Taihape is situated on the western bank of the Hautapu River, about 7 miles up stream from its junction with the Rangitikei River. The town occupies a small basin surrounded by hills. The North Island Main Trunk railway and the main highway between Bulls and Taupo pass through the town. By road and rail Taihape is 20 miles south of Waiouru, 43 miles north of Marton by rail, and 70 miles north-east of Wanganui by road.
Taihape is a commercial and servicing centre for a pastoral farming district. Store sheep and cattle are raised on the surrounding hill country. Dairying and intensive sheep farming are practised on the river terraces and flats, and there are two bush sawmills within 5 miles of the town. The main secondary industries of the town are general engineering, sawmilling, joinery and furniture making, and the manufacturing of concrete products. Taihape is the nearest commercial centre to Waiouru Military Camp and HMNZS Irirangi.
Originally Taihape was a small natural clearing in dense bush, somewhat isolated from a Maori route which followed the Rangitikei Valley. It was uninhabited and its full name was Otaihape, “the place of Tai the Hunchback.” The first recorded European visitor to the Taihape district was William Colenso in 1845. In 1884, when the Main Trunk railway route had been decided on, a surveyor's party cut a rough track through the district. The town is considered to have been founded in 1894 when settlers from Canterbury occupied the first 12- to 17-acre sections. Sawmills had been established earlier, and the first settlers were employed as sawmillers and roadmen. The railway line reached Taihape on 1 November 1904 and railway construction workers were able to acquire small farms near Taihape, thus helping further to consolidate the settlement. At first the settlement was called Hautapu, from the nearby river, but the name was soon changed to Otaihape to avoid confusion with other places similarly named. Later it was contracted to Taihape. Borough status was achieved in 1906.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,344; 1956 census, 2,464; 1961 census, 2,684.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.