Tapanui is situated on undulating country between the western slopes of the Blue Mountains and the Pomahaka River, a major tributary of the Clutha. Normal passenger access is by the direct Southland-Central Otago highway which passes through Tapanui from Waipahi to Raes Junction. By this route Tapanui is 38 miles south-west of Roxburgh and 18 miles north of Waipahi. A branch railway, terminating at Edievale (14 miles north) and carrying goods traffic only, runs through Tapanui station 2 miles west of the town.
Sheep raising is the most important farming activity, with some mixed agricultural farming on the lower land. Forestry, with its related activities, is the important industry of the district. The New Zealand Forest Service operates a large sawmill at Conical Hill (8 miles south), and a privately owned sawmill specialises in the making of boxes for Otago's fruitgrowing areas. The employees of both mills live in Tapanui. A privately owned lignite mine nearby produces enough low-grade coal to meet West Otago's needs. Town industrial activities are few and are associated with the servicing needs of the district.
Tapanui came into being between 1858 and 1860 as a sawmilling centre in an area of fine native forest. After the native timber resources were depleted, extensive tree nurseries were established by the State and progressive afforestation followed. Timber production has remained the main reason for the existence of the town. Tapanui was constituted a borough under Otago Provincial Government legislation in 1876.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 434; 1956 census, 409; 1961 census, 767.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.