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WAIKATO-HAURAKI REGION

by Samuel Harvey Franklin, B.COM.GEOG., M.A.(BIRMINGHAM), Senior Lecturer, Geography Department, Victoria University of Wellington.


WAIKATO-HAURAKI REGION

The Waikato-Hauraki region is an extensive area of lowland some 55 miles wide and 70 miles in length to the south of Auckland. Bounded in the east and south by the Coromandel, Kaimai, and Mamaku Ranges and the edge of the Central Plateau, it reaches the Tasman Sea between Raglan Harbour and the mouth of the Waikato River. The six counties, Hauraki Plains, Piako, Matamata, Waipa, Waikato, and Raglan, correspond roughly to these boundaries and, together with their interior boroughs and cities, they constitute the principal basis for the collection of statistics. The Hamilton Urban Area (population 50,505, 1961) is the leading city of the region which in 1961 had a total population of 167,693 (6·93 per cent of the national total) of which 9·15 per cent were classed as Maoris.

A Favoured Region

Of all New Zealand regions Waikato-Hauraki is today the most favoured; a fortunate combination of soil, rainfall, and sunshine have assisted it to become one of the largest and most productive dairying districts. Its proximity to the port of Auckland has been a favourable factor in its development, but equally important has been the stimulation its development has received from the dynamic economy of the Auckland area. The increasing importance of the region in the nation's economy is revealed by the rapid rate of population growth since the turn of the century; and the manner in which Hamilton has risen from a small town of 1,284 persons in 1896 to become the leading city outside of the four main centres, is but one of the more striking aspects of this growth. The pre-eminence of the region is, however, relatively recent, the expansion and intensification of settlement having been retarded by the disturbances of the Maori Wars and then by the agronomic problems posed by the establishment of a dairying industry upon poorly drained, low-lying soils or upon volcanic soils displaying mineral deficiencies.

On the generalised soil map of New Zealand, the Waikato-Hauraki region is made one of the most distinctive regions by the expanse of yellow-brown loams derived from volcanic ash and by the concentration of peaty and gley soils in the Hauraki Plains and around the extensive swamp areas of the Waikato. These yellow-brown loams are easily worked, friable, open soils, demanding fertilisers and consolidation before they can carry first-class pastures. When these conditions are obtained, together with the warm climate of the region, they permit rapid spring growth and high productivity per acre. Both the organic and gley soils have high water tables and consequently need draining before they can support livestock. The organic or peaty soils demand particular care, for where the peats are acid overdrainage can spoil the soil structure. They require a recognition of local characteristics and careful fertiliser and stocking practices for successful farming.

The Hauraki District

In the eastern part of the region lie the Hauraki Plains, best conceived as a shallow scoop draining towards the Firth of Thames by means of the Piako, Waitoa, and Waihou Rivers. The eastern and higher boundary is formed by the hills of the Coromandel and Kaimai Ranges which reach their highest point, 3,126 ft, close to Te Aroha. The western boundary is a lower, less distinct, and less continuous ridge which, nevertheless, rises to over 1,500 ft and abruptly contrasts with the lower lying land of the plains. The plains are dominantly a dairying region, with more fat-lamb farming included in the southern and western parts, and hence they have a characteristic landscape created by close subdivision, hedgerows, tar-sealed roads, and the close proximity of houses. Near Paeroa, in the central part of the plain, a large area of peat land remains undeveloped, and is used as a ponding area at flood time. Apart from a few small settlements, usually grouped round one of the large dairy factories, a number of small boroughs act as marketing and servicing centres for the surrounding communities. Of these the largest is Morrinsville, with a population of 4,111, followed by Matamata (3,298), one of the fastest growing towns in the region, and Te Aroha (3,060), the slowest growing town. Putaruru, which is situated at the southernmost part of the region, had a population of 3,551 in 1961, compared with 1,040 in 1945. This rapid growth has been associated with the development of the timber and agricultural resources of the Central Plateau, with whose fortunes those of Putaruru are more closely linked. This is even more true of Tokoroa, which, although located in Matamata county, is economically part of the Central Plateau. It owes its growth to the development of the pulp and paper industries at Kinleith. The town in 1951 had a population of only 1,193, but 10 years later it had reached 7,104.

The upper part of the Thames Valley around Matamata, being better drained, was settled much earlier than the low-lying, wetter districts of the Hauraki Plains. After the Maori Wars, exceedingly large estates were established on the light volcanic soils. The Matamata estate extended over 50,000 acres and, in 1899, carried 41,000 sheep, 2,600 cattle, and 184 horses, while 2,000 acres were under root crops and 500 under oats. About half the property was under scrub, fern, and undrained swamp. Eventually these large properties were broken up into smaller farms, either through private purchase and leasing or because of State intervention. The settlement of the Hauraki Plains occurred after the Act of 1908 which promoted the draining and settlement of 90,000 acres of Crown land. Previously the area was a morass and, even to the present period, a short length of railway line by which the milk cans were carted over the wet ground from the milking shed to the road remained a distinctive feature of the district. It was in these areas, especially, that the widespread use of concrete created a minor revolution in the housekeeping problems of farming wives.

