Te Puke is situated some 5 miles inland from the Bay of Plenty coast on level to gently undulating land. Within 2–3 miles the land rises on the south-west and south to steep hills (locally called Papamoa Range) fringing the central volcanic plateau. Te Puke is 17 miles south-east by road from Tauranga (14 miles by rail) and 36 ½ miles north-east by road from Rotorua. Mount Maunganui, 14 miles north-west, is the nearest main port.
Farming activities of the district are dairying, sheep raising, and fat-lamb production. Fruitgrowing is important and citrus and various subtropical fruits, together with apples and pears, predominate. There are extensive State forests, mainly Pinus radiata (q.v.), near Pongakawa (15 ½ miles south-east), and logging and sawmilling are carried on. Te Puke provides servicing and distributing functions for a large district. Town industries include sawmilling, timber dressing, and joinery; general and dairy engineering; and the manufacture of butter.
Te Puke is considered to have been founded in 1880 when George Vesey Stewart bought 16,000 acres there from the Government. Stewart sold the land to prospective settlers in Northern Ireland at £3 per acre. By 1881 most of the immigrants were settled on their land. Gold-bearing ore was discovered in 1895 at Muirs Reef, about 8 miles south of Te Puke, and mining followed intermittently for more than 30 years. Owing to various setbacks, good results were obtained only during 1919 and 1923, and in 1928 all underground operations ceased. The town grew as a result of the development of farming. It became a town district in 1913 and in 1935 borough status was attained
In his New Zealand WarsJames Cowan described events which took place at Paengaroa and Te Puke during the Tauranga bush campaign of 1867–70. Later writers and historians (as, for example, J. C. Andersen and G. C. Petersen in The Mair Family (1956)), have assumed, erroneously, that those localities were identical with the present-day places of the same name. The places described by Cowan (who is believed by some to have been under the same misapprehension) were located in wild forest country behind Tauranga, near the old Maori track to Rotorua. The present Paengaroa and Te Puke, at the time of the events mentioned, were still under-developed and unsettled localities in Arawa territory.
The name Te Puke means, literally, “the hill”.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,461; 1956 census, 1,925; 1961 census, 2,299.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.