Geraldine is situated on the banks of the Waihi River, a tributary of the Temuka River, in South Canterbury. On the south and east the country is undulating to level plain; on the west and north the land soon rises to rolling downs that merge into the Four Peaks and Mount Peel Ranges. The town is 4 miles north-west of Orari and the Christchurch-Timaru section of main highway and the South Island Main Trunk railway. The Rangitata-Fairlie highway passes through Geraldine. By road Geraldine is 33 miles south-west of Ashburton via Rangitata and 23 miles north of Timaru via Orari.
The main primary activity is sheep farming. There is also some mixed farming (including wheat), dairying, and market gardening. Dairy factories are located at Pleasant Valley (4 miles north-west) and at Orari. Linen flax is grown near Geraldine. Lime is quarried at Hilton (7 miles south-west). Geraldine is a small market centre. Town industrial activities include the manufacture of furniture and joinery, sawmilling, and general engineering. There is also a factory producing linseed, linmeal, and linen-flax fibre for cordage. Livestock saleyards are maintained.
The vicinity of Geraldine in early European times was known as Raukapuka Bush and Talbot Forest. Maoris used local timber for canoe building. In 1849 Charles Obins Torlesse, pioneer surveyor, made a thorough exploration of South Canterbury. He was probably the first European to visit and describe the Geraldine district. In 1853 the Raukapuka Run of 40,000 acres, which included the site of present Geraldine, was acquired by Muter and Francis, but the following year they disposed of it to Alfred Cox, who left W. du Moulin in charge until 1857. Maoris built du Moulin a hut on the outskirts of the present town and he thus became the first district resident. Samuel Hewlings, a surveyor, built a hut on the actual town site in late 1854 or early 1855. He married a North Island Maori woman and became the first permanent resident. Thomas Cass recommended the reservation of a town site at Talbot Forest in 1854. An area was set apart in 1857, but was not gazetted until 26 July 1866. The town was surveyed in 1862 and later resurveyed. In 1886 much of the town area was leased in large homestead sections. About 1886 Taylor and Flatman established a sawmilling and farming settlement at Woodbury (5 miles north-west), formerly called Waihi Bush. Meanwhile Geraldine assumed importance because of its convenience as a junction for passenger and transport traffic serving the sheep runs of the hinterland and various sawmills in nearby bush areas. An accommodation house was established in the town in 1865. The subdivision of large estates commenced during the 1880s and, with subsequent closer settlement, particularly during the ensuing decade, Geraldine began to expand. On 20 June 1884 a town district was created and, on 22 December 1904, Geraldine was constituted a borough. Raukapuka, adjoining the town on the east bank of the Waihi River, was added in 1953. Geraldine was named in 1857 after a place in County Limerick associated for centuries with the FitzGerald family as a compliment to J. E. FitzGerald, first Superintendent of Canterbury Province.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,080; 1956 census, 1,640; 1961 census, 1,832. B.N.D. and E.S.D.