Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000


When the goldfield opened in March 1875, the centre of population with shops, hotels and other facilities was at Mackaytown. Karangahake and the valley surrounds were bush covered and remained so for some years. There was some settlement known as Wairere on the flats immediately across the river from Mackaytown and also the area now known as River Road. These settlements consisted of temporary buildings and soon vanished when the goldfield failed to come up to expectations. Names given to these settlements included "Lipsey’s Camp", "Gorgetown", "The Gorge", "Lipseyville", "Williams-town", "Fraserville" and "Mackaytown South". Most of these names were unofficial and tended to fade in and out of favour.

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Hogg's Store - La Monte Smelter - Tramway Hotel - Karangahake 1886

Following the discovery of important gold bearing reefs in 1882 miners again began to settle on the flats at the entrance to the gorges. The first settlement was at "Battery Flat", on the southern side of the rivers as the mines were on that side. Across the river, settlement began slowly until a suspension bridge was put across in 1885. (There was no road along the line of the present main road to Mackaytown until after 1886.)

In August 1885, the Thames newspapers reported that "A new township was laid off on the northern side of the Ohinemuri River at Karangahake and had been called Silverton. Previous peggings of residence or building sites were not interfered with". The name "Silverton" was soon discarded and the developing township became known as Karangahake. Before this time the name "Karangahake" referred to the mining area, rather than any particular town site. In that same month the newspapers reported a population of at least 150 men and buildings going up in every direction. A store was opened in September 1885 by a Mr Hogg, and the La Monte Smelter built, both on "Battery Flat". In October 1885, sections at Karangahake township were put up for public auction. From the mid 1880's the township continued to grow, slowly at first but more rapidly after 1895.

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Karangahake Main Street, c1910

The Post Office was opened in 1885, the school in 1890. By 1898 Karangahake was an important town with a full range of services and shops. Two churches were built that year, the Fire Brigade formed and the Oddfellows Lodge established. Business sites were so sought after that several quarter acre sites on the main street, for which the annual rent was £3, were changing hands at between £700 and £1000 each. Water and gas supplies were laid on and after 1900, further facilities, such as a Police station in 1901 and ambulance in 1905, were added to the town. The shops remained open until 8 or 9pm Monday to Friday and on Saturdays until 10 or 11pm and the hotels remained open around the clock to cater for the shifts of miners going on and off work.

The population continued to increase throughout the first decade of the century. In 1891 the Gorge Road was opened and in 1905, the railway. In 1907/08, there were attempts, which failed, to form a separate borough. As Karangahake grew, areas which came to be inhabited included Irishtown (east of Doherty’s Creek), the whole of the hilly area leading up to the "White Rocks", the area near the Karangahake station, Crown Hill, and "Siberia" (so called because it was very cold).

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Butchers Shop - Main Street, Karangahake c 1890

Most inhabitants lived in small cottages on tiny sections, although there were several grand houses, including the Crown Mine manager’s house on Crown Hill (which was later shifted to Te Puke for use as a geriatric home, and burnt down in 1964). Many of the miners were single men and lived in boarding houses. There were nine such establishments at Karangahake at one time including the Jubilee, Collinson"s, Crown, Lawler’s, Bidios’, The Look Out, Brookside, Kemp’s, Johnston"s and White’s at Mackaytown.

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Karangahake - Tramway Hotel on left - c 1893

The maximum population recorded for the township itself was 1374 persons in 1911. Soon after this the mines began to fail, resulting in a continuous and rapid decline in population, as miners left to seek work elsewhere. By October 1916 the population had fallen to 790 and buildings, both public and private, were often moved to other areas, Many were destroyed by fire. The Rev. Frank Dobson commented, in mid 1916, that since November 1915 there had been 12 fires burning down 16 houses so that Insurance Companies were cancelling policies and that, since then, there had been no fires. He stated that people were leaving Karangahake like rats leaving a sinking ship. Only one battery was working, and only one shift. He thought that the opening up of agricultural land on the Hauraki Plains would save Paeroa, but there were no prospects for Karangahake.

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Karangahake Main Street 1905 - Montgomery's Hotel centre of photo

Following the First World War years, there was rapid development of the Hauraki Plains for farming, and this, together with a shortage of corrugated roofing iron created, the demand for moving Karangahake’s unused buildings. By the 1920's, Karangahake could no longer be considered a town. The school roll had progressively dropped and reached its lowest in 1942. Since then there has been a steady but small increase in population, with new homes being built.


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Map - Karangahake Township

The population of the Karangahake township in the early days is often quoted as a "township" of over 2000 people. It seems, from research, unlikely that the township ever had a population of this size. Statistics show:

1906 Karangahake 792
Mackaytown  349
1911 Karangahake  1374
1916 Karangahake  790
1936 Karangahake & Mackaytown 331
1971   Karangahake  102
Mackaytown  99

It would seem likely that the often mentioned figure of 2000 covers the entire Karangahake - Mackaytown area, rather than the township of Karangahake.

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