Taihape history

Taihape has a rich history which includes early settlers and their lives, sawmilling, development of the district's large farms (or stations), and railways.  Evidence of this history is still all around, making Taihape and district a wonderful place to go on a historical journey of discovery.

Taihape was established in 1894 and its history has been well documented in a publication by Denis Robertson “… give me TAIHAPE on a Saturday night". The Taihape Museum is also very interesting and leaves you with an idea about how life was in those early days!

The Taihape region was originally inhabited by local Maori tribes who settled the area well before the arrival of Europeans; descendants of these tribes still live in the area. The first record of a European to the region is William Colenso's visit in 1845. In 1884, the surveyor's party for the Main Trunk railway line cut a rough track through the district.

Taihape was to occupy a sheltered basin bounded on the east by the Hautapu river which flows into the Rangitikei River just south of Utiku. It is difficult to imagine now but the whole area was covered in dense bush on steep hill county. The altitude is 442 metres above sea level. That, combined with lying in a basin ensured that the winters were snowy and icy and the summers very hot. However being sheltered, the area did (and still does) escape very bad winters.

Taihape has been known by several names in its short history.  Originally the place was known as Korokonui, “the place of the big bird”.  Moa bones have been found locally. When the Christchurch settlers came it was known for a while as Collinsville, after the man who sponsored the settlement scheme. Next it was called Hautapu after the stream, but this was objected to because of a similar name near Cambridge. Another name for the spot was Otaihape, and the township was gazetted as Taihape in 1894.

The first settlers arrived in Taihape in 1894. By that time the main centres in New Zealand were already established and it was from the relatively ‘civilised’ cities of Christchurch and Wellington that a second wave of pioneering families would set out for the isolated, rugged hinterland of the North Island. This ‘move’ was initiated by the Farm Improvement Settlement Scheme. It was not easy to find employment in the 1890s and a scheme was set up by Government to enable settlers without great financial backing to take up smaller areas of land by lease with the option to buy. As a consequence, a group of people got together in Christchurch and formed an association for farm settlement. They named themselves the Collinsville Cooperative Settlement Association.

Two of the members left Christchurch to select the best location from those made available by the government for settlement. After inspection, they recommended the site in the Rangitikei that was destined to become Taihape. There were more appropriate locations in the area however these were unavailable for settlement because the Government had been unable to buy it from the local Maori people. It is also possible that the government thought that settling people in the dense bush would be an effective way of clearing an area to become productive land…

On the 15th of September 1894 the first families arrived and established themselves in what was to become Hautapu Street (the main street). Not all of the original settlers remained in Taihape, however one year after settlement, the first settlers celebrated the anniversary of their arrival of the previous year and this became an annual event and is celebrated by the town even now.

Over the years Taihape grew steadily and a major influence on the town was the Main Trunk Line. The government had long planned for it to come through Taihape. As it advanced northward from Wellington, many of the towns ahead of it boomed – and died. But not Taihape!

The railway benefited Taihape in several ways. Firstly, the business people prepared to service the anticipated boost to their population. Secondly, tunnels needed to be built to the south and to the north of the town, which prolonged the boost to the population. Also, it was fairly widely known that Taihape was to have a station of some size and that would necessitate staffing. The station was eventually opened in 1904. Finally, the growing township was fast becoming the headquarters for the industries conducted in the district. Although a dairy company had previously been established at Utiku, a dairy company began production in Taihape in 1904, and in the previous year the Rangitikei Sawmillers Co-operative Association headquarters were opened in Kuku Street. This focused the milling industry in Taihape. Milling would die an inevitable death as the forests were worked out, but farming took its place and the servicing of farming kept Taihape alive.

Taihape now is a blooming town on State Highway 1 with a population of around 1507 (Census 2013), a thriving business community and over 150 sport groups, voluntary groups and churches.

The photo shows a view of the Main Street, with the original Post Office in the background.

For more information, visit Taihape Museum, 14 Huia Street, Taihape, or www.taihapemuseum.wordpress.com