The area known as Ngatuhoa is at the northern end of the Mamaku plateau – a wide, generally flat plateau dissected by deep gorges carved by spring-fed streams draining from the south towards the Tauranga harbour.
It is a volcanic terrain formed by large eruptions in the recent past ( geologically speaking). The greatest of these, thousands of years ago, was from the Rotorua caldera. The lava contained so much gas that it exploded below the surface and blasted a great hole in the ground. ( Now filled with water, this is lake Rotorua.)
Hot gases, pumice and ash spread across the land at tremendous speed before settling, sticking together and cooling into a rock called ignimbrite.
The ignimbrite layer, which is on an ancient greywacke rock base, ranges from 15 to 150 metres thick.
Since the Rotorua eruption, smaller ones such as Mount Tarawera 900 years ago have deposited further layers of ash (tepra) on top of the ignimbrite. These layers can be seen on the banks of the roads in the area. The best place to observe ignimbrite is in the stream beds with their many cracks and holes.
Plants and trees grew out of the ash layers and today the plateau is largely covered by typical North Island podocarp/hardwood forest, with isolated pockets of kauri and beech, widely dispersed.
The first people to inhabit this area about 250 years ago were the Ngati Ranginui tribe.
Originaly the tribe's home was Mauao (Mount Manganui) and their territory extended from Maketu to Katikati and inland to the crest of the Kaimai range, Puwhenua, Otanewainuku, Otawa and including Tuhua (Mayor Island). Around the mid 1700s they were invaded by the Ngai Te Rangi people from the eastern Bay of Plenty and most were killed and buried on the beach.(Quite recently a heavy sea uncovered some of the skeletal remains, reviving memmories of that tragic day).
The survivors retreated inland and became a subtribe or hapu of the Ngati Ranginui. They settled in various forified pa around the Ruahihi, Pyes Pa and Oropi areas. some of the sites are still clearly evident today.
Because the rich seafood in the Tauranga harbour was taken over by the Ngai Te Rangi these people had to find food in forests and streams in their new environment and were given the name "bush dwellers'.
After the Land Wars, which ended in 1864, an area of 50,000 acres was confiscated by the Government.
This land extended from Tauranga harbour, between the Wairoa and Waimapu rivers and southwards to the edge of the forest, and was largely occupied by the Ngati Hangarau. The confiscation left the Ngati Hangarau people with only a heavily-forested area from what is now the junction of the Omanawa and McLarensFalls Roads and between the Opuiaki and the Omanawa rivers and a few miles southwards. Interesting features of this land today include Kauri trees scattered through most of the Mangapapa Gorge, and a number of streams which have been diverted for a hydro electric power scheme. Much of of the forest beyond and to the west of the Ngati Hangarau land is government-owned and is included in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest park.
Another 18,000 acres was bought by the Gammon brothers who established a timber mill at Omanawa in 1908. About 1000 acres was logged, cleared and grassed for farming, but it was doomed to failure because of a cobalt deficiency in the soil which afflicted the Tauranga district in those days. The area was planted in Radiata pines which has since been logged and farming attempted again.
Adjoining it is the government-owned Puwhenua block, covering 4500 acres. about 2000 acres is designated virgin forest reserve. The area immediately to the north is Maori-owned and though it was extensively logged by the Frankham brothersup until 1975 most of it is still virgin forest.
Other Maori-owned land is being used for exotic forests.
In the midst of all this stands the Ngatuhoa Lodge, in picturesque surroundings of streams, waterfalls and native bush that echoes with birdsong. Our wish is that the thousands of young New Zealanders (and older ones, too) who stay here will enjoy their every moment in this lovely envirnment. And we hope that when they leave they will take with them a greater appreciation of their natural inheritance and an awareness of what they can do to help protect it.