History of Browns Bay

The Brown family who gave the bay its name moved to the area on a sailing cutter in September 1876 from their previous farm in Mt Albert. Peter Brown initially purchased 136 acres of flat land which was then covered in tutu, fern and ti-tree. He transformed the land into a working farm with an orchard, apiary, crops and pastures.

By the 1900’s holiday makers began to travel to Browns Bay via steamer. Peter and Mary Brown initially provided accommodation at their residence.

Browns Bay in the early years

From their guesthouse, the Browns ran the first local store, as well as the postal services. In 1916 the Browns sub-divided their property, giving visitors the opportunity to buy their own piece of paradise for a mere 100 pounds. As the number of properties grew so did the transport systems. By the 1920’s there was a regular bus service connecting the ferry at Bayswater.

As well as an influx of holidaymakers in the summer, the number of permanent residents grew rapidly. To support the growing population, Browns Bay acquired new stores, churches, a permanent school and numerous clubs. At this point, Browns Bay was the commercial hub of East Coast Bays.

The tipping point for Browns Bay transforming into a suburb of Auckland, rather than the beach resort it once was, occurred in the late 1950’s with the completion of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Browns Bay was connected with the city of Auckland and it hasn’t stopped growing since.

Browns Bay Heritage Walk

Browns Bay is lucky enough to have a vast amount of history available to be seen within its community. Whether you are a local who would like to get to know your area’s history, or a visitor interested in how Browns Bay developed into what it is today, this heritage trail is a great way to spend an afternoon. The guide below contains directions to 27 historical sites within Browns Bay and information on the history of these sites. Even if you don’t physically do the heritage walk, the guide makes for a fantastic read.

History to Note

Skate Rink

During the 1950’s East Coast Bays Borough council built a roller skating rink, which became an extremely popular attraction, especially on Saturday nights. There would be men’s and women’s speed skating, as well as men’s hockey. This was a great social occasion for young men and women to meet. In true 1950’s style, young women would wear brightly-coloured dresses and the men would sport stylish checked shirts, black jeans with an inch of brightly coloured socks showing before their skates. No doubt many matches were made at these social events.

Browns Bay skating rink, where the skateboard park is now. The Whitham and Atkin’s sisters are in the picture.
Ian Morris Collection, Friends of East Coast Bays Library Archives.

Surf Club

Browns Bay surf club was formed in 1932 to service the beaches from Long Bay to Campbells Bay. Two years later, the group was going so strong that a clubhouse was built, and the group was renamed Eastern United Surf Life Saving Club. They competed successfully many times at national level, however due to falling numbers the club eventually merged with Piha and the clubhouse was demolished years later.


The first library of sorts operated out of the Central Store, and the first public library was built in 1970. It housed a relatively small stock of books, but locals could access books from the larger Takapuna Library. Books would be sent from Takapuna to Browns Bay on request. The fantastic East Coast Bays library that we have in Browns Bay today opened in 1982.

Browns Bay Wharf

Browns Bay wharf was an important piece of infrastructure in the early days of the settlement. It allowed passengers and incoming goods to arrive safely onshore. However, the harbour was too low for larger steamships carrying summer holidaymakers. These passengers often had to be rowed closer to shore in lifeboats, from where male passengers were expected to roll up their trousers and carry the women to shore. An eventful beginning for many holidaymakers!

In 1936 a severe storm brutally damaged the wharf. It was decided then by Council to demolish the wharf, as modern transport methods had already begun to reduce the need for a wharf in the bay. The photo on the right shows the wharf being battered during the storm.
storm damage to wharf 1936
Storm damage to Browns Bay wharf, 26 March 1936. The wharf was decommissioned later.
KD Turner Collection
East Coast Bays Library 114

Holiday Destination

From its humble beginnings, Browns Bay has always been known for its relaxing beaches, peaceful atmosphere and accommodating community, making it a number one holiday destination. We’ve come a long way from the campervan and tent accommodation shown below, which Browns Bay was famous for in its early days. We now offer visitors a diverse range of apartments, studios, holiday homes, motels and B&B’s. No need to put up with the dreaded cold showers on your holidays any more!

1962 Browns Bay Auto park
Browns Bay Campsite 1938

Private Holiday Homes

Renting a holiday house is a great option if you are looking to stay for an extended period. There are a number of homes in and around Browns Bay which you can rent at various times of the year. To find a home that suits you, there are a number of online directories. Check out the few below to find out what Browns Bay has to offer!

The ‘Naughty Bay’

During the 1920’s, the development of Browns Bay accelerated rapidly. The 555 Cabaret and Cinema attracted hordes of yachties and all kinds of notorious characters. Occasionally times would get a little hectic. It was reported that over the course of one night five ambulances were required to take the injured to hospital. These were the years of much socialising and jollification, hence the Bay acquiring its nickname of ‘Naughty Bay’. Luckily Browns Bay grew out of these troublesome years, although we’ve never forgotten how to have a great time.


Over the past 100 years, Browns Bay has developed dramatically in order to accommodate the growing number of permanent residents. Today we have around 10,500 residents and over 270 businesses within the area. To check out the businesses situated in Browns Bay, take a look at our Browns Bay Business Association Member Directory.


Browns Bay has everything covered. It punches above its weight in terms of the retail, services, hospitality and facilities available to locals. There is very little reason to shop outside of Browns Bay, so we thank you for supporting the local businesses and community groups! You’ll be surprised at what is sitting right on your doorstep.

  • Numerous Healthcare Providers

  • 2 Great Supermarkets

  • 8 Fantastic Gyms

  • Local Primary & Intermediate Schools

  • Short Distance from Secondary Schools

  • Buses in and out of the town

  • Close to North Harbour Rugby Stadium

  • Close to Massey University Albany campus

  • Over 60 retail stores

  • Numerous speciality stores