Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945
Undeveloped Lands and Unmetalled Roads
(Contributed by Mr Courtenay Kenny, Paeroa)
Prior to 1885 the Thames County extended almost to the town of Te Aroha. The actual southern boundary, starting from the Trig Station on Te Aroha Mountain, ran in a north-easterly direction in a straight line to the Waihi Beach; and from the same Trig Station due west to the range of hills forming what is now the western boundary of the Piako and Hauraki Plains Counties.
In the year 1885 that portion of the Thames County to the south of the Hikutaia Stream was cut off and gazetted as the Ohinemuri County. Starting from the junction of the Hikutaia Stream with the Waihou River, the new boundary ran due west to the western boundary of the Thames County, and in an easterly direction up the Hikutaia Stream, and its tributary, the Waipaheke Stream, thence over the ranges to the Otahu Stream, which it followed to the sea coast.
A Council was formed and by 1887 the new local body had found its feet, had appointed a permanent clerk and engineer, and was in working order. The ridings and representation on the Council were: Paeroa Riding, three members; Waitekauri Riding, two members; Karangahake Riding, two members; and Waitoa Riding, one member.
In the early days of the County, say, in the eighteen-nineties, there was quite a large part entirely undeveloped. All of that portion lying to the west of the Waihou River, with the exception of part of the Waitoa Riding now known as Elstow, and a small amount of settlement along the river in the vicinity of Netherton, was practically roadless and uninhabited.
The area comprising the portion covered by the Coromandel Range was also for the most part uninhabited and roadless.
There were the small mining townships of Waitekauri and Maratoto, which was scarcely more than a mining camp, and also kauri bush-fellers' camps on the Waipaheke Stream in this area, and these, with the exception of Waitekauri, were only supplied by a pack-horse service.
The headquarters of the Council was in Paeroa, with a small two-roomed building fronting on Cassrels Street, and just behind where the Criterion Hotel now stands, as an office. The other small centres were Karangahake, Owharoa and Waihi.
At this time the Waihi Plains were entirely undeveloped as a farming district; also the area bounded on the north by the Hikutaia Stream, on the south by the Komata Stream, on the east by the Thames Road, and on the west by the Waihou River, was practically untouched as a farming district, although a considerable amount of kahikatea timber was being taken off it and rafted to mills near the mouth of the river.
When the new County was formed, only the following main roads were in existence:—
Hikutaia Stream to Paeroa, about six miles; Paeroa to Te Aroha, the old road over the Rotokohu Range, about 13 miles; the road to Waihi, about 14 miles; and the road from Waihi to Tauranga, about four miles of which lay in the Ohinemuri County, this part being only roughly formed and partly metalled.
There were seven or eight miles of formed road in the Waitoa Riding, which were level and of a sandy nature. A short unimportant un-metalled road led from Paeroa to a landing near the old junction of the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers, a distance of about one mile.
Some years later the head of navigation was shifted from Paeroa to this junction landing, and for a period, prior to the completion of the railway and even after, this was the most important road inthe County. Practically all goods of every description to supply Paeroa and the whole of the goldfields passed over it. When the shipping ceased to come up to the junction, and made the Puke the port, it reverted to the status of a quiet country road, and the road to the Puke became the important artery.
There was a side road from the Paeroa-Thames main road branching to the west about half a mile north of the Komata Bridge. It was known as the Rangiora Road and was about 1½ miles in length, finishing on the eastern bank of the Waihou River, where there was a ferry installed. This road was at that time (the early 'nineties) the only means of land access to the Netherton area west of the river. There were no formed roads on that side, only riding tracks. All supplies for the Netherton settler's came up the river by steamer.
To give a short description of the above roads at that time: The portion of the Thames Road in the County was only partly metalled, and in places had not got beyond the fascine stage. It was a fairly good summer road, and the coach to Thames did the trip in about 2½ hours, changinghorses at Hikutaia, but in winter the journey sometimes took four to five hours.
The road to Te Aroha, nowknown as the Old Te Aroha Road, crossed the range of hills to the south, overwhat was known as the Rotokohu Gorge, although there was actually no gorge, just a somewhat steep and tortuous climb up one side and down the other. Once clear of the hills, the road ran over open, idling country in a direct line to Te Aroha. It was only partly metalled, but apart from a daily coach, did not carry much regular traffic. Te Aroha's needs to a great extent were supplied by sea and river communication direct from Auckland.
The most important road in the County was that to the rising mining town of Waihi, which it served, also serving the smaller townships en route. The route of the original road differed considerably in places from that of the present one. The old road turned sharply to the left at the Mackaytown Hotel (since removed), and climbed over the Rahu Hill and down to the Ohinemuri River about two miles further on. A side road ran to Karangahake; the present gorge road had not then been made. Thence it followed the same course as the present road, along the north bank of the Ohinemuri River to what is now Waikino, then again turning to the left away from the river, climbed over a considerable elevation known as Earl's Hill, and descended to the Waitekauri Creek. From there it pursued a fairly direct course to the Waitete Stream, about one mile west of Waihi. From this point to Waihi the old and new routes were practically identical.
Communication to Waitekauri was by a road branching from the Waihi Road on Earl's Hill, length about four miles. This was a very rough road, and in winter had to be kept in a more or less passable state by corduroy. (For those who do not know, corduroy is formed of logs from about six to eight inches in diameter laid crosswise over boggy patches to enable traffic to get through.)
Note: The Mackaytown Hotel mentioned earlier was owned and run by an old Irishman, Carrol Nash, who for many years represented the Karangahake Riding on the Council.
The mining camp of Maratoto and thebush camps previously mentioned were only served by pack-horse tracks up the Hikutaia Valley. There was also a formed track from Paeroa across the ranges to Waitekauri via the Tarariki Creek Valley, over which a very large amount of supplies for that township was packed, a team of from six to eight horses making the trip almost daily.
For many years after its formation, the Council's chief work was the maintenance and improvement of the existing roads and the formation of others, to meet the needs of the growing population.
The chief improvements that have been carried out were on the Paeroa-Waihi Road, being the construction of the road through the Karangahake Gorge, and the deviation beyond Waikino, cutting out the climb over Earl's Hill.
An almost entirely new road to Te Aroha has been constructed, and considerable formation of new roads in the Hikutaia and Netherton Ridings has been completed, besides a great deal of minor work.
In the year 1920 that portion of the Ohinemuri County lying to the west of the Waihou River, and comprising the greater part of the Waitoa and Netherton Ridings, was cut off from the parent County, and is now administered by the Piako and Hauraki Plains Counties.