Hicks Bay, 186km from Gisborne and 15Okm from Opotiki, is also known as Wharekahika and has been occupied for perhaps 1000 years.
Legend tells that many years ago there was a very famous whare-wananga in Wairarapa where Rongokako and Paoa were two of the students. Paoa excelled in navigation while Rongokako was well known for his ability to travel very rapidly from place to place by using giant strides. News had spread amongst the scholars of a beautiful maiden, Muriwhenua, who lived at Hauraki and many decided to travel and claim her for their wife. Paoa offered his rival, Rongokako, a seat in his canoe but Rongokako declined saying he preferred to travel overland. Paoa set off early but Rongokako took only one step and arrived at the beach before him. Rongokako delayed again and his second step took him to Cape Kidnappers where he was again awaiting Paoa. This continued up the coast and at each place Rongokako left his footprint - one at Whangawehi at Mahia, and another at Whangara. At Tokomaru Bay Paoa set a trap for Rongokako but Rongakako was not to be caught and his next footprint was at Horoera near East Cape. He then stepped across to Matakaoa Point then on into the Bay of Plenty and up to Hauraki where he arrived first and claimed Muriwhenua. At each plate where Rongokako stepped, about 8Okm apart, there is a perfect print in the ground. His imprint in the rock at Matakaoa, clearly that of a sandal, is about one metre long.
Long ago a great ariki from the East Coast was drowned by tribesmen at Whareponga. His youngest daughter eventually gave birth at Opotiki to a son whom she vowed would revenge the death of her father. The boy was named Tuwhakairiora. When he became a young man Tuwhakairiora travelled around the coast and came to Wharekahika where he found two young women bathing. One of the women, Ruataupare, took Tuwhakairiora to her father, the local chief, who lived at Tokomapuhia overlooking the Waihirere Falls. Tuwhakairiora was welcomed and blessed at the Nukutaharua Stream. Shortly after there was a great thunderstorm at the mountain Pukeamaru indicating to the people of the area that an important visitor had arrived among them. Tuwhakairiora married Ruataupare and went to live at Te Araroa. In due course all the hapu of the area assembled and Tuwhakairiora called upon them to help him avenge the death of his grandfather. The warriors travelled with him to Whareponga where they successfully attacked and sacked the pa and the people. Thus the murder was avenged and Tuwhakairiora became a famous warrior chief making his home at Kawakawa. During his lifetime he became the dominant figure on the East Coast from Cape Runaway to Tolaga Bay. All the original Maori families of the area can trace their descent from Tuwhakairiora. The meeting house at Hicks Bay is named after him.
The volcanic rocks which form the peaks around Hicks Bay and west towards Cape Runaway are named the Matakaoa volcanics and erupted under the sea before being uplifted. Two well-preserved marine benches on Matakaoa Point provide evidence of recent uplift. Limestone and grey papa containing shell fossils occur throughout the district.
There are numerous historic pa sites in the Hicks Bay region and many have excavated fortifications. They are in varying states of preservation and differ greatly in size. During the Hauhau uprising of the 1860s several of the pa sites on Matakaoa Point were modified for gun fighting.
On 31 October 1769 when Captain James Cook in 'Endeavour' travelled around East Cape, some distance from the shore, Lieutenant Zachariah Hicks sighted a bay. Captain Cook 'named Hick's Bay because Lieutenant Hicks was the first who discoverd it'. Haupara Point was not clearly seen, so for many years the coastline from Awatere River in the east to Matakaoa Point in the west was known as Hicks Bay.
Christianity was brought to this area on 8 January 1834 when a group of Ngati Porou returned from Northland after having been converted to Christianity while slaves of the Nga Puhi. The original St Barnabas Church is reputed to have been built in the 1860s and was destroyed during a severe southerly storm in April 1974. In 1979 it was replaced by the present St Barnabas which stands in the marae grounds. Traditional Maori decorations adorn the interior while the building has a blend of modern and traditional architecture.
Tuwhakairiora whare runanga is one of the finest meeting houses in the East Cape area. The outstanding century old carvings were part of an earlier house. The mangopare kowhaiwhai design on the rafters represents a hammerhead shark, a species which is very hard to kill and has become the symbol of bravery. The only tukutuku pattern throughout the building is poutama which signifies growth and the quest for knowledge. This house was completed in 1955. Hinemaurea, the dining hall is the second of this name to be erected on this site and is dedicated to Hicks Bay soldiers who fell during the two World Wars. The original dining hall was the first modern whare kai to be built on a Ngati Porou marae.
Wharekahika Native School opened in 1887 and was replaced with a new school building in 1945. In 1968 the role of Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, held by the school principals since 1887, was withdrawn. The sole charge Matakaoa Public School opened in 1921 in a room at the freezing works until the school building was completed six months later. This school which catered for children living on the western side of the Wharekahika River closed in 1939.
The derelict remains of the freezing works at the western end of the bay recalls the days of intensive coastal shipping before the road was developed. Farmers of the area started their own company in 1919 but the actual building was not completed until the Gisborne Sheepfarmers Frozen Meat Company took over in 1920. Six permanent works houses were built while other workers lived in tents. Initially the works boilers were wood fired and the supplying of firewood created employment for many locals. However with the opening of the wharf in 1925 and the easy delivery of coal, the works became coal fired. Initially all goods were taken by dray to a surf boat which transported them out to the steamer in the bay, but once the wharf was completed a small loco transported the frozen carcases to the steamer. Road access to the area was primitive so all stock came by foot, some from as far away as Tikitiki and arrived in poor condition, so due to inadequate supplies of suitable livestock the freezing works closed in 1926. Coastal ships continued to service Hicks Bay until the 1950s. The present road from Hicks Bay to Cape Runaway was formed in the 1930s and at the same time the road from the south was upgraded.
The Wharekahika area with its mild climate and beautiful beaches has much to offer. For the fisherman there is beach fishing, boat fishing, rock fishing and scuba fishing around the many rocky ledges. The hard sand beaches allow easy boat launching while swimming here is safe. Lottin Point, a further 23km west, offers majestic coastal scenery and great fishing. Here is some of the clearest and cleanest water in New Zealand for fishing and scuba diving.