Slipper Island History

Slipper Island, or Whakahau, lies three kilometres east of the Coromandel Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand.

The island is 224 hectares, 95 % of which makes up Slipper Island Resort.

The Western and southern sides of the island have white sandy beaches while the northern and eastern parts feature rocky cliffs and dramatic volcanic rock formations.

Crater Bay, at the northern end of Slipper Island, lies close to the centre of an old volcanic cone. The eastern side of the cone has been completely eroded, but the sequence of volcanic rocks which built up the cone are exposed in the steep cliff faces around Crater Bay and Double Bay.

The formation of Whakahau was violent - first a series of lava flows erupted, along with scoria. Subsequent eruptions were more explosive and deposited numerous layers of ash and fine breccia over the flanks of the cone, burying the lava flows under more than seventy meters of debris. This latter phase of activity appears to have been short lived.

The remainder of Slipper Island is made up of a single large mass of andesite lava, which predates the volcanic cone. This volcanic activity also created the boulder bank along the western shore of the island, which is a naturally occurring breakwater.

Maori called the island Whakahau, meaning "windy place". Evidence of Maori occupation includes pa sites, pits, terracing, midden, obsidian (probably brought in from neighbouring Mayor Island) and other artefacts. With its ready access to fresh water, suitable agricultural areas, coastal resources, and excellent defensive positions, Slipper Island appears to have been permanently occupied.

The island was an important stop off for canoes traversing the east coast and a place of refuge during storms.

On Captain Cook's second voyage to New Zealand in 1728 he sailed past the island and the neighbouring Motuhoa (Shoe Island), and saw fit to name them both after the footwear he thought their silhouettes resembled. Though he personally never set foot on them, the names stuck.

Slipper Island continued to be a refuge from storms, including for the Tauranga Rugby Team aboard SS Fingal in 1907 on their way to a rugby match against the Mercury Bay team at Whitianga.

The first European owners started farming Slipper Island in the mid to late 1800s, and the island had a number of owners before subdivisions were made in the 2000's. Slipper Island is still a working sheep and beef farm, and has five alpacas.

The lighthouse on the eastern most point of the island is solar powered and is serviced regularly by the New Zealand Maritime Services. It is an ideal walking destination with rewarding views of the neighbouring Alderman and Mayor Islands. The rock formations of Crater Bay and views of the Eastern Bays can also be seen from the lighthouse.

Manaia Reef, off the south-eastern headland of South Bay, holds the wreckage of the steamship S.S. Manaia (previously named Rotoiti) which ran aground on 10 June 1926 while on a passage from Tauranga to Auckland. There were no human casualties but the boiler from the steamship and other equipment left behind make Manaia Reef a playground for snorkelers and scuba divers.

In July 1907 the schooner Surprise was sheltering off Slipper Island in a storm, when she dragged her three anchors, hit Watchman Island and drifted across the mainland where she was battered severely against the rocks. The captain and three young seamen perished, with a crewman who managed to swim ashore being the sole survivor.