By Cindy Clare with input from Maurice Campbell, Donna and Colin ‘Butch’ Mayor

In its heyday in the 1950s & 60s, the Waihī Beach north end, fondly referred to as ‘the main’, was positively buzzing. With the influx of holidaymakers from the Waikato region and the frequent visitation of Waihi residents, this area of the beach was the place to hang out and congregate with friends. With the increased crowds, entrepreneurs saw opportunities and more shops and attractions opened over the years.

One of the most popular attractions, before the cinema, was an open-air roller skating rink, situated near the beach on the site of the current Surf Club.

Local resident, Len Darker, opened the skate rink in 1956. It had a concrete surface with hip high rails around the boundary and a small building where patrons rented skates and stored shoes and belongings. The rink turned a rusty colour over the years, which was thought to be from the scrap metal that was placed under the original concrete surface. It was open every Tuesday night and on weekends throughout the year, and every day through the summer holidays.

Maurice Campbell, was living in Waihi at the time and would cycle on his 3-gear bike from his house, via Beach Rd to use the rink. He remembers there was also a roller hockey club that would utilise the rink and a few people also got involved in figure roller skating.

In addition to the skating scene, interest in surfing was on the rise in Waihī Beach and around New Zealand. In response to this growing trend, three surf shops opened in the 60s. Bob Davies Surfboards was the first, followed by Don Wilson Surfboards on the corner opposite the current dairy, with Honesee Surfboards also opening in the old row of commercial buildings along from the holiday park. Surfers would hang out in the surf shops or by the old brick toilets, waiting for a wave. They would buy a pint of milk and loaf of bread to keep them going during the day and in between surfs.

With the skate rink operating and surf growing in popularity, plus the opening of the cinema in 62, ‘the main’ was the place to be! The rink remained a big drawcard until late 60s/early 70s before it closed; and the surf shops closed in the mid-70s.

The monies raised from the ‘Quick Fire” raffles; held every night over the five-week summer period, paid for the new surf club building. A room set aside for prizes was full of tinned fruit and vegetables. A trip to Auckland procured the purchase of a freezer to store all the frozen ‘chooks’.

Early days at the Waihi Beach Tennis Club


By Vicki Lambert

In the 40s, 50s and 60s, deciding on how to spend your evenings at Waihi Beach, often meant making the call between attending the movies or suiting up in your best dance attire and heading to the ‘Cabaret’.

Waihī Beach Recreation Reserve (located next to The Beach House Café on Beach Road), was once home to the Cabaret dance hall. The Cabaret was purpose-built and hosted some of the top bands in New Zealand, in particular Epi Shalfoon. Stories of the building paint a picture of a vibrant interior with large pillars. Interestingly, laws at the height of the Cabaret’s popularity prohibited the consumption of alcohol inside a dance hall or within a certain distance of a dance hall. This resulted in dancegoers holding parties in nearby rented baches prior to hitting the dance floor.

The big bands, such as The Comets, The Concords, The Satellites (a Te Aroha band) played at the Cabaret Dance Hall and the original RSA building on Brighton Road.

Another popular band of the period was ‘The Wheeler Dealer Band’, the core being a couple of Canadian brothers, who after moving to New Zealand and attending Waihi College, formed the band – a bluegrass and folk band who hit the local music scene in the mid-60s. Crew included local favourite Denis Rowe on 12 string guitar with Mark Chapman on Banjo, Peter Chapman a tenor guitarist and Robbie Aitkenhead on bass.

Many of these local bands were short lived, most having day jobs. The Satellites are the only surviving band and still going strong.

The dance hall eventually met its demise in 1969 when a fire destroyed the building. During the 60s, the RSA (on its original site on Brighton Road), had become strong competition, attracting a large chunk of the dance crowd.

The picture theatre (movies) was a huge, corrugated iron building that was patronised every night of the week and often at capacity. There were no windows, only wooden shutters which were only opened if it became very hot. There was one fire exit at the front of the building which had to be kept locked to keep out free loaders. The seating was cast offs from old city theatres, but this did not deter the patrons. Movies followed a set pattern. The first half consisted of two or three cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Felix, Bugs Bunny, etc., a Movie tone newsreel, perhaps a travelogue and the shorts of an upcoming movie. These were known as ‘the shorts’, during which time latecomers would arrive for the main feature.

Over the years the screenings lessoned at the theatre, and it became a seasonal activity restricted to the busy summer months, until the doors closed in the mid-1990s.

Arguably, the Waihi Beach Surf Club is the glue that has held together the hive of activity at Waihi Beach’s north end for decades. The famous New Year’s Sports Day has origins that date back to 1913. A group of Waihi gold miners started the first community day at Waihi Beach, before the surf club picked up the reigns soon after formation in 1935, continuing the event to the present day.

