Te Aroha is situated on the banks of the Waihou River at the western base of Mt. Te Aroha (3,126 ft) in the central Waihou-Piako basin. West of the town the country is comparatively flat, but immediately east the land rises steeply to bush-clad mountains continuous with the Kaimai Range. The Hamilton-Paeroa section of railway passes through the town. By road Te Aroha is 33 miles north-east of Hamilton (29 miles by rail), and 24 miles north-west of Matamata (32 miles by rail). By road or rail Morrinsville is 13 miles south-west and Paeroa is 13 miles north-west. The nearest main port is Mt. Maunganui, 67 miles south-east.
The major primary industry is dairying, but there is some sheep farming on rising open country to the east. Butter, cheese, milk powder, and casein are manufactured in the district and the main factories are at Te Aroha West (4 miles south-east), Manawaru (6 miles south-east), and Waitoa (6 miles south-west). There are meat-meal and organic-fertiliser works at Waitoa and honey is produced in the area. Sawmilling is carried on at Waihou (3 miles south-west) which also has large saleyards, grain, seed, and produce stores. Te Aroha is the principal business centre of an extensive district. It is also a popular tourist and health resort with hot and cold springs developed on spa lines. Industrial activities include the manufacture of butter, milk powder, joinery, furniture, concrete products, and women's garments; general engineering, fellmongering, and sawmilling. There are grain, seed, and produce stores, and a large milk-treatment station supplies Paeroa, Waihi, and Matamata, as well as Te Aroha. The municipal abattoirs supply meat to the whole of Piako County.
There appears to have been no permanent Maori settlement in the vicinity of the present Te Aroha in pre-European times. After 1830, when the Ngati Haua under Te Waharoa built Matamata Pa near Waharoa (10 miles south-east), the area became a no-man's land between that tribe and the Ngati Maru of the Thames district. A missionary exploring party – Henry Williams, A. N. Brown, J. Morgan, and W. T. Fairburn – visited the district in 1833 and later established mission stations near the present town of Thames and near Matamata Pa. Intertribal wars made progress difficult. It is believed that the chief, Mokena Hou (Morgan), an early Christian convert, and his people were the first Maoris to settle permanently on the land that became Te Aroha town. In the early 1880s Mokena donated the nucleus of Te Aroha Hot Springs Domain (administered and further developed by the Department of Tourist and Publicity since the early 1900s) and, with his daughter, provided other areas for church and public sites. The earliest regular European settler was Frederick Strange, who took up land near the future town in the 1870s. Gold was discovered by Hone Werahiko at Waiorongomai (3 miles south-east) in 1880 and miners were attracted to the area. Mining continued with many changes of ownership in plant and claims until 1921, but except for moderate returns between 1899 and 1904 results were relatively poor.
The main settlement which sprang up in 1880, variously called Aroha Gold Field Town, Morgan-town, and Aroha, eventually became known as Te Aroha, the name Morgantown surviving as a suburb. Road communication with Hamilton was possible for wheeled traffic by the late 1870s, but the route from Thames was not practicable until about 1881–82. The railway from Hamilton to Te Aroha was opened for traffic on 1 March 1886. On 20 December 1895 it was extended to Paeroa, and to Thames on 19 December 1898. By 1880 J. C. Firth had cleared the Waihou River of snags and other obstructions and Te Aroha became a river port. All shipping on the river had ceased by 1947. Te Aroha was created a town district in 1886 and in 1898 it was constituted a borough. The legend relating to the name-giving tells of Te Mamoe, son of a Bay of Plenty chief, who became lost in the Waihou-Piako Valley. He climbed Whakapipi (Bald Spur) to the mountain top above and saw Maketu, his home. In a prayer he expressed deep affection for his land and people and named the mountain Te Aroha, meaning, poetically, “the mountain of love” or “the loved one”.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,667; 1956 census, 2,854; 1961 census, 3,058.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.