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 Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar.
During the gold boom of the 1850’s the suggestion was made that the town become the nation’s 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.
Today’s 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.