The township of Coromandel is situated on an inlet called McGregor Bay and was named after the British Navy ship “H.M.S. Coromandel“ which anchored first off Colville on 13 June 1820. The ship stayed in the Hauraki Gulf for 12 months then went back to England with a load of timber.
Captain James Cook visited the area in 1769. The first European settler to the Coromandel was a trader by the name of Bill Webster, a jovial American who was a deserter from an American whaling ship who set up his trading post on Whanganui Island (which is situated at the entrance to the Coromandel Harbour) in the 1830s. He was a carpenter by trade and after learning the Maori language he used Maori labour to build small schooners and prepare timber cargoes for the Australian market. This island became the proposed site for the city of Auckland. One guest of Mr Webster was a John Logan Campbell who moved to Waiomu and then to Auckland and later donated One Tree Hill to the city of Auckland. He has the “Logan Campbell Centre” in Auckland as a memorial also.
Another guest was Sir George Grey who carne to Whanganui Island to obtain two signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi
Coromandel first became known for its kauri trees, which were milled, clearing the countryside of its natural cover. Thousands of feet of timber was taken from the forests and the ruination of the great kauri forests began. From 1795 vessels were loaded with kauri which would be used for the masts and spars of the British Navy. People began to realise the rape of the forests, but it was too late, as nearly 1/ 4 of the magnificent forests were felled. When milling finally ended, the forests that were once 200,000 hectares were reduced to 5000 hectares. A billion feet of timber was taken from this area within 20 years.
The first recorded gold discovery in New Zealand is marked by the naming of Rings Road, after Charles Ring who discovered gold in 1852. Mining for gold began in the early 1860s and remains of mines and batteries can be seen along the associated walks but there is little trace of the outlying settlements which often boasted schools, halls, hotels and shops. In the peak of the gold rush days during 1880 through to the early 1900s the population of Coromandel was well over 12,000 and had 19 hotels. Some of the old buildings are still standing today.
The School of Mines which is a fascinating place to visit, contains many relics of those early years. It was built in 1898 to teach all aspects of mining and mines engineering.