Is Howick Beach a hazard?

Local author and historian Alan La Roche continues his column marking Howick’s 170th anniversary.

Since the Howick Coastguard was established at Waipaparoa-Howick Beach there have been few boating mishaps and drownings. But soon after the first settler-Fencibles arrived in November 1847 there were numerous mishaps, some with fatal consequences.

On December 18th 1847 Auckland newspapers reported five were drowned when their boat was wrecked at Howick beach. In May 1848 a “hurricane blew with surges and tempestuous seas” over the Catholic clergy’s schooner breaking its mooring chain and smashing the vessel on the rocks. Local police and Fencibles attempted a rescue. The ship’s cargo of foundation-piles from Waiheke, for the Howick school-chapel was lost. No one was on board at the time. Local donations for a new boat were immediately started. Later that year the Anglo-Maori Warden newspaper claimed the beach was “so bad, boatmen would not risk coming ashore” at Howick.

In 1852 a 25 ton vessel was wrecked on the reef. Fortunately no one was on-board. But on November 22nd 1853 the Southern Cross Newspaper reported that ten Ngati Maru Maori from Thames enroute to Auckland were drowned at Paparoa Point [between Howick and Mellon’s Bay] when their waka[canoe] rolled in boisterous seas. It was carrying kauri gum, potatoes and other produce. Old Chief Whaiapu was drowned. Chief Ngapu held onto his wife and placed her on a rock but when she expired he dived into the foaming surf to die. Thirteen had been on-board. A large waka taua [war canoe] with 100 warriors arrived.
They fired muskets into the air over the ten souls laid out, similar to military funerals of that time, before returning home.

Maori waka are long narrow vessels with little draft and in a cross wind or cross-currents capsize easily. But with so many strong paddlers often singing a chant in unison, it can travel long distances quickly and safely. By the 1850-1860 period many Maori had built large trading vessels. Chief Taraia Ngakuti’s 16 ton schooner, the “George” was wrecked of Motu Korea-Brown’s Island when ten Maori drowned. Maori were generally recognised as being excellent swimmers, whereas Pakeha could only dog-paddle.

In the 1870s a settler with his wife and children from Waiheke rowed his flat bottomed boat to Howick for supplies. But on the return voyage the wind and waves increased and the boat started to leak. His wife was wearing many petticoats which trapped plenty of air so she floated easily until being rescued, but her family perished.

The Howick ferries used to unload their passengers from the ships boat onto the very slippery mud and seaweed-covered Howick reef which ruined shoes and clothing. This occurred even after the Howick wharf was built in 1896. The passengers were regularly off-loaded at Shelly Park Sandspit wharf with a three mile walk to Howick village. Waipaparoa-Howick Beach is a popular beach for swimming and boating but we should always be cautious.

  • Alan La Roche, Howick Historian