Maori ancestor Hau named the Rangitikei River when pursuing his wife and her lover southward from Taranaki some 600 years ago. With long stride (tikei) he moved one day (rangi) to the river he then called Rangitikei (the day of striding out).
Nothing has influenced the region's landscape more than the mighty RangitikeiRiver as it has carved its way from its headwaters in the Kaimanawa Ranges to the Tasman Sea in the south, forming passages of majestic river canons with boulder-strewn gorges of violent whitewater, alternating with quiet stretches of sparkling trout-laden pools, to provide superb rafting, kayaking, camping and fishing experiences.
The sheer papa (mudstone) bluffs which define the river are the shining white iconic feature of the Rangitikei, separating this ribbon of clear pure water from the surrounding trees, plants and pasture growing on the rich and fertile soils of its hills and plains. Flowing from the Ruahine and Kaimanawa Mountains, the Rangitikei River is one of the longest rivers in New Zealand, travelling 241 km to the Tasman Sea.
The area was first populated by Ngati Apa - a proud and aristocratic tribe from the Aotea canoe - with a number of pa from Onepuhi down to Parewanui about 13 km from the mouth of the Rangitikei. In the early 19th century they suffered severely at the hand of Te Rauparaha of the Ngati Toa, and Ngati Ruakawa, which greatly lessened their power and influence.
Much of the Rangitikei was a gigantic stand of native bush when the first settlers arrived. During the 1840s a number of settlers made agreements with Maori owners for the settlement of the land within the Rangitikei District. Many travelled up the coast from Wellington and crossed the Rangitikei River in a ferry operated by Thomas Scott. Without roads, the first settlers were restricted to the windswept coastlands and along the two boundary rivers. In 1849 the Crown negotiated a land sale with the resident Ngati Apa tribe and Te Rauparaha (who still wielded powerful influence) for the Turakina block through the then Land Commissioner Donald McLean for resale to the settlers. At first, the settlement was along the two rivers, from the Turakina River to Bonny Glen and stretched along the Rangitikei River from Parewanui to Porewa and Rata and only later from Porewa to Tutaenui, by 1858 the district was well settled.
In 1868 the coaching days commenced, Rangitikei's town of Marton became linked by road with Wellington and Wanganui, Cobb & Co coaches travelled twice weekly between these towns. The roads were rough, the bridges and fords many, yet the link was always kept. The first railway was opened in the district in 1878 from Marton to Turakina followed by Halcombe to Marton and Foxton to Wanganui the same year.
By 1884 the road from Napier had reached Moawhango. There had been some progress in the roading from the south. In 1883/4 John Rochfort, a Government surveyor created the route for the railway line from Marton through the upper Rangitikei and Hautapu districts to Te Awamutu. Rail played a large part in the early development of the Taihape township, the railway station was completed in 1904, by 1909 there were 23 railway houses.
Adam Glasgow was the first white man to live in the Rangitikei, living with a Maori tribe in Turakina. In 1841 the Glasgow family welcomed Scotsman Alexander Grant an early settler in Turakina, he was a surveyor from Wellington and New Plymouth before settling in the Rangitikei.
Taihape Township image courtesy of Taihape Museum