Rangiora is situated on the northern part of the Canterbury Plain about 1 mile south of the Ashley River and about 6 miles inland from the coast of Pegasus Bay. The surrounding country is flat but towards the north-west it rises gradually to the outer foothill ranges of the Southern Alps. The South Island Main Trunk railway passes through Rangiora, but the main highway leading north from Christchurch passes east of the town. An access road branches north-west from Woodend (4 miles) and links Rangiora with the highway. Christchurch, the nearest city, is 20 miles south by rail and the same distance by road via Woodend. Kaiapoi is 7 miles south-east by road (6 miles by rail) and provides minor port facilities.
The main primary activities of the district are dairying, fat lamb production, and mixed farming, including the production of wheat, barley, small seeds, peas, and potatoes. A large proportion of the Christchurch town milk supply comes from the district. Fruitgrowing, chiefly apples, and poultry farming, are also carried on. In an area beyond Ashley, about 6 miles north of Rangiora, some 13,700 acres are being developed and afforested by the New Zealand Forest Service. Screened shingle from the bed of the Ashley River, near Rangiora, is used locally and also marketed extensively in Christchurch for making concrete blocks. Industrial activities of the district include flourmilling, sawmilling, and general engineering, and the manufacture of stock food at Southbrook (1 ½ miles south-east); sawmilling at Ashley Bank (2 miles north); and sawmilling and twine manufacture at Waikuku (6 miles east). Rangiora is the servicing and distributing centre for that part of the Canterbury Plain north of the Waimakariri River; it is also a main centre for livestock marketing. Town industrial activities include general engineering, the manufacture of farm machinery and implements, wheaten flour, crystallised fruit, clothing and joinery, and the production of sawn and dressed timber. There are large grain and seed stores in the town.
Small areas of native bush attracted the first settlers during the early 1850s when timber was in big demand for building and fuel. Rural sections including or adjoining clumps of bush were taken up in 1853. Private subdivision of land into town lots took place later but for some time the town was not recognised officially by the Canterbury Provincial Government. Imperfections in the layout of certain streets and substandard widths are still evident. The first dwelling, the site of which is marked with a memorial plaque, was erected by C. O. Torlesse in 1855. An 18,000-acre swamp lay east and west of the town in pre-colonial days, and the site of the pa of Kaiapohia stood on the south-eastern fringe of this swamp. Captain John Lort Stokes, William John Warburton Hamilton and a party passed through the district in 1849 en route to Mount Grey (about 15 miles north-west) while on a shore reconnaissance during the survey cruise of H.M.S. Acheron. In 1860 Arthur Dudley Dobson was engaged in laying out roads from Christchurch to Rangiora, and in draining the swamp formed by the Eyre and Cust Rivers. Rangiora was constituted a borough on 14 May 1878.
The origin and meaning of the name are obscure.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,799; 1956 census, 3,150; 1961 census, 3,540.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.