Small service town between southern and northern Wairarapa. Set on terraces above the Makakahi River, Eketāhuna had a 2013 population of 444. The town has suffered long-term decline and has turned to tourism to promote growth. A craft shop and café have opened, and local attractions – such as an 18-hole golf course, the Pūkaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, and farmstays – are promoted to visitors. In 2006 a 6.5-metre-high kiwi was erected at the town’s entrance to attract passing traffic, and the slogan ‘Eketāhuna Kiwi Country’ was adopted.
Sited towards the southern end of the heavily forested Forty Mile Bush, Eketāhuna was originally named Mellemskov (heart of the forest) by the Scandinavian settlers who founded the town in 1872. These government-assisted migrants were contracted to fell the bush and build roads. As the land was cleared, dairying and sheep farming developed. The town became a borough in 1907.
‘Eke’ means to land or come aground, and ‘tāhuna’ is a sandbank. One interpretation is that the site was the furthest south that canoes could travel on the Makakahi River.
In 1920 the Prince of Wales (who became, briefly, Edward VIII) toured New Zealand. His train stopped in Eketāhuna to take on water, but was too far away for the gathered crowd to see the prince. The town’s outraged citizens took to the main street and burnt effigies of the officials responsible for the snub, to the accompaniment of fire bells.
In 2013 Eketāhuna had a relatively low number of working-age people – 58.5% of residents were aged 15–64, compared with 65.3% for New Zealand as a whole. This reflected the lack of job opportunities – the unemployment rate was 10.3%, as against 7.1% for all of New Zealand. The median income was $19,7000, compared with $28,500 nationally, making Eketāhuna Wairarapa’s most economically deprived town.
Small settlement 18 km east of Eketāhuna on State Highway 52. Alfredton was settled in the 1870s, but due to poor roading failed to prosper. It was named after Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred. Its Māori name is Moroa.
Farming locality on the western bank of the Kopuaranga River, 16 km south of Eketāhuna. Mauriceville is best known for its lime works and striking Methodist church, built in 1881. It was founded by Scandinavian settlers in 1872 as a bush settlement. However, once the bush was cleared the soil proved too infertile to support small farms, and many settlers left. Mauriceville once had five primary schools, but now has only one. The town was named after Sir Maurice O’Rorke, minister for immigration in the 1870s, who encouraged the Scandinavian settlers.
Pūkaha Mount Bruce
One of Wairarapa’s few remaining pockets of lowland native forest, 17 km south-west of Eketāhuna. The 942-hectare block, which has stands of rimu, northern rātā and kahikatea, was set aside as a scenic reserve in the 1890s. A 55-hectare area became a native bird reserve, and in 1962 the government established a captive breeding programme, successfully raising takahē and other rare native species. The reserve became the National Wildlife Centre in 1982. Now called Pūkaha Mount Bruce, it is administered by the Department of Conservation, the local tribe Rangitaane o Wairarapa, and the National Wildlife Centre Trust. Kiwi, kākā and kōkako have been reintroduced in the forest. The centre also plays an important educative role.