Dargaville is situated on alluvial flats on the northern bank of the Wairoa River and about 40 miles north of the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour. A branch railway to Waiotira links Dargaville with the Auckland-Opua extension of the North Island Main Trunk line. Dargaville is 89 miles south by road via Opononi from Kaikohe, 39 miles south-west from Whangarei, and 115 miles north-west from Auckland.
The rural activities of the district are varied and include sheep and cattle raising, dairying, mixed agricultural farming, market gardening, and fruitgrowing. Wine is made at Te Kopuru (7 miles south-east) and Turiwiri (2 miles south-east). Lime is quarried at Tangowahine (8 miles north-east) and Arapohue (10 miles south-east). There are sawmills at Aratapu (6 miles south-east), Mititai (7 miles south-east), and Tangowahine. At Mangawhare, 1 mile south-east of Dargaville, butter and dried milk are manufactured. Dargaville is a servicing and distributing centre for a large district. Town industrial activities include the manufacture of bricks and tiles, concrete products, joinery, wine, and phormium fibre, as well as general engineering, sawmilling, timber impregnation, and, on a limited seasonal scale, toheroa canning. There is also a large milk-treatment station in the town. Dargaville is an important tourist junction for visitors to Waipoua State Forest (32½ miles north-west) and Trounson Kauri Park (22½ miles north-west).
The Rev. Samuel Marsden visited the district in August 1820 when he travelled overland from Waitemata to Kaipara Harbour and continued up the Wairoa River to the limit of canoe navigation en route to the Bay of Islands. In September of the same year Marsden again passed through the district in the course of a journey from Waitemata Harbour to the Bay of Islands via Hokianga Harbour. The first local European settler was probably Thomas Spencer Forsaith who purchased from the Maoris land around the northern shores of Kaipara Harbour and along the Wairoa River and became established at Mangawhare, near Dargaville, in 1839. The milling and export of kauri timber was the principal activity in the district from about 1839, and from the early 1860s the associated kauri gum industry flourished. After 1900 these industries declined and farming increased in importance. In more recent years large areas of land which had been rendered unproductive by kauri gum digging have been developed for farming by the Departments of Lands and Survey and Maori Affairs.
The town of Dargaville owes its origin to the enterprise of Joseph McMullen Dargaville, a merchant who was associated with kauri timber and kauri gum ventures in the district. In 1872 Dargaville purchased the Tunatahi Block and proceeded to lay out a private township with two hotels at the junction of the Kaihu and Wairoa Rivers. The town became a centre for the kauri timber industry. As overland communication was at first by inferior bullock tracks, nearly all passenger and goods traffic was by sea. About 1883 the Kaihu Valley Railway Co. completed a line linking Dargaville with Kaihu, primarily to serve the kauri timber industry. The line was taken over by the Government in 1890 and subsequently extended to Donnellys but with the improvement of road transport it eventually became uneconomic and was closed down on 15 July 1959. In 1872 a paddle-steamship service was inaugurated between Helensville and Dargaville, but owing to insufficient patronage was withdrawn after six months. Later, a more efficient screw-propelled vessel began a service which ran until the decline of the timber industry, improved road communication, and the completion of the railway link between Waiotira and Dargaville in 1940 combined to make it uneconomic. Dargaville was constituted a borough in 1908.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,809; 1956 census, 3,306; 1961 census, 3,737.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.