Mahitahi is the homeland of Kati Mahaki so accordingly, in this place, they have built their marae ‘Te Tauraka Waka a Maui’ meaning the landing place of maui’s waka.
Archaeological findings identified that maori have been residents at Bruce Bay from 1400. The first interaction between these people and pakeha was at Paringa with the arrival of seal hunters.
Bruce Bay itself is named after the PS Bruce, a paddle steamer operating along the coast from Hokitika to Bruce bay, primarily servicing gold mining settlements. In 1864 Gerhard Muller, a surveyor employed by the Canterbury Proviincial Government, surveyed and laid out the township of ‘Weld’ (Bruce Bay) on the coast line just south of the Mahitahi River.
This town was to service the gold fields along the coast to the north. It did not last long once the gold proved to be in small quantities.
In the 1930’s Bruce Bay Timbers set up a sawmill and township at this site and exported the timber, primarily Kahikatea, by ship from the bay. The town was serviced by road and brige across the Mahitahi River and by electricity served by a hydro power station in the Flagstaff, a tributary of the Mahitahi River. This township was abandoned in 1942 when the sawmill closed.
The current Bruce bay township, on the northern side of the Mahitahi River, was established in 1930 as a service town for road workers on road and bridge construction between Fox Glacier and Paringa as well as the survey of the road from Paringa to Haast.
The Bruce Bay hall was constructed in 1930 by the Public Works Department and sold in 1961 to the local Bruce Bay community for 500 pounds.
The opening of the hall was celebrated by a sports day and in the evening a grand ball, an event which has continued to this day and has become an iconic South Westland event.
Overtime, due to a lack of work opportunities, the population has decreased markedly. The “Lady of the River” church has gone and the local school has closed, but the wider community is positive about their overall environment and encourages new people to come to the district.
Like all of the West Coast, the Bruce Bay area has been subject to many past and recent geological events.
You are welcome to take a walk with John and maybe the trees will tell you a story or two !!!