shows a significantly higher Maori population and lower Asian population. Since the most recent census was in 2006, there may have been some changes to the population in Whaingaroa in the past six years. It is also important to note that due to its desirability as a tourist destination, Whaingaroa is inhabited by a noticeable number of travellers or semi-permanent international people. These ‘internationals’ are often European, North American or South American. They have an obvious influence on the cultural landscape of the township and surrounding area lending, to what would otherwise be an isolated small town, a more cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Like other early settlements in Aotearoa, Whaingaroa has a colonial past replete with missionaries and flax trading, and an indigenous history that goes back several thousand years. The Tainui waka was said to have landed here before making its way to its final resting place in Kawhia. This area was originally named Whangaroa “
”, however, in a typically
colonial gesture, to distinguish it from the more northern harbour of the same
name, early missionaries inserted an “i” (Vernell and Williams 1976). The geographic isolation of the area was a
prominent factor in access in earlier history, and today still appears to be
factor in the size of the town. Early
Pakeha settlers grew wheat and ran sheep on the cleared land. An old setter who
lived in Whaingaroa in the 1890s reminisced in the Chronicle in 1956: Long Harbour
As one who had not seen Raglan for fifty years, I was greatly surprised at the progress and the lovely grasslands which have replaced the scrub and bush. Every person I met appeared prosperous and content, and so from a financial point of view as well. From the sentimental point of view it was sad to find the miro groves that sheltered the pigeons and wild pigs gone for ever. Also, where are those streams that were alive with mountain trout and eels? The bush was chopped by some of the finest axe men… Like dominoes falling, a chain reaction would sweep through the bush as a hillside of trees crashed to the earth. (
Around Raglan) Vernon
In more recent history, Whaingaroa featured prominently in the beginnings of the Maori rights movement in the 1970s. The land known as Te Kopua was taken from local Tangata Whenua for use as an aerodrome during World War II, and was not returned after the war as agreed. Instead, it was leased by the council and converted into a golf course. Eva Rickard is known for leading the long struggle to win back the land. She was arrested in 1978 during a sit-in protest, but eventually won back the land. ('Eva Rickard', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/eva-rickard, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 31-Jan-2014). I remember, as a child, eating slices of watermelon at the festival Eva held on the land every year to commemorate its return.
My family’s involvement in Whaingaroa started in 1967, on January 7th when, on a day trip from
Hamilton, my grandparents, Jane and James, learned of the
auction of a section at . My mother (aged 7) took her two younger
brothers to the Duck-in dairy to buy ice blocks leaving her parents free to bid
successfully on the section later to hold the Sky-line garage batch known as
the Shack, which my grandparents allowed surfers to use. As I type this I’m sitting in a café in Whaingaroa
called The Shack, named, by a former surfer and frequenter of the original
Shack, after the batch that has been gone for 20 years, replaced with a much
more expensive batch. Many other things
in Whaingaroa have changed since my Childhood. The Duck-in dairy was
transformed into a café and is now a Cambodian restaurant. ‘Petchels’ the local
4 Square supermarket was sold by the Petchel family and became 4 Square before
changing chains and becoming a Supervalue, with a sign on the outside ‘Owned &
operated by locals’, despite not selling local produce anymore. There seem to be more and more cafes, gift
shops and local art galleries, more live music and creative workshops, adding
to a more complex and diverse culture. Whale
Whaingaroa is often described as a transient place. Because of its traveller-friendly culture it often become the temporary home of travellers for months or years before visas run out or other commitments call people back. There are noticeable numbers of German, French and other European residents, both short and long term. People often fall in love with the small, diverse township, with the casual lifestyle and the breathtaking views, and don’t want to leave.
The population can be described as a wide variety of overlapping subcultures. There is the older generation of retirees who congregate at the Light Exercise Group, the botanical society, the museum society and the club. Some have live here most of their lives, others have deliberately retired to the sea side. There are the people who commute to
and those who can work from home. Overlapping with these working groups are is
the large number of young families, whose incomes and education levels vary
widely. There is a larger-than-usual population of people who can be loosely
described as lefties, greenies and arty-bohemian types. Hamilton
A typical social gathering in Whaingaroa will be comprised of some cross section of the population. An art exhibition opening at the Old School Arts Center will host a sampling of all ages who happen to be interested in the arts. Sunday Sessions at the Yot Club, where local DJs play in the courtyard in the summer, will appear to be populated by trendy socialites, some of whom are parents while some are travellers or visiting out-of-towners. A talk at Xtreme Zero Waste, the local recycling centre will be attended by the more politically and environmentally motivated: members of the community who are active in environmental education, recycling and upcycling.
Many people experience Whaingaroa as a very friendly place. In a small town it doesn’t take long to get to know the familiar faces. It is common for new acquaintances to hug or kiss on the cheek, although, it is a common experience for this friendly-acquaintance level to continue without deepening into deeper friendship. In such a transient place, people tend to have their established close social groups, or ‘inner circles’ [David Foote]. These are overlapping and tend to form slowly.
In the summer, when the population quadruples in size due to holiday-season, people express relief in seeing a familiar face and even more relief when the autumn sets in and the pace quietens. The holiday season is widely regarded as ‘a bit of a pain’ with parking problems and crowded spaces, but also regarded as good for business. Many local businesses make the majority of their money over the summer and struggle to stay afloat during the quieter months. Although Whaingaroa is less popular as a holiday destination in colder seasons, the surf is still good, so even in the winter there is international tourism, to a lesser degree.
There is a richness to the small township that goes well beyond its financial prosperity. People who have relatively low incomes are able to attain a quality of life that is more dependent on relationships, community activities and creative pursuits than just on financial means. Whaingaroa has a reputation for being progressive with its art, recycling, environmental and local food initiatives, but this is largely a recent development. Twenty years ago, aside from being a surfing destination, it was much like any other small seaside town. There are numerous complex factors that have lead to these developments, compared to other places. Geographically, Whaingaroa is on the wilder west-coast of the
, and is,
therefore, less desirable for wealthy holiday-home owners who tend to prefer
the east-coast’s white sandy beaches rather than black iron sand. There was also a council initiative to
purchase prime land, which was proposed for development, and turn it into
Wainui Reserve, thus saving the land from being used for luxury
beach-houses. There was the early
development of trendy cafes which has created a café-culture – which was added
to by the local coffee roastery: Raglan Roast.
Combined efforts have led to Whaingaroa having a large number of
espresso machines per head of population. North
The beginnings many community initiatives in Whaingaroa can be traced back to the Harbor Care Report. In the mid-1990s the Whaingaroa harbour became so polluted, large due to the management of surrounding farmland. This problem brought a number of interested community members together to devise the report. Since then, many of these people have been involved in setting up other things including Xtreme Waste, small organic farms and facilities for providing social and environmental education.