According to the carbon dating of Moa Hunter remains found near the mouth of the Okaweu Stream, about three miles north of Opunake, man has lived in the area for at least 1,000 years. Conditions certainly favoured the growth of a large Maori population on the coastal strip, for the climate was kind, the soil fertile for the growing of the kurnara, and the area was teeming with fish and bird life. Warfare was frequent between the local tribe, the Taranaki, and its neighbours, the Atiawa to the north and the Ngatiruanui to the south. The three major causes of warfare were apparently women, land and revenge.
However these wars were as nothi ng compared to those after 1818 when war parties from North Auckland and Waikato, armed with newly acquired muskets, made frequent raids to the area.
The Taranaki Maoris fought bravely with their traditional weapons but those proved no match for the muskets. Finally in 1826 at battles at O-Komako-Rau (the Pa in the Pungarehu Domain) and the Maru (near the present Kahui hut) the Taranaki tribe was almost destroyed. Those who escaped fled south to the Opunake area, and some then made their way to Kapiti, Wellington and even the Chatham Islands. It was not until 1833, at the famous battle ofTe Namu Pa, that Wiremu Kingi Matakatea and 150 warriors of the Taranaki Tribe finally turned the tide against the war parties from the north. The 1840s then saw a steady stream of refugees and freed slaves return to the area.
Perhaps the first real contact with Europeans came in 1834 when the "Harriet" was wrecked at Manihi Beach. A number of Europeans were killed by the Maories, but Mrs Guard (the wife of the Captain) and her two children were captured. Captain Guard and five of the crew managed to escape and eventually H.M.S. "Alligator" was sent to rescue the survivors. This resulted in the first clash between British Infantry (the 50th Regiment, sometimes called the "Dirty Half Hundred") and Maori warriors in New Zealand. There was little European settlement in the area for another 30 years, but a number of Europeans, particularly missionaries, travelled through the area.
Probably the first house built for a European was in 1842, for it is recorded that Bishop Selwyn held a service at Te Namu, in the foundations of a home being constructed for aflax trader by the name of Bishop, in October of that year. With the commencement of the first Taranaki Land War in the north, detachments from most of the sub tribes of the Taranaki tribe moved to support their fellows, and as a result a great proportion of their lands was confiscated.
Up to this stage Opunake did not exist asa settlement-it merely existed as a name on a map or a good landing place. The real beginning of Opunake township was on 29 April 1865, when Colonel H.J. Warre landed with a combined party of the 57th Regiment and the Taranaki Bushrangers from the 5.5. "Wanganui". A redoubt was built above the present Power House and various skirmishes took place with the local Maoris over the next few months. In October 1867 Nelson Carrington made the first survey of the Opunake town area over the one square mile claimed as a military grant. By 1869 a hotel and two flax mills were built.
OAONUI IRRIGATION BOARD Settlers of the Arawhata district interested in securing permanent water supply for their farm lands met at the Arawhata Road Cheese Factory on March 23, 1917. A committee was set up comprising Messrs. O. Cross (Chairman), H. F. Field, G. J. Clegg, R. L. Eustace and H. V. A. Jordan to go into the question of diverting water from the Oaonui River to feed natural watercourses in the area. Mr. A. O'Brien was appointed secretary. The late Mr. J. R. Stewart pro- pounded a scheme which was approved, and it was decided to form an Irrigation District under the Land Drainage Act, 1908.
All preliminaries having been complied with, the first Board of Trustees was elected on December 15, 1917, and comprised Messrs. G. J. Clegg, O. Cross, H. V. A. Jordan, D. Markham and J. C. O'Rorke. Mr. D. Markham was elected chair- man. The Board met with some trouble in securing lands for the site of the weir in the Oaonui River. Legal action was decided favourably to the Board, but it was not until the summer of 1922 that water was available, and was turned on to about 14 miles of water-courses serving about 4600 acres. The benefits received were quickly realised by adjoining farmers and the Irri- gation District has been enlarged and approximately 7000 acres are now being served through 70 miles of water-courses at an average annual cost of ten and one-sixth pence per acre.
In 1964 the Irrigation Board approached the Egmont County Council and merged with them becoming a Committee of the Council. The present Committee comprises Messrs. J. S. Stronge (chairman), G. D. Dawson, A. Harvey, P. Walsh, L. J. Barrett, L. Smith and J. Ahie. -.- In 1883 the first Maori land in the Opunake block, which extended from the Waiaua Stream to the Moutoti Stream, was put up by the Reserves Trustee to pub- lic tender. The block contained 44,000 acres, and extended nine miles to the forest reserve.
