The Strange And Curious Tale Of Black Jack
Kuaotunu is a small, sleepy seaside village on the eastern cost of the Coromandel Peninsula. The focal point is an old store and historic hall with the recent addition of Lukes Café and Pizza restaurant, all hidden away just off the main highway. It first developed as a settlement in the gold rush era of the late 1890’s. The gold mining continued before gradually dwindling away in the 1930’s. Later in the 1950’s, Otama and Opito Bay, just over the hill from Kuaotunu, started to become popular as a holiday destination.
Just before that time, in the summer of 1956, a stranger arrived in the village. He rowed in one evening from an old kauri sloop anchored in the bay. Pulling his dinghy up onto the beach, he secured it to a wooden post, grabbed a heavy sack from the back of the boat and proceeded to carry it up the old gravel track leading to Otama before disappearing into the surrounding hills.
The short and stocky stranger reappeared a couple of days later, without the sack. He had long, dark, straggly hair and sported a crude tattoo of skull and crossbones on his right shoulder, all of which gave him a rather sinister appearance. He stopped in at the local store and saying nothing purchased a few supplies before heading back to the sloop in his dinghy and sailing away. The store keeper later recounted that “he was not the sort of joker you would strike up a conversation with”.
The stranger arrived back in the distinctive sloop a few months later and again headed up the gravel track with a heavy sack. He reappeared the next day without the sack and purchased some supplies from the local store before sailing away.
The locals were intrigued, and all sorts of rumours were going around the district. Perhaps he was a smuggler selling illicit produce to someone or was he bringing in a treasure of some sort and hiding it in the hills?
A plan was hatched to keep an eye out for the stranger, and if he turns up again to follow him and find out what he was up to. Sure enough, a few months later the sloop was spotted arriving in the bay. Young George Bennet ran over to the store and grabbed a pair of binoculars and headed up the hill to get a better view. His heart was pounding but as he relaxed he could see the name “Black Jack” clearly painted on the side of the boat. The stranger was walking around on the deck, but it was only 3pm in the afternoon and if he was true to form he would not head into the village until the early evening.
George ran back down to the village and excitedly gathered up two of his mates, Crusty and Norm. They grabbed some gear and a torch each. They let the store owner know of their intentions and then waited in watch for their visitor to head to the shore in his dingy. As soon as he was underway they went and hid in the bush near the start of the old gravel track.
It was beginning to get dark when they heard the crunch of footprints on gravel. They peeked out from their hideout and saw the stranger walking slowly up the hill. He was carrying the sack over his right shoulder and somewhat worryingly a machete in his left hand. They let him get about 100 yards in front and then started to follow him, sticking close to the side of the track. They were all quite scared and could hear the steady thumping of their hearts.
The stranger ducked into the bush near the top of the hill and started to follow an old ridge track. By now it was quite dark, but fortunately there was a full moon and the young men could see the shadowy figure in front without the need for their torches.
Later the next morning the stranger arrived back in the village minus the sack and without buying any provisions jumped into his dingy, rowed back to the sloop and sailed away.
The young men did not arrive home that day and the worried locals informed the Whitianga police station who organised a search party. Most of the village came out to help and they spent the whole of the next day combing the surrounding bush, but to no avail. The next day they brought in the Police bloodhound from Hamilton and using the scent from a pair of Crusty’s old trousers the bloodhound took off along the track and eventually found the young men shivering and hungry and huddled on a bluff.
They had followed ‘Black Jack” for most of the night and just on dawn he vanished into thin air. He had walked all night, following old trails and animal tracks. When he disappeared, the young men were high up in the surrounding hills and completely lost.
Black Jack was never seen again and to this day a few of the older locals still speculate that there is treasure buried somewhere in the nearby hills. Just to remind them, when they widened the track between Kuaotunu and Opito Bay in 1958, they named it “Black Jack Road”.
If you take place in the 2019 adventure race you will get to follow the trails recounted to us by old George. Who knows you may even stumble across the treasure and help solve the mystery of Black Jack.