Kaiapoi is situated on the northern part of the Canterbury Plain, on the banks of the Kaiapoi River, a tributary of the Waimakariri River. The surrounding country is alluvial plain, but within 15 miles it rises gradually on the north and west to the outer foothill ranges of the Southern Alps. The South Island Main Trunk railway and the main highway leading north from Christchurch pass through Kaiapoi. Christchurch, the nearest city, is 12 miles south by road (14 miles by rail). Kaiapoi is a river port about 3 miles from the mouth of the Waimakariri River and provides berthage for small coastal vessels.
The main activities of the district are dairying, mixed farming, and market gardening. Some forestry work is carried on in several small plantations nearby. At Wetheral (3½ miles north-west) there is a flourmill. The servicing functions of Kaiapoi are somewhat limited because of its proximity to Christchurch City. There are, however, several important industries in the town and these include a meat freezing works, a fellmongery, a woollen mill (established in 1875 and the first in Canterbury), sawmills, and a concrete tile works. Other industries include general engineering and the manufacture of joinery, furniture, and lace web fabric for furniture.
Kaiapoi is said to have come into existence in the late 1840s as the recognised north bank ferry station on the north branch of the Waimakariri River, which then flowed close to the town site. The first few houses at Kaiapoi appear to have been constructed in 1851. Near Tuahiwi (5½ miles north), now marked by a monument, is the site of the Kaiapohia Pa, a stronghold said to have been built c. 1700 by a chief named Te Rahautahi. Kaiapohia originally was heavily fortified and was further protected on three sides by a lagoon. In 1830 Te Rauparaha and his war party made an unsuccessful attack on the pa and were forced to retire. Te Rauparaha returned in 1831 with a strong force of musketeers and after nearly three months' siege made preparations for the burning and final assault. Te Matenga Taiaroa and some 200 of the garrison, seeing the position was untenable, left the pa hoping to create a diversion further south. The pa, however, was destroyed and the remaining defenders killed. In December 1864 Kaiapoi Municipal Council was established to administer the affairs of the township which was constituted a borough in 1868.
The meaning of the name Kaiapoi is obscure.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,246; 1956 census, 2,738; 1961 census, 3,109.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.