Story: King Country places
Page 6 – Ōhura
Township 50 kilometres north-west of Taumarunui, with a 2006 population of 165. Ōhura is located in the valley of the Waitewhena Stream, a tributary of the Ōhura River. The Stratford–Ōkahukura railway line passes through Ōhura.
In 1951 Ōhura coal miners went on strike in protest at emergency regulations passed by the National government during the famous 151-day industrial dispute between wharf workers and their employers. No coal was mined in the area for five weeks. The United Mineworkers Union held a secret nationwide ballot on whether members should return to work. The result was ‘yes’, but many miners had boycotted the vote and it was not representative. The Ōhura miners were prevented from meeting to discuss the issue by police, who raided every venue they tried to gather in. The only way they could meet was by travelling to Benneydale, a mining township in the north-eastern King Country.
Māori settlements were located at the junction of the Ōhura and Whanganui rivers. A walking track between the Taranaki coast and present-day Taumarunui ran through the Ōhura River valley. In the 1860s Māori built two flour mills in the area. The first European settlers arrived in the district in 1900. More farmers took up land after the first and second world wars.
Coal mines were worked in the district from the 1930s, and mining underpinned Ōhura’s economy for the next 40 years. It became a bustling township and its population peaked at 654 in 1961. However, its reliance on one industry made it vulnerable – after the state-owned mines closed in the early 1970s many businesses and community services in the township closed too. The last mine on the Waitewhena coalfield closed in 1990.
A miners’ hostel was converted to Ōhura Prison in 1972. The prison provided an alternative source of employment for some. However, attracting staff to Ōhura was difficult and the prison closed in 2005. In 2011 the buildings were being used as a backpackers’ hostel.
The township’s population dropped from 222 in 2001 to 165 in 2006. In 2011, Taumarunui-based company King Country Mining sought investors in order to re-open the Tatū mine.
Rural settlement 14 kilometres north-east of Ōhura. A Māori walking track between Mōkau on the west coast and inland Taumarunui passed through present-day Mātīere. European settlers began farming the area in the early 1900s. Mātīere School serves the local farming community.
Rural settlement 22 kilometres west of Ōhura. Waitaanga is surrounded by forested conservation areas on most sides. European farmers settled the district from 1905. The Waitaanga road ends on the coast at Ahitītī, in Taranaki.
Rural settlement 13 kilometres south-west of Ōhura on State Highway 43. The Tatū state coal mine operated from 1940 to 1971. During this period some of the miners and their families lived at Tatū. The mine site is on Waro Road, which travels west from Tatū.
Tunnels and more tunnels
The transport links around Tokirima are distinguished by a number of tunnels. There are three tunnels on the Stratford–Ōkahukura railway line between Ōhura and Tokirima and five between Tokirima and nearby Tahora in Taranaki. The road between Tokirima, Aukope and Ōhura ran through a tunnel until 1960. After the road was directed away from the tunnel a local farmer used it to store hay. In the 2000s the tunnel remained marked on maps.
Rural settlement 19 kilometres south of Ōhura. The first European settlers arrived around 1904. Children were taught in the homes of settlers until Tokirima School opened in 1910. The Stratford–Ōkahukura railway line passes through Tokirima.
Rural settlement 20 kilometres south-west of Taumarunui. Māori kāinga (villages) and seasonal settlements were scattered around present-day Ōtunui. Eels were caught in the Whakamaro stream. Relics such as fish hooks, mere (clubs) and adzes were found by farmers in the 20th century.
Europeans first arrived in 1906. The native forest was burned and felled and dairy, sheep and beef farms were established. Small-scale commercial sawmills processed native timbers. Ōtunui School was open from 1915 to 2007.
Oil and gas
In 1969 and 1970 an American–New Zealand oil consortium conducted a search for oil and gas around Ōtunui. Two oil rigs were constructed on local farms and a third was placed at Upper Retaruke to the south. None of the sites showed great promise and the project did not get beyond the exploration stage.
Returned servicemen were settled on farms after the First World War but difficult farming conditions – including wet weather, poor soil fertility and steep hill country – led to some farmers walking off the land. After the Second World War aerial topdressing made farming the area easier and more profitable.