Waimate is situated about 7 miles inland from the coast of South Canterbury and on the southeastern part of the Canterbury Plains. Except on the west where the land rises to the southern extension of the Hunters Hills, the surrounding country is flat to undulating. Waimate is the terminus of a branch goods railway extending 5 miles west from Studholme Junction on the South Island Main Trunk line. By road Waimate is 28 miles south-west from Timaru (29 miles by rail), and 28 miles north-east from Oamaru (33 miles by rail).
Sheep raising is the main primary industry of the district. Other farming activities include large-scale potato growing; small-fruits growing, particularly strawberries and raspberries; market gardening; nursery gardening for the florist trade, with tulips a specialty crop at Morven (8 miles south-east); and cereal and grass seed cropping. There are grain and produce stores, a vegetable-processing establishment, a seed-cleaning works, and stock saleyards at Studholme Junction. Lime is quarried at Limestone Hill (about 6 miles west). Waimate serves a large district and industrial activities of the town include the manufacture of butter, woollen goods, joinery, concrete products, agricultural machinery, and coal gas; general engineering, sawmilling, and seed cleaning. There are large grain and seed, and wool and skin stores in the town.
Waimate was originally a Maori village called Te Waimatemate, the early name of the small stream close by the present town, which means “slowly moving waters”. This stream is now known as Waimate Creek. The Maori village was located on the fringe of a 3,000-acre bush. The resident population was small but during appropriate seasons numbers of Maoris from Arowhenua (now Temuka) and further south congregated at Te Waimatemate for bird hunting. The first notable European visitors to pass through the district were probably Edward Shortland who in 1844 was travelling north closely following the coast from Otago to Akaroa, and Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, who at that time was travelling south. Between 1848 and 1852 the district was explored by W. B. D. Mantell and Charles Torlesse and, towards the end of that period, by several squatters seeking grazing land. On 18 July 1854 Michael Studholme and Saul Shrives arrived with a bullock dray from Christchurch to select run country. Studholme made an agreement with Huruhuru, chief of the locality, with respect to the boundary of adjoining Maori land. On 1 February 1855, in partnership with his brother, John Studholme, Michael secured a grazing licence over 35,000 acres and later took up another 25,000 acres on Waihao Downs. Several adjoining runs were also taken up about 1855. By 1858 the town site adjoining the Waimate Bush was officially Te Waimate but it was then better known simply as “The Bush”. In this year the first town survey was made. During the late 1850s the timber industry began to develop and the population grew. By 1864 Waimate was an important sawmilling centre, but when a disastrous fire occurred in November 1878, most of the Waimate Bush was destroyed, and the main local industry ended. The branch railway from Studholme Junction to Waimate was opened for traffic on 19 March 1877. Soon afterwards the Waimate Railway Co. extended the line to Waihao Downs (8 miles south-west), opened for traffic in 1883. This extension was closed in December 1953. The town site was reserved by the Canterbury Provincial Government on 11 October 1859. Waimate was proclaimed a borough on 8 September 1879.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,907; 1956 census, 3,107; 1961 census, 3,308.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.