The Waikato District

The progress of settlement followed a different course in the Waikato district. At first small European holdings were established and the Maoris themselves became practised farmers, planting fruit trees and selling their wheat to the settlers and to Auckland. At the conclusion of the Maori Wars land was confiscated by the Government and about 3,000 former militia men were established on farms of 50 or more acres. The dairy industry was first promoted during the nineties, after a period when mixed farming was undertaken.

The boundaries of the Waikato are less neatly delimited than those of the Hauraki Plains. The main and central part of the area lies along the wide valley of the Waikato River, especially in the section between Cambridge and Ngaruawahia, but a considerable area of farming land, as important as the previous section, extends far southwards towards Te Kuiti along the valley of the Waipa and other tributaries of the Waikato. Dairy farming is pre-eminent, though fat lambing is also important. There are large areas of undrained swamp in the north near Mercer, Hamilton, and Te Awamutu; and a number of shallow lakes which find an outlet through the swamps. The largest, such as Lake Wakare and Lake Whangape, are near to Huntly, but small ones are to be found near Ngaruawahia and in the vicinity of Hamilton. The landscape derives much from the characteristic features of a dairy farming area. But the addition of the broad Waikato River itself, the more gently rolling character of the landforms, the occasional peak or ridge of volcanic rock or greywacke which breaks the line of the horizon, combine to create a landscape more diverse than that of the Hauraki Plains. The region is serviced by a number of market centres, principally Cambridge (5,290), a fast growing town, and Te Awamutu (5,425). Otorohanga serves the most southernmost districts. Hamilton's functions are of regional importance.

Mining and Power

The western part of the region consists of more broken and higher country, with a lower density of population, and is devoted largely to sheep farming. It extends from Kawhia and Raglan Harbours in the south (both are attractive to tourists) to the mouth of the Waikato in the north. Much of the area is underlain with rocks of the lower Tertiary Age, in contrast to the remainder of the region where Quaternary deposits are predominant. These Tertiary rocks are associated with the coal-bearing strata which gives rise to coalmining in the vicinity of Huntly. The coal is sub-bituminous and the reserves are not only the greatest in the North Island but also rank amongst the most important for the whole Dominion. In 1960,1,451,423 tons, representing 48·18 per cent of the national production, were produced in the Waikato. The mines are sited to the west of Huntly at Rotowaro, Pukemiro Junction, Renown, and Glen Afton, and are linked by rail to the Main Trunk. Mining is undertaken both by opencast and by underground means, and State and private companies are engaged in the enterprise. To the east of Huntly a large opencast mine exists at Kimihia. At Kopuku, mining of the Maramarua field was rapidly extended to coincide with the opening in 1958 of the thermal electric station at Meremere on the banks of the river to the south of Mercer. Its installed capacity is 180,000 kW. Further up the Waikato River, but within the limits of the region, are the first two hydro-electric stations constructed on the river, Arapuni (1929), with a capacity of 175,880 kW, and Karapiro (1947–48), with a capacity of 90,000 kW. The lake behind the dam at Karapiro formed an attractive setting for the rowing events in the 1950 Empire Games.

Farming Significance

The Waikato-Hauraki region ranks as the first livestock region of the North Island. In 1952 it contained 13·41 per cent of the total North Island livestock units and, although one of the most intensively farmed regions, was estimated to have a “readily obtainable” potential to increase its carrying capacity by 35 per cent in the period 1948–75, which, if attained, would leave it, despite the relative advancement of the Central Plateau, still the leading North Island region. During the past decade, 1951-61, the number of sheep shorn has increased by 32·8 per cent and lambs shorn by 86·57 per cent, both rates of growth being above the respective national levels of 29·81 per cent and 6673 per cent. More impressive, as it was against the general trend, was the increase in cows in milk, 6·84 per cent, an increase registered in Waikato, Waipa, Piako, and Matamata counties, but hardly in Hauraki Plains and not at all in Raglan, which is unimportant for dairying. The region has the highest average production of butterfat per cow, 279·4 lb, and accounts for one in every four cows in milk in the whole of New Zealand.

