Town 36 km north of Timaru, with a 2013 population of 2,301. Once on the main road between Christchurch and Timaru, Geraldine is now bypassed by State Highway 1, but is on the route for people travelling from Christchurch to Aoraki/Mt Cook and the Southern Lakes. This has encouraged town and tourist businesses.
The town’s European history began with the founding of the Raukapuka sheep run in 1853. The following year the surveyor Sam Hewlings built the first dwelling. The Talbot forest was milled in the 1860s and 1870s, but a small remnant has been reserved on the edge of the town. Geraldine became a town district in 1884 – the same year a cheese factory was built – and a borough in 1904.
A big stretch
According to the Guinness book of records, Geraldine boasts the world’s largest jersey. Lining the wall of the ‘Giant Jersey’ knitwear shop, it is 4.9 metres from wrist to wrist, 2.1 metres high and 1.5 metres wide. It weighs 5.5 kilograms and is made of patchwork squares, with sheep as a motif.
Unlike many country towns, Geraldine has grown since the 1950s, partly because it is popular as a retirement centre. The Vintage Car and Machinery Museum has an impressive collection of old tractors and cars. The town is also the site of Geraldine High School.
Settlement 18 km north of Geraldine. Arundel has historic importance because it was once at one end of the only bridge over the Rangitātā River. This linked South Canterbury with the rest of Canterbury from 1872 until the 1930s, when the present road bridges on State Highway 1 were built. A site for a village at Arundel was reserved in 1874, but the population never rose above 100.
Area of downlands and river valleys, 18 km south-west of Geraldine. It is of geological and historical interest, with very old (for Canterbury) sedimentary rocks and early kilns where limestone was burned for mortar and agricultural use. There are major private projects to protect remnant native forests and features of geological interest.
Sheep station at the end of the road up the south side of the upper Rangitātā River from Arundel through Peel Forest, 69 km north-west of Geraldine. Mesopotamia Station is one of the South Island’s best-known high-country sheep runs. This is because of its association with the English writer Samuel Butler, who used it as the setting for his novel Erewhon. The sites of Butler’s two huts, up Forest Creek and near the present Mesopotamia homestead, are marked by plaques.
Small township 9 km south-east of Geraldine by the Ōrari River. The river rises in the Ben McLeod, Mt Peel and Four Peaks ranges, south of the upper Rangitātā River. The substantial homestead of the early Ōrari sheep run is just south of the township.
Forest 23 km north of Geraldine. Milling of native timber on the south bank of the Rangitātā River, below Mt Peel (1,717 metres), began in the 1850s. Between 1865 and the early 1900s, Peel Forest was a substantial sawmilling village. The store remains open (unlike those of many South Canterbury towns) and the village is now a centre for outdoor recreation.
Peel Forest Park was set up in 1926. Further up the Rangitātā River is historic Mt Peel Station, owned by the Acland family, who were among the region’s first runholders. It features a brick homestead completed in 1867 and a stone church consecrated in 1869.
The Rangitātā is one of the major rivers that formed the Canterbury Plains. Its two main headwaters, the Clyde and Havelock rivers, rise from glaciers in the main Southern Alps. At Rangitātā the river splits into two branches. No water has flowed down its south branch for many years and Rangitātā Island is now an island in name only.
A township was surveyed at the southern end of the railway bridge across the Rangitātā in 1881, and village sections were offered in 1886. In the 1930s the main road south from Christchurch was diverted from the bridge at Arundel to new bridges parallel to the railway bridge. This failed to stimulate growth and the Rangitātā remains little more than a refreshment stop for motorists.