Waihi is situated on the Ohinemuri River, an east-bank tributary of the Waihou River, and is about 7 miles from the Bay of Plenty coast. The town occupies flat to gently undulating land. To the north and north-west are the terminal hills of the Coromandel Range, and to the south-west and south are the Waitawheta Hills which are continuous with the Kaimai Range, further south. The Paeroa-Tauranga section of the Bay of Plenty railway and the main highway pass through Waihi. By road Tauranga is 41½ miles south-east (37 miles by rail), Hamilton is 60 miles south-west (56 miles by rail), and Paeroa is 13 miles west by road or rail. Mount Maunganui, the nearest port, is 47 miles south-east by rail.
The main primary activity of the district is dairy farming, with some cattle and sheep farming. There are several sawmills in the district. Waihi is a trade and servicing centre with well developed industries which include the manufacture of radio and electronic apparatus, household appliances, footwear, furniture and joinery, and concrete products. General engineering, sawmilling, and timber treatment are also carried on. There is a boiling-down works in the town and a cheese factory 2 miles south-east.
The name Waihi is said to be of Hawaiki origin, meaning “water gushing out”. Samuel Marsden mentions springs – probably in the vicinity of Waihi – in his journal. He visited the Firth of Thames in HMS Coromandel during 1820, and on 20 July with Te Morenga and other Maoris, travelled through the Waihi district via the Karangahake Gorge to Tauranga. A few days later the party returned to the Firth of Thames along the same route. Gold seekers appear to have investigated parts of the Waihi district before 1870. Gold-bearing reefs are said to have been known in 1869 at Karangahake (8 miles south-west) and around Waitekauri (7 miles north-west). The Ohinemuri goldfield was thrown open in 1875 and active mining commenced throughout the district. In 1878 John McCombie and Robert Lee discovered an extensive lode rich in gold and silver in a knoll known as Martha Hill, immediately north of the present town. The returns from many of the early mines proved disappointing, chiefly because of the inefficient methods then used. The original Martha Mine was sold in 1890 to T. H. Russell for £3,000 and, later, was bought by the Waihi Gold Mining Co., of London. Various mines were developed at and close to Waihi, but the original company working on the Martha lode continued to be the main producer of gold-silver bullion. Another important undertaking, the Waihi Grand Junction Mine, was opened in 1890, and made good progress until 1925 when it was virtually absorbed into the Waihi Gold Mining Co. The cyanide process of ore treatment was introduced at Karangahake in 1899 and soon afterwards adopted at Waihi. The original Martha Mine closed down in June 1952 with a recorded production of gold and silver valued at £28,496,011. The output of the Waihi Grand Junction, as a separate entity, was valued at £2,500,000. Gold mining, confined chiefly to preparation of residues from former mining sites, was recommenced in the district in 1960, and the resumption of quartz mining is contemplated.
In 1884, it is said, Waihi consisted of a bare knoll with a nearby hotel, close to the Paeroa-Katikati road, then in its primitive unformed state and defined only by wheel-ruts. A township came into existence when the Martha Mine began production, and it grew with the expansion of the industry. The railway from Frankton Junction to Thames was opened for traffic to Paeroa on 20 December 1895 and was extended to Waihi on 9 November 1905. The town was constituted a borough on 18 February 1902.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,891; 1956 census, 3,075; 1961 census, 3,164.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.