Monday, April 7, 2014

Totara North

I've spent the morning sorting my photos from the past month or so.  There are a lot of them, I've been up north twice and down to Taranaki as well.  I was distracted by the number of photos I have of boats.  Not surprising, New Zealanders have the second highest rate of boat ownership in the world.  When I got to my photos from Totara North, I went off on another tangent.  I liked the photos I took there, so decided I would post a few.

Any time I've been to Totara North, it hasn't been planned.  But it's just a few miles off SH1 and I'd promised myself some time ago I'd stop by again to get photos of what I thought was an old fish factory.  It's not, it's an old timber mill.  You can't miss it!  Looks like someone else couldn't either.

Totara North is a small township on the mid-upper reaches of the Whangaroa Harbour, north of the Bay of Islands.  It is one of the earliest settlements and was originally established as a source of timber, particularly Kauri, which was used for spars for ships, then for building European style houses in the newly settled land.

The steep bush-clad hills of this north side of the harbour tumble almost all the way into the sea and offer little flat land on which a town could grow, but Totara North's proximity to the sea, the kauri trees and kauri gum fields, allowed it to exploit its nearby kauri forests and to become a thriving and prosperous community.

In 1870, two enterprising young men who had just completed their apprenticeships,  Thomas Lane and William Brown,  built themselves a skiff in the Bay of Islands and sailed it north to Whangaroa Harbour where they set up their own boat-building business.

Lane & Brown built ships of up to 350 tons and employed up to 100 men and by 1900 over 70 vessels were built and launched at their yards. At that time, Totara North had over 100 children attending the school (around 40 today), three boarding houses, two stores, a bakery, a rope works, a brickworks and a post-office with telegram service.

With the decline of the wooden ship-building industry at the turn of the century, the firm expanded its timber milling business.  Kauri was sent to San Francisco to be used in the city's reconstruction after the 1906 earthquake.   Who would have thought?
The old mill closed in 2004 and today belongs to Te Runanga o Whaingaroa, a local Maori administrative body.  They don't appear to be using it at all.  Amazing how quickly something can fall into ruin when it is neglected.

Sitting out the front, quite close to the road, was this:

 A clue to the factory's current use, perhaps?  I wonder if it's still there.

I'll get back to the boats tomorrow maybe.


  1. they are doing up the SS Torua, I wonder if it is build here originally.

  2. It's sad it is no longer used but it does make for great pictures.

  3. I wonder how many people outside of NZ will pick up on the 'clue'?

  4. I love the first pic. looks like you are driving through the building. or the building was smashed because the road goes through it.

  5. I think the building was cut back to accommodate the tar sealed road (and probably align more with the survey map of the road....since the road used to be a track in the early days and the transportation route used to be the harbour, via seagoing vessels.) I worked here at the mill briefly in the early 1980's as a holiday job....stacking timber planks wet from the tannalising "treatment bath" - in the days before the boss thought to offer or ensure that waterproof gloves were used.

    This was a major employment place for many a family man over the years and up to about 1990. One of my contemporaries (descended from the original shipbuilding families of Mill fame) used to often quip "Ahh the Mill, it's living on borrowed time!"

    Does anyone know which Maori Iwi is associated with the shores of the harbour prior to the European settlement? I tip my hat to you, earlier Maori who dwelt and fished and traded around these shores.
    Kia Kaha


I love to know who's visiting. Leave me a sign!