Whitianga was originally known as "Te Whitianga-a-Kupe" meaning "Kupe's crossing Place". The area has a long and interesting history, with visits to the bay by Captain Cook, who named Mercury Bay after putting in and anchoring to watch the transit of Mercury over the sky in 1769. A cairn commemorating his ship HMS Endeavour can be found at Shakespeare Cliff, which offers spectacular views out over the bay and overlooks Cooks Beach.
Originally situated on the opposite side of the river to the current township, Whitianga did not have a wharf until 1882, and ships anchored off Cooks beach, sending longboats in to pick up goods. The region was a major port for various industries including boat-building and the Flax, Kauri and Gum trades. Over 500million feet of kauri was exported from the region during the peak 60 years of Kauri-miling and ship-building.
The area known as Buffalo Beach is named for a vessel that in 1840 was anchored off Cooks beach, waiting to take on board Kauri spars that were bound for the ship building industry in England. A sudden storm arose, destroying the vessel, tearing it from anchor and sinking it just off the beach at Whitianga.
The first wharf in Whitianga's current location was built by one Mr. Trelease, who had a great effect on the development of the area. Mr Trelease was also responsible for clearing the vegetation from "Lover's Rock", where he found an old Maori store room and hollowed it out to store dairy produce. Close by, the Stone Store can be found at Trelease point on Robinson Road. Mr G.W.White had this building constructed in the 1870's calling it the "Pig and Whistle". Gum diggers and bush workers would come to the White homestead for meals, and could trade for other goods at the "Pig and Whistle".
Lover's Rock was the site of a massacre by Hongi Hika as revenge for maltreatment of his niece. After the vegetation had been cleared from the rock, it became a popular area for couples to come to, and earned its modern name. Nowadays, Whitianga depends mainly on fishing, farming and tourism,
Much more history can be found by visiting the Information Centre in the Whitianga itself. They also have a large amount of information about the area that can be found on the Whitianga Information Centre Website.