The Firth of Thames was well settled by early Maori, who found the sheltered waters and abundant sea food an ideal place to establish their homes. European settlement followed and was greatly accelerated by the finding of gold in Thames and Coromandel. In the early days a timber mill was located on the northern side of the river above the location of the original wooden bridge but it soon closed as the supply of native timber dwindled and the surrounding hills were cleared for farm land.
Just south of Waikawau, Tapu had a large European settlement in the early days and the Thames to Coromandel Road saw growing use as farmland was developed along the coast.
The Waikawau Reserve area has only built up over the past 150 years as a result of the dumping of slip material clearing slips off the Thames to Coromandel Road and coastal action. The area has seen many changes over the last 150 years. The river once flowed south, virtually alongside the present road. It gradually swung north until it established its current northern flow. Interestingly all the Thames Coast rivers now have a northern flow into the Firth as a result of the prevailing south westerly winds building up sand bars on their southern mouths.
Much of the roading and building material used to develop early Auckland came off the shingle beaches of the Firth of Thames. For many years Winstones barged shingle to Auckland from Waikawau. At first the shingle was hand loaded by shovels and wheel barrows onto sailing barges.
When the Auckland tram cars ceased to operate an enterprising local purchased a number of trams for holiday accommodation and placed them on a small piece of land at Waikawau which had been created between the foreshore and the current road as a result of the road being moved inland after continued erosion problems which continue to cause concerns at the southern end of Waikawau to this day.
The Firth of Thames has always been a difficult place to launch and retrieve boats once the prevailing westerly wind gets up. The catalyst for the development of the ramp at Waikawau was a boating accident that our founding president, Les Tanner, and his wife Isabel, had at the Kereta ramp, as Les and Isabel returned to the ramp after a day’s fishing a wave picked up the boat on the ramp and turned it over trapping Isabel underneath it, what could have been a terrible tragedy turned out to be a major win for boaties as Les determinedly set about finding and establishing a safe launching area to the Firth.
Establishing the ramp and gaining the necessary resource consents was no small achievement and boaties owe a huge debt of thanks to Les Tanner, the guiding hand of ex Thames deputy mayor Colin Brokenshire and the founding committee who fought considerable bureaucratic opposition to establish the wonderful asset boaties enjoy today.