When Captain was exploring the Coromandel region he was taken with the size of the trees because of the timber shortage in England. He found a giant tree, but it was difficult to get leaves from such a tall tree so a smaller one was cut down so that the timber could be studied. What he had discovered was a Kauri tree. Kauri’s are one of the largest and longest-living specimens in the world and can live up to 2,000 years. They can grow to over 50 metres with a trunk girth of up to 16 metres. They are the kings of the New Zealand forest. The immensely huge trees, good anchorages and fertile soils greatly impressed the Captain Cook. He took glowing reports back home to England about the Coromandel and bought it to the attention of Europe.
The Timber Trade
Not long after, the Europeans started to arrive and began milling the trees to bridge the wood shortage in England. They were in demand because they were easy to mill and had long straight trunks. The wood was prized as spars for sailing ships and the elasticity of the timber and the length of the tree’s trunk made it well suited for ship hulls. Kauri was therefore an extremely popular material in ship construction. By the mid-1800’s sawmilling was an important industry, but it had resulted in the devastation of the great Kauri forests. The logs were flushed out of the valleys, sometimes thousands at a time by damming a river.
By the time people became aware of the impact of deforestation it was too late as around 75 percent of the Kauri forests had already been harvested. Coromandel got its name from one of the British Navy ships, the "H.M.S. Coromandel" in 1820. Like many of the other ships that visited the Coromandel region it left New Zealand shores, destined for England with Kauri logs.
Today, what is left of the Kauri forests are fiercely protected.
First European settler
Bill Webster was the first European to settle in the Coromandel region. In the 1830's he deserted from an American whaling ship and set up a trading post on Whanganui Island at the entrance to the Coromandel Harbour.
Webster learnt the Maori language and used Maori labour to build small schooners to get timber cargo to Australia.
After the Kauri boom, gold was discovered and mining began in the1860s. Remains of mines and batteries can still be seen along some of the Coromandel walks. In the peak of the gold rush days, the population of Coromandel district was well over 12,000 and had 19 hotels. Some of the old buildings are still standing today.
Today the population of the Coromandel- Thames district is about 28,000. While gold and Kauri milling are a thing of the past, tourism and mussel farming provide a healthy economy for the area. The area is a popular summer holiday destination for New Zealanders. Holiday homes in New Zealand are called bachs and many can be found close to the stunning beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula. The area attracts artists, crafts and alternative life-stylers because life on the peninsula is very relaxed.