Karangahake School and District 70th Jubilee 1889-1959


It is not generally known what the meaning of that beautifully sounding word OHINEMURI is in our language. It comes from a Maori legend of a happening at Turner's Hill on the Paeroa side of Mackaytown during the Maori War and as far as can be ascertained the following is a brief outline of the incident: You may have noticed on top of Turner's Hill on the right of the road from Paeroa a deep depression like a crater. From the bottom of this crater extended a tunnel through the hill down to the Ohinemuri River. A Maori Chief and his tribe were encamped here and used this tunnel. In it the Maori Chief had a pet dragon or Tanewha. There came an invasion by an opposing tribe and the invaded tribe fled, leaving a girl, a daughter of one the tribesmen, behind. The pet dragon took care of the girl. The river was given the name OHINEMURI, meaning "the girl left behind." The Ohinemuri County was named after this river, the source of which is at the back of Waihi. It flows through Karangahake and joins the Waihou River a short distance upstream from the Puke Bridge.

- A. A. Jenkinson.


Does your heart rejoice to find it clear again? Deep down we all felt ashamed to see its original beauty defiled, knowing too that the "tailings" contained poisonous cyanide that destroyed all life. But we have completed a cycle - beauty and fish are there again in this Ohinemuri that was once a life-line to the Maori and a joy to all.

When the great battery which was to win millions from the ores of the Martha mine at Waihi, was erected on its banks at Waikino, the river was publicly degraded by Act of Parliament; it was gazetted a sludge channel. The proclamation stating that tailings, mining debris and waste water of any kind, "used in, upon, or discharged from any claim shall he suffered to flow into it" took effect in 1895.

Karangahake added its quota and millions of tons of tailings and debris were dumped into the river. It was carried down stream, polluting the water, raising the river bed and smearing its banks. Presently the steamers that plied to Paeroa could come no further than the Junction, where the Waihou joined the Ohinemuri. Yet a little while and they must stop lower down at the Puke Wharf.

But the river did not always submit meekly. Repeatedly because of the rising of its bed, its lower reaches flooded seriously. Extensive "stop-banks" were erected at enormous cost, and even now flooding is feared.

Many years ago it was decided that much gold was lost in the early sludge. The Waihi-Paeroa Extraction Company set out to retrieve it. Near Paeroa, a very large dredging, grinding and cyaniding plant was installed and up till 1918 when the Company went out of operation, 907,428 tons of tailings were dredged and treated for a return of 654,864 oz. bullion valued, at £276,211. The cause of the ceasing of operations is said to have been that a particularly heavy flood deposited many thousands of feet of barren material on top of the tailings that were being worked.

Now you must take a trip through the majestic Karangahake Gorge, as far as Waikino, and although you will miss the batteries and their great crushers, the sparkling, cascading Ohinemuri River will reward you just as the wild Waitawheta did, and still does.


What makes any physical thing beautiful? First its form, comparable with our own bone structure, and this includes shape and line; then its distinguishing features, and finally and most important of all, its expression of the life force that animates it; (unless it be still or stilled life).

Think of Ohinemuri in this way. By some miracle of creation we are in the midst of stupendous grandeur. Look towards Karangahake from the Paeroa Road and ask yourself whether you have ever seen elsewhere such a marvellous collection of hills buttressing the skyline. The gleaming peak of the White Rocks, the great hunched Taukani and the distinctive towering Trig flanked by the ridge that terminates in Te Moananui surely form an imposing scene.

Then think of the outcropping of thousands of tons of rock, both white quartz and great faces of grey country rock of the rivers and streams that "sing their way o'er rough and stony track," and of the gorges that cleave the hills. That picture alone is awe-inspiring.

But now take the life. There was a time when ones thoughts were confined mostly to human life and its struggle to survive in these wild surroundings, and of the challenge presented to the introduction of animals of benefit to man. How little one thought of the life that was being sacrificed to achieve man's ends, of the glorious stands of native bush, and of the teeming bird life that sang paeans of praise in these rocky fastnesses. Well may one ask "Where are they now?"

We all know what merciless treatment they suffered in past. Timber was needed certainly, but fire and wanton destruction have taken toll of many acres of bush-clad land, too steep for farming purposes and now given over to gorse and blackberry.

Our own fern and manuka we need not deplore, for do they not provide the ideal nursery for native trees? It is a matter for rejoicing that the secondary forest so prolific and lovely in this land has here done its best to repair the waste, and given a few more years, the young kauri and tanekaha will grow to beauty in a wealth of lesser bush.

A very large percentage of our plants and bird are endemic - they are not found anywhere else on earth. To lose any one of these species would be a world loss for all time and New Zealand is slowly facing the fact. Moreover the conservation of both soil and water depends on controlling and storing raindrops where they fall on the vegetation nature evolved for that purpose.

The call of the outdoors is universal, but here in Karangahake nature has been generous in catering for that call. Blind indeed is he who, having seen, has not loved the graceful drooping rimu, the brilliant rata in bloom, the bright puriri berries against the sombre green of the foliage, the marvel of the great kauri trunks of uncounted age, the quaint but so beautiful titoki berries, our renowned tree ferns and the now scarce nikau. These are but a few of our local flora.

Our trees and our birds are interdependent, without one we will lose the other, so it behoves us to do all in our power to protect and preserve our indigenous forest and birds. Who does not love the medolious [melodious - E] tui and the bellbird (there are still some of the latter at the back of the Trig) the cheerful trilling grey warbler, the shining cuckoo, the bush pigeon cooing in the morning sun, even the morepork with its plaintive call as it comes like a puff of thistledown and departs just as silently. But how long is it since you have seen weka or a kiwi, once so plentiful in this district? By voiding the seeds of forest fruits and eating insect larvae and grubs they played a part in the economy of the forest, but bushmen, miners and settlers took them for food and dogs hunted them eagerly. They were not legally protected until 1908 and that was almost too late.

There are still acres of fine bush on the more inaccessible hills and at least one big kauri remains. Also there is a County Reserve near Scotchman's Gully where a grove of young kauri is protected. (And we hear that the Council has further plans for scenic reserves.) It is possible that with more appreciative eyes and the calmer judgment of - shall we say - age, we shall endeavour to pay our debt for the king ferns we raided, the nikau we ate, the trees we burned and the birds we shot, by doing everything in our power to help to preserve for posterity this outstanding gem of scenic beauty - Karangahake.