beautiful beach at sunset in new zealand near Westhaven Luxury Lodge
sketch of wellington habour in 1840

Discovery of West Whanganui Inlet

Although a sealing gang were known to have called into Whanganui/Westhaven Inlet around 1836, and at least one whaling crew called in to replenish their coal supplies, Frederick George Moore liked to boast that he was the first white man to call into West Whanganui Harbour.

His was not a planned arrival. Almost as soon as he arrived at Port Nicholson (Wellington) from England in 1840, the ambitious settler set off again, sailing out of Cook Strait with the intention of exploring land in Taranaki. Instead he was blown around the top of the South Island by a fierce gale, and desperate for shelter, went for the gap that suddenly appeared in the cliffs south of Farewell Spit. Here he found himself in a ‘good, smooth, landlocked harbour with sufficient water, reasonable holding ground and grand scenery.’ He took a sample of ‘the best coal found in New Zealand’, whacking bits off the seams that stuck out of the mudflats like rows of black teeth. But it was his find near the end of a small peninsula that jutted out into the Inlet that would most impress him. Here he would come across a small yet thriving group of Maori, one of three such settlements in the Inlet at that time, who had not only ‘built and fortified a sort of pah’, but were cultivating a fantastic garden that filled whole clearings in the adjacent bush. This place was called Onaira Noa back then, but as its later European name of Pah Point suggests, its sheer drop to the water would have made it the perfect place to defend. Moore went back to civilization enthusing that Whanganui Inlet was a place of fertile soils that will ‘one day be deemed one of the best ports on the West Coast of the Middle [South] Island.’

 

he later wrote in his journal....

 

corporate handshake

 

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.....The Opening up of the Inlet

......In the waters of the harbour and on the shores of the adjacent coasts there was a plentiful supply of good fish – mussels, pipis, oysters, crayfish, etc. ducks of all sorts abounded while … the forest and bush was full of pigeons, wild pigs, kakas, woodhens and young birds, food everywhere for the simple catching … plenty of edible fern, raupo roots and nikau. With on all sides a charming fairylike landscape of hill and vale clothed in great beauty and profusion peculiar to the more fertile lands of New Zealand. Here Rewi and kind family were face to face with beautiful nature free at the winds, well housed and apparently happy and innocent of the crooked ways of civilization and its luxuries, they had already cultivated a garden and had Indian corn, potatoes, melons of various sorts and some taro.....

 

“....the forest and bush was full of pigeons, wild pigs, kakas, woodhens and young birds, food everywhere for the simple catching”

 

Frederick George Moore

Little did Moore appreciate at the time that the Maori he met were there only through dint of the musket. They, the tribes of Ngati Tama and Ngati Rarua, had swept down from Taranaki less than a decade before, first of all conquering the Ngati Tumatakokiri of Golden Bay before sweeping over to annihilate their allies who lived in and around Whanganui Inlet.