Riverton is situated on the eastern bank of a lagoon estuary formed by the Aparima and Pourakino Rivers, which leads through a narrow mouth to the anchorage known as Howells Roads. The main part of the town is on flat land but South Riverton is built on the hills between the eastern shore of the estuary and Riverton Beach. The surrounding district comprises the south-west portion of the Southland Plain. The highway and railway linking Invercargill and Tuatapere pass through the borough. By road Riverton is 26 miles north-west of Invercargill, the nearest main centre.
The rural activities of the district include sheep, dairy, and mixed farming. The town is primarily a trade and servicing centre and its industrial activities are few. There are several dairy factories in the district as well as a sawmill and a flax mill. The bar harbour is used by small craft engaged in commercial fishing, chiefly on the Foveaux Strait grounds. Natural marine attractions near Riverton, centred on Riverton Rocks, attract a considerable holiday traffic.
Riverton is the oldest permanent settlement of Southland. The locality was first visited by sealers about the end of the eighteenth century for replenishment of provisions and refreshment of crews. It became known as Jacobs or Knowsley River. In 1836 John Jones sent Captain John Howell with three ships to establish a whaling station there. The station proved successful and was later bought by Howell for himself. In 1838 Howell married the daughter of the Ngati Mamoe chief of Centre Island and received a large block of land between the Aparima and Waimatuku Rivers. While in Sydney on his honeymoon, Howell persuaded the Stevens family to settle in Southland and George Stevens took charge of the marine store. In the 1850s Theophilus A. T. B. Daniel joined the partnership in whaling and trading. Howell, Stevens, and Daniel acquired large properties and were responsible for inducing many ex-whalers to settle in the area. The name Riverton was adopted by the residents and their choice was ratified officially in March 1858. On 9 June 1879 Riverton was constituted a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,018; 1956 census, 1,171; 1961 census, 1,225.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.