The Picture Theatre (movies)


The Cabaret Dance Hall


By Vicki Lambert

Today people flock to Bowentown and Anzac Bay to enjoy the summer months and warm weather surrounded by the beautiful green hills, historic Te Kura a Maia Pa and magnificent Pohutukawa, without being on the doorstep of houses and the relative hustle and bustle they bring.

Not too long ago this idyllic picture looked quite different. Prior to 1958, if you wanted to make the trip to Bowentown you had to make the choice from carefully timed vehicle trips along the beach to ensure the tide was in your favour. Or alternatively, negotiate a ford by horse, boat, or foot. For a short while you could travel via farmland and across mudflats. As you can imagine all these routes created many challenges. To make the journey worthwhile, holiday makers started to erect makeshift shacks so they could spend the night. The ‘baches’ built and the inhabitant squatters were illegal. Along with some 30 Baches, a hall was erected on the hillside above the stone jetty.

In 1937 the Labour Government issued a 20-year notice to vacate, so when April 1957 rolled around, the baches had to go. Many of the baches were sold and relocated to the northern end of Waihi Beach. Those that were abandoned or not removed by the final deadline, were destroyed by the Tauranga Council and bulldozed into a large hole overlooking the water.

Not long after, the road was sealed in 1958 making traffic access easy, and the illegal baches gone, the land was returned to public ownership for recreational use and a public camping ground was put in place. The camping ground eventually moved to private lease, and we now know it today as the Bowentown Beach Holiday Park.

The long gone baches at Anzac Bay


By Nicky Mowat

Music, Talent Quests, Tag Wrestling Matches, Beauty Pageants and Christmas in the Park. What? At Waihi Beach? Absolutely!

We had it all, at the famous Sound Shells during their lifetime, in two different locations – the first being where the roller skating rink was, which is now the location of the current Surf Club, and the existing Sound Shell (built in 1957), located in the beautiful amphitheatre of Pohutukawa Park, beside the tennis courts. Incidentally, part of the tennis courts were where the original bowling club was located. The tennis club was formed in 1931 and continues to host strong and popular summer tournaments. The bowling club was established in 1933 and was also very active.

Pohutukawa Park is the most stunning setting at the north end of Waihi Beach, bordered by Poutukawa trees, which flower from December through January. Both Sound Shell locations, have hosted many historical and memorable events. Local resident, Marie Rickard, fondly recalls a performance in the

late 50s by ‘The Howard Morrison Quartet’, with Howard Morrison good humouredly noting the stylish 6 inch nails in the dressing room doubling as coat hooks – still evident today. Some additional highlights were the 1966 ‘Lou and Simon Show’, featuring Maria Dallas, the ‘Sandy Edmonds Show’ with Lee Grant and an upbeat evening with the hip swinging vocalist, Lew Pryme, performing with the backing of the 60s TV sensation, the ‘Go Go Girls’! Barry Jesney, our much celebrated local photographer, has pictorial records of many of these events. He was fully involved with the surf club and the tennis club – and indeed a keen participant in both sports.

Barry also used to compere the Miss Waihi Beach annual pageant – an event that would be unacceptable today. On one occasion, Barry asked one Miss Waihi Beach contestant what she did; assuming she was a student or had a job. The reply was, “I sew.” Barry followed with, “What do you sew?” The reply was, “Cords into men’s pyjama pants.”

The current Sound shell was built by the community and was not owned by council although it is on reserve land. It was maintained and administered by the Progressive Association which evolved into Waihi Beach Community Events and Promotions (WBCE&P).

In this age of engineering reports and red tape, the restoration and revival is a major undertaking. What is required is finance and determined grit from local people in the community, who can put ‘sentimentality’ aside and persevere with the project to fruition. The Sound Shell has been inactive for a number of years. However, WBCE&P are due to embark on re-roofing the building. That’s a start!

1955 Ski Relay Team Winners 


Miss Waihi Beach 1969


Thanks to our sponsor LJ Hooker for taking us down the path of local history.



Sources: Marilyn Roberts; Barry Jesney; Mike Hickey; Sue Hope; Garry Lambert.

References: Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 49, September 2005 – Waihi Beach 1940-1960, The Waihi Beach Story – Hank Hanlen, Bowentown, Athenree, and more Beach Pot Pourri – Hank Hanlen.
More Stories from our community: Waihi Beach North End, Wilson Estate, Island View, Bowentown and Athenree – Marilyn Roberts.

Barry is the much acclaimed photographer at Waihi Beach. Born and raised in the Waihi area, and with a passion for photography, he has captured our landscapes and people immersed in the environment of Waihi Beach, whether participating in sport or casual recreation. Barry has produced a Waihi Beach Calendar for the past 14 years. It started out as a collaboration with Andy from the Flat White – they backed each other with great success.

WBCE&P will archive all the photos and they will be available to the community. Barry has always been most generous in sharing his photos within the community, and has recently donated his collection to Waihi Beach Community Events and Promotions (WBCE&P).