Town 48 km south-east of New Plymouth and 30 km north of Hāwera at the junction of state highways 3 and 43, with a 2013 population of 5,463.
Stratford was originally named Stratford-on-Patea at the suggestion of William Crompton of the Taranaki Waste Lands Board, who had already unsuccessfully attempted to have Inglewood named after an English poet (Milton). Crompton commented that England ‘had a poet born at Stratford-on-Avon, and might not New Zealand produce one at Stratford-on-Patea’.1 He got his wish, eventually – Michele Leggott, New Zealand’s poet laureate in 2008–9, began life in Stratford.
Stratford was established on the Pātea River in 1877–78 and named after William Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-on-Avon. Many of the streets are named after Shakespearean characters, including Oberon, Cordelia, Titania, Juliet and Hamlet. The town is central Taranaki’s main rural servicing centre, and the administrative base of the Stratford District Council and the Taranaki Regional Council.
The Waihapa oil and gas field, discovered in 1988, and its production station are 6 km south-east. The Stratford Mountain House and Dawson Falls Lodge in Egmont National Park can be accessed from the town.
The first talking movies in the southern hemisphere were shown at the King’s Theatre in 1925. Stratford has seven war memorials; a hall of remembrance at the old municipal buildings displays framed photos of all of the district’s First World War dead. The Stratford glockenspiel clock performs a sequence from Romeo and Juliet four times daily.
Township 6 km north-west of Stratford, with a 2013 population of 234. Midhirst is named after James Hirst, an early settler.
One of the most distinctive features of the township is the towering concrete and glass milk-powder drying plant, which was one of New Zealand’s most advanced in its time (1980). The factory closed after amalgamating with Kiwi Dairies in 1983.
York Road, 2 km north of Midhirst, leads to Egmont National Park. In the park, the York Road Loop Track follows the Egmont branch line railway, laid about 1905–6 to carry road metal from a quarry on the mountain. The line was closed in 1951 after years of decline.
Settlement 6 km south-west of Stratford. In the 2000s little remained of Cardiff except its large concrete war memorial at the junction of Ōpunake and Cardiff roads. The Cardiff Centennial Walk winds along the bush-covered banks of the Waingongoro River to two weirs built to supply water to the nearby dairy factory.
Settlement 16 km south-west of Stratford. Rowan was named after Frederic Rowan, formerly of the 43rd Regiment, who joined the Armed Constabulary and was severely wounded during the attack on Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in 1868. His wife, Ellis Rowan, became one of Australia’s most celebrated flower painters after the couple later settled there.
Settlement 6 km south of Stratford. Ngaere sits on the western edge of what was once a vast swamp of around 4,000 hectares. The swamp had engulfed a forest, the remains of which rose to the surface as the land dried. In 1869 the Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru used the maze of swamps to escape from pursuing Armed Constabulary led by Colonel George Whitmore. Most of the wetland was later drained and became pasture.
From the late 19th century until the 1930s Ngaere was the site of the impressive Ngaere Gardens.
Rennet is an enzyme produced by newborn calves to digest milk and is essential in the making of cheese. It is extracted from calves’ stomachs after they have been slaughtered. During the First World War, supplies of rennet from Europe were drastically cut. The New Zealand Co-operative Rennet Company was established in Eltham in 1916 and became a major world supplier of the enzyme. Sold as ‘Renco’, rennet was used to make junket, a solidified milk dessert similar to yogurt. Renco New Zealand was still operating in 2020.
Town 10 km south of Stratford on State Highway 3, with a 2013 population of 1,941. Eltham was named after a village in Greenwich, England. Pākehā settlers began occupying nearby rural land in the late 1870s, and the town was established in 1884. Local businessman Charles Wilkinson had a major impact on the town both economically and politically.
In 1887 Chinese merchant Chew Chong established the Jubilee dairy factory – one of New Zealand’s first – alongside the Waingongoro Stream, and in 1916 the New Zealand Co-operative Rennet Company was founded in the township.
Major employers in the 2010s were the ANZCO Foods Riverlands beef-processing plant and Fonterra’s Mainland factory, which manufactured specialty cheeses and processed and packaged products from the company’s other sites.
17.8-hectare lake 12 km east of Eltham, set in the 230-hectare Rotokare Scenic Reserve. In 2007 a pest-proof fence was built around the reserve and the reintroduction of endangered native birds, reptiles and invertebrates began.