The coastal strip was the first to be taken up. In those days the bush extended on an average to a mile and a half from the coast.
During the 1870s as land hunger increased roads were pushed from the north and south into the confiscated lands and numerous redoubts were constructed by the Armed Constabulary in order to guard them and the settlers. A new form of resistance by the Maoris, that of passive resistance, led by Te Whiti of Parihaka, now took place.
This involved a number of peaceful methods of obstructions, in particular the "ploughing" and the "fencing". The "ploughing" consisted of parties of Maoris ploughing up the land of the newly arrived white settlers as a protest against them occupying the land of their ancestors.
The "fencing" consisted of parties of Maoris erecting fences across the new roads. No force was ever used, there was no violence, it certainly was not the usual type of war.
Again and again fences were removed from the roads by the Europeans, only to reappear the next morning. Again and agajn ploughing parties made their protest. As one group was arrested and sent to prison, another soon appeared on the scene. It was a very frustrating time for the new settlers, the Armed Constabulary and the Government, for it was impossible to imprison all the participants, let alone all the supporters of Te Whiti who flocked from far and near.
Finally on Guy Fawke's Day in 1881 troops moved in, arrested and exiled Te Whiti and other key figures and wrecked the village. This virtually ended Parihaka* as a centre of resistance, and eventually Te Whiti was allowed to return. , From then on, European settlement of the area accelerated, encouraged by the advent of refrigeration. Important milestone in the history of Opunake since then included the following:
1881 Opunake Primary School opened.
1881 First bank (B.N.A.) opened.
1882 Opunake Town Board constituted.
1885 Opunake Co-op Dairy Co. opened.
1891 First jetty constructed.
1894 Opunake Times began publication.
1894 First Church (Catholic) opened.
1902 Egmont County Council established.
1921 Opunake Electric Power Board set up.
1924 Railway link with Eltham opened.
1925 Secondary Department at Opunake Primary School established.
1937 Borough of Opunake established.
1956 Opunake Borough merged with Egmont Council
1956 Opunake High School established.
1969 Maui I struck oil, gas and condensate off the Opunake coast.
1974 Egmont Co-op Dairy Company formed.
1976 Opunake branch railway line closed.
1979 Maui Onshore Production Station opened and gas fed throughout North Island.
1982 Fire destroyed about one third of Opunake High School.
OPUNAKE ELECTRIC POWER BOARD NOW PART NEW EGMONT ELECTRIC POWER BOARD (1965)
It was not until the nineties that the settlers of the Opunake district became fully alive to the great possibilities of this wonderful source of light and energy and the early records show that in 1899 the Opunake Town Board. were in communi- cation with Engineers regarding the possibilities of electric supply for the Town. Plans for a small scheme at the Waiaua River were prepared by Mr. J. R. Stewart at this time. In 1903 Mr. Edmund Allo, a Consulting Engineer, reported further on the possibilities of the scheme and in 1904 tenders were received for the install- ing of a suitable plant but the matter was held in abeyance. Again in 1907 the matter was raised by Messrs. Holmes and Allan who offered to put in a plant for the town. After further investigation by the Town Board an acetylene gas plant was installed in preference to the power scheme. In 1917 a further move was made by the Town Board, Messrs. Templin and Toogood, Consulting Engineers, being appointed to draw up a scheme. A poll of ratepayers was taken, a loan of £7000 was raised and construction was commenced. It was then considered that a much larger area than the Town could be served and the Power Board was formed in 1921, the first members being Messrs. C. A. Trotter (chairman), J. P. O'Brien, M. O'Brien, F. Carter, W. L. F. Chambers, H. Young, whilst Mr. A. O'Brien was ap- pointed Secretary and Mr. Webb, Engineer, whilst the services of Messrs. Templin and Toogood were retained. A loan of £70,000 was carried by poll of ratepayers of the Power Board area (bounded in the South by Oeo Road, east by Awatuna and north by Mototi Stream) and in December of 1923 the area from Mototi Stream to Puniho Road was added to the licensed district of supply and a further loan of £22,000 was raised to cover the extra capital outlay required. In 1963 an amalgamation of the South Taranaki Power Board and the Opunake Power Board took place and the combined new Board is named the Egmont Electric Power Board.