Raetihi played a large part in servicing the needs of timber workers who travelled great distances and suffered many hardships to live and work here.
The wider region…
The Waimarino stretches from Mt Ruapehu to the Wanganui River encompassing Raetihi, Pipiriki, Karioi, Horopito, Waiouru, Rangataua and Ohakune.
There is evidence of Maori people living here in the fourteenth century. The Ngati Uenuku dwelled at Raetihi and Waimarino (now National Park), There is little evidence of large permanent settlements but hunting parties were common during warmer months.
In 1887 the Government purchased the Waimarino block from the Maori. The first European settlement was at Karioi where sheep were grazed on open tussock land.
The Waimarino block proved to be a “pot of gold”. Between 1908 and 1947 it provided 700 million superficial feet of building timber. The remnants of 150 sawmills have been discovered. Now there are only two major mills operating permanently. One at Tangiwai & one at National Park.
In it’s heyday the sawmilling of rimu, totara, kahikatea, matai and beech trees provided employment for numerous people in the area.
Raetihi (originally called Makotuku due to the river flowing at the towns edge) became the focal point for travellers going between Wanganui and Waiouru. A thriving town emerged to serve the timber workers and those passing through. A trip North from Wanganui was not for the faint-hearted. The scenic “River Road” passing through Pipiriki was treacherous with primitive tracks and long falls if you left the track. Those who completed the journey to Raetihi found hospitality, accommodation, blacksmiths and saddlers for weary horses and supplies for their further travels north.
The great fire of 1918 was a terrible setback to many businesses and homeowners in Raetihi. The loss of numerous mills slowed the timber industry but it continued successfully into the 1940′s.
As decades passed, it emerged that the ‘endless’ supply of strong native timber was running out. The choice to replant forests in fast-growing pine was there, but in the middle of the 20th century the ability to treat this new soft wood for outdoor building was not available. Raetihi felt the loss of the timber industry more as each year passed. Farming was an option for some but it would never be as high an employer as the forests once provided.
From the 1970’s through to the 1990’s, Raetihi fell into a state of depression similar to many rural New Zealand towns. While farming and forestry continue here, it is tourism that provides the next glimmer of hope for this historic town.
The Waimarino Museum
The Waimarino Museum on Seddon St in Raetihi is the best place for catching up on the history of the town with many fascinating photos, artifacts & stories.
Open Sunday from 2-4pm. Other opening times can be arranged on request, please contact Michael Higson ph: (06) 385 3123