Temuka is situated on the southern part of the Canterbury Plain near the junction of the Temuka and Opihi Rivers. The surrounding country consists of flat alluvial plain, except in the north-west, where rolling to hilly land rises gradually to the Four Peaks Range. The main highway between Christchurch and Timaru and the South Island Main Trunk railway pass through the town. Timaru, the nearest city and main port, is 11 miles south by road or rail, and Ashburton is 36 miles north-east.
On the higher country to the north-west, sheep raising is the principal primary industry. The district served by Temuka comprises good agricultural land where intensive sheep farming, dairying, mixed farming, cash cropping, and market gardening are important activities. Dairy factories producing cheese are located at Orton (13 miles north-east), Clandeboye (8 miles north-east) and Milford (4 miles south-east). At Winchester (4 miles north) there is a flourmill, a woolscouring works, a sawmill, a seed-cleaning plant, and a concrete products factory. Temuka is a servicing and distributing centre for its large district, but has also several important industries. These include the manufacture of wheaten flour and stock foods, insulators and pottery, knitwear and woollen textiles, and concrete products. Sawn and dressed timber and scoured wool are also produced. There are large stockyards in the town.
Temuka is believed to have come into existence because of its proximity to convenient fords on the Temuka and Opihi Rivers, crossing places on the main north-south route in early times. The site is identical with the original Maori settlement called Arowhenua. Other villages, now deserted by Maoris, were located between this place and the mouth of the Opihi River. At Orakipaoa (3 miles south-east) evidence of former occupation is still to be seen in the vestiges of an old Maori fortification. Temuka is considered to have been founded in 1853 when the first European settler, William Hornbrook, established a camp on the site. A Government town was later laid out east of the present railway line and took the name of the pa, Arowhenua. The Maoris removed to the present day site of Arowhenua Pa, about a mile south of the town. About 1863 Samuel Hewlings, a surveyor, bought an area north and west of the present Main South Road adjacent to the Government town of Arowhenua and laid out a town which he called Wallingford after his Berkshire birthplace. Wallingford – which eventually became the principal business part of Temuka – and Arowhenua were later created town districts. By 1866 the name Temuka came into more general use as a collective name for Wallingford and Arowhenua, and the latter came to be identified with the new Maori pa. The name Temuka, transferred to the town from the nearby river, is stated to be properly Te Umu Kaha, meaning “the strong oven,” and in all likelihood is associated with the many Maori ovens found in this locality. In 1899 the town districts of Wallingford and Arowhenua were amalgamated and constituted the borough of Temuka.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,212; 1956 census, 2,254; 1961 census, 2,430.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.