Inainatū Pile Bay, tucked in behind Rīpapa Island in Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, is today a popular holiday and picnic spot known for its sheltered beach and calm waters. Originally, Inainatū fell under the traditional stewardship of the Māori settlement at Purau, and from the early 1800s the nearby pā at Rīpapa. Once Whakaraupō became known as Port Cooper and then Lyttelton Harbour, Inainatū was named on European harbour charts as Shelly Bay, while most Pākehā locals knew it as Pile Bay. This latter name came from the circle of piles driven into its shallow waters. The date this structure was built is unknown, but four piles marked a cardinal compass point with the fifth master pile in the centre. Small coastal vessels could then use the piles to calibrate their onboard compass by attaching a stern rope to the master pile, aligning that with an outer compass point pile, and adjusting their own compass as needed.
The Gardiner family out of Purau bought the land in 1874 and planted a wind break of pines above the sheltered beach, making the bay a peaceful place to pitch a tent. With access generally only from the waterside, the bay became a favourite camping spot for generations of boating families from the late 1800s into the 20th century. By the 1920s, Pile Bay was the go-to spot for local lads and their drinking parties, especially a group known as “the razor gang". Their fun came to an abrupt end, however, when a staged court case and hanging stunt for one of the drunken revellers went terribly wrong, leading to a real court case and a ban on their ‘recreational’ activities in the bay.
Around the same time, a young Baden Norris, the Lyttelton Museum’s future founder, and his family started making Pile Bay their summer escape. Led by Richard Thomas, Baden’s grandfather, they camped there for six weeks every summer during school holidays. Their setup was simple but cosy, sleeping on straw sacks and lighting their tents with candles. Life at the bay was a child’s paradise – days were filled with swimming, fishing, and sailing. The women took on the role of camp cooks, preparing meals on an open fire, while the men would boat daily to and from Lyttelton Port for work.
Getting supplies was a bit of a project. They brought most of what they needed, including drinking water in kerosene tins, from Ōhinehou Lyttelton. The younger children had the job of collecting spring water in clay jars. Sometimes they would also get milk from Candy's farm over at Camp Bay, and even gather mushrooms when they could. Although they had occasional visitors, the bay was mostly the Norris family's personal summer holiday retreat through the 1920s. That began to change as the bay became increasingly popular into the 1930s, with groups such as the Lyttelton Fanciers' Club boating over for picnics. Then in the mid-1930s Len Anderson built the first bach, or small holiday cabin, out of broken down Massey Harris tractor cases – setting the stage for a new chapter in the bay's history.
By 1939, Inainatū Pile Bay had become a regular gathering place for the Banks Peninsula Cruising Club when they began holding their annual picnic there, a tradition that continued into the post-WWII era. Over the ensuing decades the bay was eventually populated by nine small baches amongst the trees, with piped-in water and a private road being added for modern convenience. As the years have passed, the bay's trees have thinned out and some of the baches have gone, but the lazy summer holiday traditions continue to endure for those in the know.
In fond memory of the late Baden Norris and his writings on the 'Forgotten Bays of Lyttelton – Pile Bay'.