Morrinsville is situated close to the west bank of the Piako River in the Waihou-Piako Valley. About 5 miles west of the town the valley floor becomes low-lying and swampy; to the south the land rises to the undulating and hilly watershed between the Waihou-Piako and mid-Waikato basins. Elsewhere the surrounding country slopes down gently to the north. The railway lines from Hamilton, Paeroa, and Rotorua meet at Morrinsville, and the Hamilton-Paeroa main highway passes through the town. By road Hamilton is 20 miles south-west (16 miles by rail), and Rotorua is 65 miles south-east (69 miles by rail). Te Aroha is 13 miles north-east, and Paeroa is 27 miles north-east by road or rail.
The main primary industries of the district, which is one of the most intensively farmed dairying districts in New Zealand, are dairy farming and fat-lamb production. Butter, cheese, casein, and dried milk powder are produced. There are dairy factories at Motumaoho (4 miles south-west), Tatuanui (4 miles north-east), and Waitoa (6½ miles north-east). A large fertiliser works is located 1 mile south of Morrinsville. Town industrial activities include the manufacture of butter, furniture and joinery, roofing tiles, concrete products, and hosiery. Sawmilling, general engineering, and motor-body building are also carried on. Morrinsville is important as a livestock market centre and has large saleyards.
Morrinsville was on or near to an old Maori route between the upper Waihou-Piako basin and the Ngaruawahia area. Some early European traders are believed to have traversed this route prior to 1834 when the Rev. J. Morgan travelled up the Piako River to near the future town site and crossed west to Horotiu, near Ngaruawahia. Thomas and Samuel Morrin and associates in 1874 acquired some 30,000 acres of land from the Maoris and subsequently named this property “Lockerbie”. In the same year a housing settlement for the station employees was established on the property. This village was called Morrinsville after the principal partners. During the late 1890s the “Lockerbie” or Morrinsville property was subdivided for closer settlement. The railway from Hamilton to Morrinsville was commenced in 1879 but was not opened for traffic to Morrinsville until October 1884. In the 1880s the Thames Valley and Rotorua Railway Co. began the construction of a line from Morrinsville to Rotorua, and this was opened for through traffic on 8 December 1894. The Thames branch line was opened from Morrinsville to Te Aroha on 1 March 1886, to Paeroa on 20 December 1895, and to Thames on 19 December 1898. On 9 November 1905 a branch from Paeroa was opened to Waihi, and on 18 June 1928 it was extended for traffic through to Tauranga. During the late 1920s a company was formed to develop the flax industry on the extensive low-lying areas west of Morrinsville. Several thousand acres were acquired for the planting and milling of flax, Phormium tenax (q.v.), but economic conditions then prevailing forced the early abandonment of the project. Extensive drainage of swamp land has made available large areas for dairy farming. Morrinsville was created a town district in 1908 and in 1921 was constituted a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,824; 1956 census, 3,552; 1961 census, 4,111.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.