Taumarunui is situated on the north bank of the upper reaches of the Wanganui River at its junction with the Ongarue River. The town site occupies mainly alluvial flat, but the surrounding country is hilly. On the east and north-east the land rises to the Hauhungaroa Range. The North Island Main Trunk railway and the Te Kuiti – National Park highway pass through Taumarunui. By road Taumarunui is 53 miles south-east of Te Kuiti (48 miles by rail), 42 miles north-west of Turangi, 99 miles north-east of Stratford (97 miles by rail), and 27 ½ miles north-west of National Park.
The chief farming activities of the district are sheep and cattle raising and dairying. Butter is produced at Piriaka (6 miles south-east). Fruit is grown at Taringamotu Valley (about 2 miles north-west). There is a large number of sawmills in the district and all cut native timbers. At Manunui (4 miles south-east) in addition to sawmilling, there is a plywood and veneer factory. Taumarunui is a market and servicing centre for an extensive farming and timber-producing district. Town industrial activities include sawmilling and timber treatment, the manufacture of joinery and pre-cut houses; and general and structural engineering. There are large wool and skin stores and a stock saleyard in the town.
Taumarunui was originally a Maori settlement at the junction of important canoe routes linking the interior of the island with the lower Wanganui River settlements. Certain localities in the neighbourhood, notably the valley of the Pungapunga Stream, which joins the upper Wanganui near Manunui, were celebrated for the size and quality of totara, and large canoes were built there. Late in December 1843 Bishop Selwyn travelled from the district south of Taupo to a point on the Wanganui River about 6 miles down stream from Taumarunui and there continued his journey to the coast by canoe. Towards the end of 1869 Te Kooti was at Taumarunui before his march through the western Taupo district to Tapapa. In the early 1880s the first surveys of the King Country commenced and by the early 1890s the Crown had begun the purchase of large areas of land. The first European settler is thought to be Alexander Bell, who became a resident trader there in 1874. During the Hauhau troubles a resident named William Moffatt manufactured and supplied the enemy with a coarse kind of gunpowder. He was afterwards expelled from the district. Despite warnings he returned in 1880, ostensibly to prospect for gold, and was executed by the Maoris.
The Wanganui River long continued to be the principal route serving Taumarunui. Traffic was at first by Maori canoe, but by the late 1880s regular steamship communication between Wanganui and Pipiriki was established. The shipping service was extended in the 1890s with shallow-draught vessels, and a terminal berth was built a short distance up the Ongarue River at Taumarunui. The river vessels maintained the services between Wanganui and Taumarunui until the late 1920s, when the condition of the river deteriorated. In 1928 the upstream terminal was moved down stream to the junction of the Retaruke Stream, and in 1934 regular services on the upper Wanganui River ceased. The progress of the town and district accelerated in 1903 when the section of railway from Te Kuiti to Taumarunui was opened for traffic, and again following the completion of the North Island Main Trunk railway in November 1908. Taumarunui has been assigned more than one meaning, but that most favoured is “place of abundant shade”. In 1906 Taumarunui was created a township under the Native Townships Act 1895, and the same year became a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,220; 1956 census, 3,341; 1961 census, 4,961.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.