Taylors Mistake has a rich and interesting history and today remains one of the most spectacular and rewarding beaches on the east coast of the South Island.
Historic baches add a real kiwi charm to the area. They cling to the rocks like the mussels at the water’s edge, hanging on against the ever-encroaching sea. More information about the Taylors Mistake baches can be found here.
The Maori name is Te Onepoto (Short Beach). During the thousand years of history preceding the arrival of European settlers, the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island was populated from the North by Polynesian colonists, the Maori.
The first wave of this colonisation was the Waitaha peoples who were engulfed in the late fifteenth century by the Ngati Mamoe. They in turn were progressively conquered from the late eighteenth century by the Ngati Tahu.
Godley Head was known to the Maori as Awaroa, a name which refers to the length and height of the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. The land behind the headland was known as Mahoenui, referring to the large Mahoe (a large shrub) which grew there. The French vessel, Le Rhin, mapped the Head as Kotoki-toki in 1844. It has also been called Otokitoki, however this second name was used to refer to the general area of Gollans Bay.
While the area of Lyttelton Harbour has maintained a reasonably small but stable Maori population, Godley Head itself has had no recognised settlement. This is probably accounted for by its exposed position, lack of fresh water and no easy access to the seashore.
The exact timing and reason for the adoption of the name ‘Taylors Mistake’ has been open to some debate and has become somewhat of a legend. There are varying accounts of ships that have mistaken the bay for Lyttelton and/or Sumner. These vessels, which include the Volga (1858), Chrysolite (1861) and the Gwalior (1853), all had a Mr Taylor on board in some capacity. The Volga and Chrysolite, as well as a smaller vessel captained by John Vincent (1857) all seem to have lost their way near the bay. The Gwalior at least, seemed to know where it was going although it had other issues. The first Captain, a Mr Davidson (“at the time in a state of delirium tremens”), threw himself overboard en route from New South Wales and the mate, a Mr Taylor took over to bring the vessel into Lyttelton in April 1853. However it is unlikely that the Volga, Chrysolite or the vessel captained by Vincent led to the naming of the bay as some excellent detective work (see “Guardians of the Mistake”) has revealed that it was known as Taylors Mistake as early as 1853 (prior to the arrival of the vessels mentioned above). It was named that way in the Southern Provinces Almanac as “Taylors Mistake sometimes mistaken for Sumner Bay”. The Gwalior however, having arrived in 1853, cannot yet be fully eliminated!
The first Europeans are reported to have camped at Taylors Mistake in the early 1890s. Dwellings were commenced in the late 1890s with a dozen baches reported to have been set up in 1910 alone. A long running battle with the Sumner Borough Council, and from 1945 with the Christchurch City Council, then commenced for the right to remain there.
The baches in the bay have a long association with the Club, indeed it was bach-holders who were instrumental in the Club’s establishment in 1916 with almost all of the inaugural Committee bach-holders. This involvement, to a lesser but significant extent, still continues to this day.