Story: Waikato places

Page 4. Huntly

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Huntly

Town 34 km north-west of Hamilton with a 2013 population of 6,954. Originally a Māori settlement called Rāhui Pōkeka, Huntly was a military post during the Waikato war and a Pākehā settlement afterwards. It was named after the home town of Scots settler James Henry, postmaster from 1870.

Huntly expanded when commercial coal mining began. In 1874 Captain Anthony Ralph, a former Waikato militiaman who had been granted land nearby, registered the Taupiri Coal Mining Company, and Ralph’s mine opened in 1876. Companies owned by the Ralph family dominated the industry until the 1940s.

Huntly developed as a tight-knit working-class community. Many miners came from the South Island’s West Coast, and the north of England and Scotland. Local Māori also entered the industry in large numbers. Huntly miners stopped work for three months during the 1913 general strike. On 12 September 1914, 43 miners were killed in an explosion in Ralph’s mine.

Brick making began at Huntly in 1884. The dominant firm, the Huntly Brick and Fireclay Company, was established in 1911. After several name changes, it was still operating in the 2010s as Shinagawa Refractories. Many buildings in the town are made of Huntly brick, including the Masonic Lodge, St Paul’s Anglican church, and the former Huntly Hospital, and it is a widely used building material throughout the region.

Fuel for war

Māori used Huntly coal before Europeans arrived, and explorers and missionaries were aware of the existence of coal seams from the 1840s. It has been suggested that Pākehā desire to control this resource was one reason for the invasion of the Waikato in 1863. During the war coal was mined from the banks of the Waikato River near Huntly to fuel the British steam-powered gunboats.

At first coal was mined underground at Huntly, but in 1915 a bridge across the Waikato River gave access to more coal on the west bank, and mining settlements such as Pukemiro, Glen Afton, Rotowaro, Waikōkōwai and Renown were established. Opencast mining began west of Huntly during the Second World War, and an opencast mine also opened on the east bank of the river at Kimihia. As nearby swamps were drained Huntly also became the centre of a farming community.

Huntly thermal power station

New Zealand’s largest power station, on the west bank of the Waikato River at Huntly. Its huge smoke stacks dominate the skyline. Commissioned in 1983, the station belongs to state-owned Genesis Energy. It runs on local coal and gas, and uses water from the Waikato River for cooling.

Waahi

Principal marae of Ngāti Mahuta, and traditional home of the kāhui ariki – the Kīngitanga royal family. It is at Huntly, on the west bank of the Waikato River. The present king, Tūheitia, lives nearby.

Pukemiro

Settlement 18 km south-west of Huntly. Pukemiro was the first coal settlement established on the west bank of the Waikato River, in 1915. A railway line linked Pukemiro (and nearby mining settlements) to Huntly. Mining ceased in 1967.

Glen Afton

Locality 16 km south-west of Huntly. A settlement developed to service two coal mines which opened in 1923. The mines were owned by the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company, which needed coal to power its Waikato dairy factories. The company built a model town, including miners’ houses, a boarding house, school and roads. On 24 September 1939, 11 Glen Afton miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a mine fire.

An opencast mine, opened in 1944, was supplying both the dairy company and the Meremere thermal power station by the 1960s. It closed in 1969.

Rotowaro

Locality 11 km south-west of Huntly. Rotowaro was a coal-mining settlement from 1915. In 1930 the Waikato Carbonisation factory was built there to process coal slack into heating briquettes. The ‘Carbo’, as it was called locally, closed in 1987, and is now listed as an industrial heritage site.

In 1979 State Coal Mines announced plans to demolish Rotowaro township to create a huge opencast mine, and by 1987 all the residents were relocated. This caused great bitterness, as many had lived there all their lives. In the 2010s the Rotowaro opencast mine was run by state-owned Solid Energy.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Waikato places - Huntly', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/waikato-places/page-4 (accessed 22 October 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 31 May 2010, updated 11 Jun 2015