Oyster River Retreat

Local History

About 4 o’clock on the afternoon of November 4, 1769, Cook brought the Endeavour closer into Te Whanganui o Hei (Mercury Bay) dropping anchor outside the Purangi River estuary, at the eastern end of what would later come to be known as Cook’s Beach.

There, about 1,200 metres from the mouth of the Purangi River, the crew spent a short time the following morning trading with the local Ngati Hei people before Cook invited two of them to come on board. He gave each man a piece of cloth and some spike nails, before deciding that, with fresh food a priority, he needed his men to venture out in the ship’s boats to find some fish. However, their first cautious excursion was unsuccessful and they returned with only a few mullet.

The name of the Purangi River derives from the word purangi* meaning a type of net or bag, more specifically one for catching lampreys, which was a Maori seafood delicacy at the time. Seen from the hillside above, the Purangi River resembles just such a net with a broad area upriver closing to a narrow estuary outlet.

*The more common word for a Maori net, more specifically for eel and a different shape, is hinaki.

But it was not lampreys which so impressed Cook and Banks on the river but the plentiful oysters lining its banks at low tide.

They were so abundant that Cook renamed it ‘Oyster River’ on his new chart of the bay.

Extract from the book ‘When Toawaka Met Cook’ - Mercury 250 Trust, R. Gates, J. Steele 2019 P79