The Leigh community has an interesting mix of farmers, fishermen (commercial and recreational), divers, marine scientists, retirees and families with young children.
The village was named in 1858 after Rev. Samuel Leigh, a missionary who visited the area. Read more about Samuel Leigh at www.teara.govt.nz
Maori settlement dates back hundreds of years with Ngati Wai and Ngati Manuhiri, the people of the area. At the time of European arrival, in the 1830s, the Maori Chief Te Kiri ruled the district. A meeting house at Omaha Marae sits above Leigh Harbour and is named after Te Kiri. Learn more on local Maori history at www.ngatimanuhiri.iwi.nz
The first settlers came from Nova Scotia and cleared forest for farmland. They also began boat building at Matheson Bay, Leigh Cove and Whangateau Harbour.
A sawmill was established at the head of Leigh Harbour with most timber transported by the sea. In 1939 it was resited alongside Pakiri Road where it operated until being purchased by the Guinness Family in 1994. They converted it into the Leigh Sawmill Cafe which opened in 1996. See more on the history of the Sawmill on www.sawmillcafe.co.nz
A jetty was built in Leigh Harbour and railway lines ran from the quarry to load scows at high tide. The quarry shut down in 1930. Coastal steamships brought day trippers from Auckland to local events such as the Leigh Show, disembarking at the Leigh Wharf. The wharf has been upgraded over the years and services commercial fishermen unloading their catch or filling up with ice. Dive charter boats also load divers and nearby is a small boatramp.
Leigh Fisheries was established in 1957 by a group of local fishermen. Since that time it has been extended with a ice plant and now exports fish all over the world. Leigh (Lee) Fisheries
The Jolly Fisherman’s Lodge at the head of Leigh Harbour was built in the early 1900s and has now been restored. It was used as a holiday place accessed by walking around the rocks.
Mail came by coastal steamer until the roads were established. The old Leigh Post Office, on the corner of Hauraki Rd and Ferndale Ave, is now privately owned. At Whangateau there is a historic boatyard where boats are still worked on. They occasionally hold a regatta and old steam boats and others boats ply the harbour.
The first church service in Leigh was held in 1866 and the church was built in 1915. It was moved to its present site around 1950 and is now a interdenominational church with Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican services and is know as St Michaels and All Angels Church.
In 1964 the Leigh Marine Laboratory was established above Goat Island. Recently a major refurbishment has included the building and set up of the new Marine Discovery Centre.
Several marine scientists advocated to have a marine reserve established at Goat Island. The Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve became the first marine reserve in New Zealand and opened in 1975. Since then it has attracted thousands of visitors who come to snorkel, dive or just view the fish from the glass bottom boat. The marine reserve is looked after by the Department of Conservation.
Daniel’s Reef, one of the most popular surfing spots, was named after a surfer, Adrian Rogers. Adrian always wore a hat and was nicknamed Daniel Boone.
The library at Leigh was set up in 1870 in a private home. It moved in 1880 to the Little Omaha School then moved to the hall around 1890. Many of the records were destroyed by a fire in 1958. A new hall and library opened in 1960. The library operates opposite the Leigh General Store and is run by volunteers from the Leigh community.
The Leigh Volunteer Fire Brigade was set up in 1964 and the Leigh Fire Station opened in 1976. Volunteers have regular training in first aid, fire fighting, cliff rescue and search and rescue.