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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Matamata is situated on level land, locally called Matamata Plain, a broad valley floor in the upper part of the common basin of the Piako and Waihou Rivers. This plain is the southern portion of the Hauraki Plain and is bounded on the east by the wooded Kaimai Range; on the west by the Peria Hills; and to the south the land rises to the central plateau. The town stands nearly midway between the Waihou River on the east and the Waitoa River, a tributary of the Piako River, on the west. The Hamilton-Rotorua railway passes through Matamata and the town is connected by road to Hamilton, 38 miles west; Rotorua, 46 miles south-east; and Tauranga, 38½ miles north-east.

Dairy farming, the predominant rural activity of the district, is associated with sheep farming and cattle fattening. Matamata is chiefly a servicing and distributing centre. There is a cheese factory in the town. Other industries include the manufacture of concrete products, joinery and furniture, clothing, and general engineering. At Waharoa, 4 miles north, there is a large dried-milk factory. Building stone is quarried at Hinuera, 5½ miles south-west. The thermal springs at Okauia, 4 miles north-east, are a popular tourist attraction.

Matamata means “headland”, and was the name of the pa of Te Waharoa, situated on a peninsula jutting into a swamp that covered a large area near the town of Waharoa. European flax-buyers employed by the trader, P. Tapsell, of Maketu, arrived at Matamata Pa about 1830 and are believed to have been the earliest white visitors. The Rev. Alfred Nesbitt Brown, assisted by the Rev. John Alexander Wilson, opened a mission station in 1833, near Matamata Pa, on a site about 2 miles north of Waharoa. After a short time a general war broke out and the station had to be abandoned. The chief's son, Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi te Waharoa was converted during Brown's ministry and became a strong advocate of Christianity. As a result of cordial relations with Te Waharoa the younger, Josiah Clifton Firth acquired in 1865 an extensive leasehold near Matamata. By 1884 he had increased his holding to 56,000 acres and had become an outstanding pioneer of large-scale land development. He carried out swamp drainage, established pastures, and pioneered the dairy industry; he constructed a dray road to Cambridge, and by 1880 had cleared the Waihou River of snags and obstructions, making it navigable for his vessels. The combined effects of falling prices and failure of other unrelated enterprises forced Firth to relinquish his large estate in 1888. Later, portions of this estate were sold and in 1904 the remainder was acquired by the Crown for closer settlement. The land was subdivided and provision made for town lots on the site of Matamata. Matamata became a dependent town district in 1917, an independent town district in 1919, and in 1935 was constituted a borough.

POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,127; 1956 census, 2,703; 1961 census, 3,292.

by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.


Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.