Until the 1930s, there were few all-weather roads and ships were the main transportation in Mahurangi. Punts – flat-bottomed, shallow draught, small boats – were much used by early pioneers. They were around 6 to 7 metres long, with both bow and stern tapered, so this made them efficient to row. Their flat bottom meant they could be taken right on to a beach for loading. The topsides flared out above the waterline. There were minor variations around the north, even from one side of the Mahurangi River to the other. They were usually built of kauri planks, with pohutukawa used for curved internal frames.
An excerpt from the Daily Southern Cross newspaper of March 1876 talks of the arrival at Lower Matakana (Sandspit) of the weekly sailing ship-supply vessel from Auckland, where it was soon surrounded by quite a fleet of boats conveying passengers and goods to and from the shore. The article stated that the boats “are the well-known flat-bottom type and quite a speciality on the Matakana River where everyone possesses a boat”.
The Warkworth Museum has a fine sample of a Matakana punt built by Duncan Knaggs in 1918. Knaggs was a Matakana shipbuilder who had worked for David Darroch of Omaha, grandson of the celebrated George Darroch. The boat was built for Edwin (Ted) Woodcock who at that time had a property on the Glen Eden River, near Matakana. Timber from this property was felled and air dried for 12 months before construction on the vessel began. Some modifications of the usual design were made, making this vessel wider in the stern sections. Mr Woodcock used it for about six years. It was then stored for around 12 years before being bought in 1936 by Harry Parry and moved by truck to Dawson Creek on the Mahurangi River. Here it was launched and, with the help of a 2Hp bronze-body Evinrude outboard, was motored across to the Pukapuka inlet on the other side of the Mahurangi River. Apparently, there were no leaks even after all those years of storage. The boat was repainted and named the Betty M. For the next 30 or so years, Betty M was much used by the family for picnicking and fishing. On one occasion in 1930s, she won the outboard motor race at the Mahurangi Regatta.
Later, Mr Parry made some alterations and had it fibre-glassed, as well as having a larger 10Hp outboard installed. He added iron bows and a cover for shelter where he could steer from, earning the boat the nickname of Sampan. On Mr Parry’s death in 1977, the boat went to Eric Barker. He took it out on several occasions, but with all the alterations it had become too heavy to row and was left undercover in the Red Shed at Pukapuka Landing. It was later given to the Perkinson family, who have loaned it to the Warkworth Museum and where it has been restored by volunteers.
Lyn Wade, Warkworth & District Museum