For Māori, Te Henga or Bethells as it is also known, is a very important location. During pre-European times the Waitakeres including Te Henga, was one of the most densely populated areas because food was easy to catch from the sea and grow on the land.
The long occupation of this area by the tangata whenua (people of the land), Te Kawerau a Maki can be seen in the large number of archaeological sites scattered along the coast, including 18 pa (fortification sites) and at least 10 kainga (village sites). It is also reflected in the name Te Henga, which means 'the food for a work party'.
In terms of location, the Waitakere Valley was strategically important, since it was the major route for
Māori from the west coast inland to Swanson and beyond. Te Henga sat at the junction of the coastal track and this inland track.
Whaling ships in the area led to the first contact between Māori and Europeans during the 1790s. Rev. Samuel Marsden came to the area in 1820 and visited the village of Oneonenui in the Muriwai Valley. However it wasn't until the 1840s that the majority of Te Kawerau came into direct contact with Europeans.
The Wesleyan missionary Rev. James Buller was one of the first to arrive during this time and he visited Parawai in 1844. As a result of this contact, he converted the two leading Kawerau rangatira (Māori leaders), Tawhia and Te Tuiau to Christianity in 1845. The construction of the railway at Waitakere Township in 1881 opened up the land to increasing numbers of settlers.
John Neale Bethell, arrived in Auckland in 1858 with his his family who moved to Te Henga in 1862. The Bethells became a well known family in this area, which still bears their name. Like many others setting up farms, the Bethell family cleared 225 acres of land on the northern side of the Anawhata Stream. Much of this land was virgin kauri and broad leaf-podocarp forest.
A number of dams were built in the Wainamu Valley including one near the Wainamu tramping track. Logs were dragged by bullock and horse teams into the stream beds below the driving dams, or into the lake that formed above the driving dams (called the backwater by bushmen).
John T. (Jack) Diamond M.B.E. (1912-2001) was well known for his knowledge of the Waitakares and along with the geologist, Bruce Hayward, they realised that the areas around them was disappearing fast. They set about getting out into the field recording local industrial archaeological sites including driving dams. These dams were constructed in the 1920s on both the Wainamu and the Wheeler Streams and on the Mokoroa Stream in Goldies Bush on the northern side of the Te Henga wetland. The Hayward and Diamond publication 'Historic archaeological sites of the Waitakere Ranges, West Auckland, New Zealand' (1978) was the outcome of this field work.
The wild west coast has claimed many ships and lives. However, only one is is recorded as foundering around Bethells/Te Henga. This was the Helena, a barque of 265 tons owned in Sydney. She was en route from Melbourne to the Hokianga and was driven ashore and wrecked at Waitakere Bay/Bethells Beach.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the West Coast became a playground for nature loves, trampers and families. This led to Waitakere Falls becoming one of the top sightseeing sites in the Waitakeres.
|Ref: JTD-02E-01755-G, view south showing O'Neill Bay, Erangi Point, Ihumoana Island, Bethells Beach, Pukekowhai Point and headlands beyond, c.1930s, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: AWNS-19381207-50-3, west coast seascape: A view at Bethells (Te Henga), 1938, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
|Ref: 7-A1592, A close-up of a dam in Goldies Bush, Waitakere Ranges, between Bethells Beach and Muriwai, c. 1922, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
|Ref: 4-1346, Painted portrait of Samuel Marsden, 1765-1838, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
|Ref: JTD-15I-05049, View of the railway station building at Waitakere, 1915, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: Copy of a page from a manuscript titled 'A record of early days on the west coast' with John Neale Bethells signature and date Nov 7th 1937, 1966, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: JTD-02J-00233, Black Bridge, Bethells Road showing bullock team bullock team transporting firewood, date unknown, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: JTD-02B-05527-2, Kauri dam remains: Wainamu valley, no.82 dam, Te Henga, 1974, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: JTD-02K-05660, the gap between Erangi Point and Kauwahaia Islands, O'Neills beach, Te Henga, c.1930s, West Auckland Research Centre|
|Ref: AWNS-19410423-28-4, Easter holidays on the Auckland West Coast, Bethells, 1941, Sir George Grey Special Collections|