The station was the only one in the world that caught whales with nets, and it was Northland’s longest running and most successful station (Prickett 2002:151).
Today the physical remains at Whangamumu represent the last factory based whaling station Northland.
History of the whaling station
Whaling from Whangamumu reportedly began in 1844 by John Johnson and Andrew Gibson. The exact location of the operations and its successes if any is unknown (Weekly News).
Historic Whangamumu Whaling Station
The better-known whaling history of Whangamumu began in 1893 when the Cook brothers George, William and Herbert shifted whaling operations from Outu Bay, on the Raukaumangamanga peninsula to Whangamumu harbour (Boese 1977:372-378).
During the late 1800s at Whangamumu 16 to 20 whales was a fair season’s catch, each whale being worth £100. By 1901, the number of whales caught began to increase with the purchase of a steam launch Waiwiri (Boese 1977:36).
In 1910, the station was transformed into an extensive factory under the name of Messrs Jagger and Cook. That same year the Hananui was purchased, and the netting method was abandoned (Cawthorn 2000:10). This steam powered boat had a harpoon fitted to it and substantially increased the whale catch rate.
The gradual decline of the station had reportedly begun in the 1930s. The depression had affected the market price for oil and the station could not dispose of its previous years catch (Pickmere 1969:29).
After temporary periods of opening and closure, the final episode of the station came in 1940 when the station was extensively rebuilt and reopened however the industry never picked as expected by the new owners.
The whaling station was finally closed down and abandoned when the Niagara sunk and left a crude oil slip in the vicinity of Whangamumu causing the humpbacks to avoid their old route (Boese 1977:377).
DOC completed an upgrade to the site in 2010 including:
- Clearing vegetation so more of the site is visible
- Updating the interpretation
This historic whaling station is nestled into one of Northland's most picturesque harbours, a safe boat anchorage and only a one-hour walk from the road.
You can access the station by private boat or the Whangamumu Track on Rawhiti Road.
Weekly News. 25th June 1903 pg 12
Boese, K. 1977. Tides of history Bay of Islands County Council. Northern Publishing Co. Ltd. Whangarei
Cawthorn, M. 2000. Maori, “Whales and whaling”: an ongoing relationship. Conservation Advisory Science Notes No. 308, Department of Conservation, Wellington.
Pickmere, N. 1961. Last Whaling Days in Northland. Northland magazine No. 14. Manuscript copy
Prickett, N. 2002. The archaeology of New Zealand shore whaling. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.
TVNZ programme 'North'
This video from series 1, episode 6 of the TVNZ programme 'North' takes you to the historic Whangamumu Whaling Station.
View the video on the TVNZ video player.
You can skip forward in the video to view the segment:
Whangamumu Whaling Station: from 1:36 min - 5:20 min
New Zealand Whangamumu Whaling Film 1933
Stacy Woodard of Hollywood, who won an Oscar in 1935, took film of open boat whaling in New Zealand in 1933. Clips of these were used in the 1936 film 'I Conquer the Sea'.
View a video of these clips on YouTube (8:44 min)
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