Any traveller in the region soon appreciates the reasons behind Hamilton's importance and growth. In the first place the area which the city serves is a large and prosperous one with a potential for development that in absolute terms is very considerable. Secondly, travel by car within the region is rapid and easy so that Hamilton has benefited from the centralising effects of the motorcar, its growth having coincided largely with the motor age. In 1911 Hamilton borough numbered 4,655 persons, whereas Palmerston North possessed 10,991 inhabitants and Napier 10,537. By 1936, Hamilton's population had reached 16,150 and had surpassed Napier's, but Palmerston North, with 22,202, remained in the lead. By 1961, however, Hamilton was well ahead. The city contains many of the branch offices of banks and insurance companies and a number of Government Departments. Victoria Street offers a well-stocked retail shopping centre. Industry has been attracted to the area and the growing regional importance of the city is attested to by the establishment of an autonomous University of Waikato.

In the period 1953–61 the numbers employed in manufacturing have increased by 28·91 per cent, a rate above the national level. But the total labour force increased by 15·18 per cent, which is below the national rate of increase of 18·24 per cent. Farming remains the principal industry of the region, accounting for 28·61 per cent of the employment. Although 17·2 per cent of the labour force is engaged in manufacturing, this is below the figure for other agricultural districts, such as the Manawatu, which has 22·87 per cent in manufacturing. The increase amongst the Maoris has been remarkably high, 63 per cent, especially in the towns; and the region appears to have experienced marked in-migration. The increase has been general, though the rate of growth in the urban centres, 216·5 per cent, far outstrips the rural rate of 35·62 per cent. The Maori population of Hamilton rose from 594 in 1951 to 1790 in 1961, and that of Tokoroa from 88 to 845.

Factors in Population Growth

A whole series of indices leads one to the conclusion that the economic structure of the region is still in the process of elaboration. Approximately half of the total population is rural. Although the figures reflect to a certain degree suburban growth, in the period 1951–61 the rural population grew by 23·47 per cent, which is a very high rate of growth for rural areas, and the growth seems to have occurred in all of the counties. Urban centres grew very rapidly and the urban population increased by 53·6 per cent, whilst the total population increased at the high rate of 36·66 per cent. In the past decade, therefore, the Waikato-Hauraki region has been one of the largest and fastest growing regions of the Dominion and much of the development has occurred in its agricultural sector. But the region is also destined to make its mark in the manufacturing sector. On present trends, therefore, it seems that Waikato-Hauraki will assume an even higher rank in the national economy than it does today.

by Samuel Harvey Franklin, B.COM.GEOG., M.A.(BIRMINGHAM), Senior Lecturer, Geography Department, Victoria University of Wellington.

Statistics of the Waikato-Hauraki Region

Urban Population
Town 1911 1936 1951 1961 1961 Maoris
Huntly 1,319 1,942 3,815 4,633 286
Cambridge 1,463 2,203 3,020 5,290 168
Ngaruawahia 478 1,394 2,124 3,273 976
Hamilton 4,655 16,150 29,838 42,212 1,790
Te Awamutu 645 2,224 3,878 5,425 223
Te Aroha 1,298 2,366 2,667 3,060 107
Morrinsville 566 1,796 2,824 4,111 75
Matamata 465 1,323 2,127 3,298 97
Tokoroa .. .. 1,193 7,104 845
Putaruru 150 789 1,872 3,551 90
Total 11,038 30,187 53,358 81,957 4,657
County Population
County 1911 1936 1951 1961 1961 Maoris
Raglan 2,907 9,878 10,011 12,079 3,459
Waikato 5,291 12,487 14,139 18,589 1,931
Waipa 4,735 13,511 15,352 21,587 2,232
Hauraki Plains .. 4,796 5,183 5,695 474
Piako 2,635 10,249 11,482 12,487 820
Matamata 2,331 9,197 12,181 15,299 2,055
Total county 17,899 60,115 69,348 85,736 10,971
Total region 28,937 90,305 122,706 167,693 15,628
Cows in Milk
County Cows in Milk Dairy Cows in Milk per 100
Sheep Shorn 1960
1921–22 1951–52 1959–60
Raglan 8,929 32,360 30,664 3·53
Waikato 34,317 92,183 96,062 24·94
Waipa 28,173 84,747 91,174 25·77
Hauraki Plains 21,940 47,760 47,870 74·34
Piako 39,818 111,407 122,366 55·10
Matamata 28,176 80,832 91,909 36·22
Total 161,412 449,289 480,045 ..
Land Occupation
County Average Area of Holdings 1960 Area Occupied 1960
acres acres
Raglan 375 501,690
Waikato 195 358,965
Waipa 156 258,585
Hauraki Plains 173 133, 226
Piako 147 256, 146
Matamata 340 524,613

N.Z. Geographer, Vol. 12, Oct 1956, “The Geography of Power Resources in the Waikato Region”, Farrell, B. H.