Huntly is situated on the banks of the Waikato River in the low-lying lower basin. The borough occupies a long narrow strip of land on each side of the river. The western side of the river is here called Huntly West. The North Island Main Trunk railway and the Auckland-Hamilton highway pass through the town. By road Huntly is 61 miles south-east of Auckland (65 miles by rail) and by road and rail 21 miles north-west of Hamilton. A branch railway to Glen Afton (9 miles south-west) joins the North Island Main Trunk line at Huntly and serves various colliery towns en route.
Sheep and cattle raising and dairy farming are the main rural activities of the district. There is a butter factory at Taupiri (5 miles south-west). The district includes the northern part of the Waikato Coalfield and there are both underground and opencast mines along the branch railway at or near Weavers Crossing (3 miles north-west), Mahuta (5 miles south-west), Renown Siding and Rotowaro (both 6 miles south-west), and at Glen Afton. Coal is mined by opencast methods from the drained portions of the bed of Lake Kimihia (about 7 miles north-east). Carbonettes are manufactured at Rotowaro from slack coal. Town industrial activities include the manufacture of bricks and fireclay products, agricultural and earthmoving machinery, joinery, fertilisers, and women's garments; sawmilling, general engineering, and coalmining.
In the early 1850s a mission station was established at Kaiotehe, on the western bank of the Waikato River opposite Taupiri, by the Rev. B. Y. Ashwell. It is stated that Ashwell was the first to use coal from local outcrops for fuel. After 1863 the Waikato River gunboats used coal from outcrops at or near Huntly. The battle of Rangiriri, the first major engagement of the Waikato War, took place some 9 miles north of Huntly in November 1863. Wahi (2 miles north-west), on the western bank of the Waikato River, was a chief settlement of the Waikato Tribe until the death of Rata Mahuta Potatau te Wherowhero in 1933. Huntly grew as a coal-mining centre. The industry was established on a commercial basis about 1876 and the first mines were in and near the present borough. Ralphs Mine, at the site of the present town hall, was the scene of a tragic disaster in 1914 when 43 miners lost their lives. Huntly became a town district in 1908 and in 1931 was constituted a borough.
The original owner of the land on which Huntly is situated was Alexander Henry, a former steward of the estates of the Duke of Gordon. Henry is credited with being the founder of the town which he named after his birthplace in Aberdeenshire.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,815; 1956 census, 4,187; 1961 census, 4,617.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.