In 1842, Surveyor Tuckett found three Europeans
living near the pa at the mouth of the Aorere River. They were building
a trading vessel. The tiny settlement was first named Gibbstown
after an influential resident but later the name was changed to
Collingwood, honouring Nelsons second-in-command at Trafalgar.
During the gold
boom of the 1850s the suggestion was made that the town
become the nations capital, but the good years soon ended,
the miners drifted away and the gravelled streets with their cleared
sections reverted to fern and scrub. Fire destroyed Gibbstown in
1859, another fire in 1904 destroyed the rebuilt village and as
recently as 1967 fire struck again, burning down the hall, hotel
and two shops.
Todays Collingwood is a mixture of
old and new. Modern buildings include the general store, hotel and
memorial hall, while venerable reminders of the past are found in
St. Cuthbert's Church (1873), the courthouse (1901) and post office
buildings. Houses and a tiny campground crowd onto the small sandspit
with the commercial buildings; other houses spread along the coast
to the south or meander up the river bank to the tiny wharf. As
befits a town of this age, there is a small museum in the main street.
People who enjoy rambling through historic cemeteries
and reading stories of floods, epidemics, shipwreck and other trials
of early colonial life from the headstones should set aside some
time to visit the Old Collingwood Cemetery, whose ornate wrought-iron
fences and crumbling gravemarkers are scattered on a rocky hillslope
beside what was once the coach-road to the goldfields. Access is
signposted, either from Excellent Street (off S.H.60) or along a
track behind the Collingwood Area School.
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