KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935

In 1898 the original Mackaytown Hotel was replaced by a much more substantial hostelry, built there by a new proprietor, Harry Priston, followed later by Rox Woodward. The 1900 Cyclopedia tells us that the two storeyed Hotel had 18 rooms with accommodation for 60 guests. Behind it was stabling for 15 horses as well as a Bowling Green and Tennis Court. When "No Licence" was carried in 1908 this Hotel was used as a Boarding House and later as a Post Office while Mrs Flavell was Caretaker. (In 1925 when licence was restored it was moved to Waikino where it still stands — now a Tavern.)

Meanwhile the shanties of Mackaytown had given way to little gable-roof, two—roomed wooden houses, consisting of a bedroom and a living room with a tin chimney. Actually there was a boom in chimneys. A Paeroa paragraph in an early Thames newspaper stated: "Mr John Phillips made the first tin chimney ever constructed, in this district." The houses were ideally suited to the family man who added a lean-to at the back as required for more children.

When the mines did not come up to expectations, men took whatever work was available — road-making being a constant need.

By the turn of the century Mackaytown had assumed the air of a residential suburb, some of the larger homes having been built for mining executives. Notable among these was the big, verandahed "Talisman House" built in 1900 on several acres of land for John McCombie. He had taken part in the celebrated rush in 1875, and in 1878 located the first gold at Waihi. Returning to Karangahake, he was among those who found the Talisman Reef in 1882, and was General Manager of the Woodstock and the Maratoto mine before becoming Manager of the Talisman, and finally Superintendent of the Crown. Throughout his career he was a constant contributer to the press. He had a family of five. The house was approached by an imposing series of steps and terraces from the main road which had been extended to the rapidly growing Karangahake township on the eastern side of the river, via a ford and footbridge at Doherty's Creek.

In 1909 the McCombie family left to reside in Auckland and when Mr John Rickard was appointed Manager of the Talisman, he and his hospitable wife and daughter, Essie, occupied the house for 10 years. The Dutton family followed, and then in 1920 Mr and Mrs Ritchie bought the property. Fred, a son of Mackaytown School's first teacher, was already a sick man and died about 10 years later. Mrs Ritchie continued to be the central figure in Mackaytown, exerting a wonderful influence over the whole community. She died in 1961 at the age of 86 - a grand old lady. The house remains with new homes on the subdivided property.

Adjacent to the Mackaytown Hotel, a large area was reserved for a much used Recreation Ground. One crossed this and then a swing bridge to reach the Mackaytown Railway Station (side). But opposite it, many houses lined the road or looked down on it from the hill. Some of the occupants of these homes, when the road ran nearer the hill, were Kearns, McNamara (Post Office and shop till 1915), C. Taylor (Tinsmith), Ladner and Frank Marsh who had the first rubber-tyred gig. Past the intersection, Dr Craig, Shearer's shop, Dent, and Walton.

On the left side of Albert Road were Bailey (May), Albert Reed (whose house was moved to Whangarei, but who had planted the magnolia tree that still stands), Moore (Shand), Blucher, Trepo. On the right side were Dickie (King), Knox, Barrance (Milligan), and Ayres.

On the outside of the bend, was, and still is, home of Tom and Lorna Morris, a house built by the Littlejohn family (of 6) after the death of their father, Mr William Littlejohn, who was the first engineer for the Ohinemuri County (1891-95). He continued the exploratory work of Mr W. Tetley (Foreman) on the Karangahake Gorge Road - a major engineering feat accomplished with a minimum of mechanical aids. Workmen were sometimes suspended in cages over the steep cliff faces where blasting operations were extremely dangerous. The eldest son, Douglas Littlejohn, also had a home and family in Mackaytown, and was metallurgist with the Crown. His brother, Charlie, who became the best known in Mackaytown, married talented Kate White who taught at Karangahake School and they lived in the old home where their two children were born. Charles Junior had a meteoric career because of outstanding ability and character and became Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives. Kathleen is the wife of Harry Naylor, Professor of Nuclear Physics.

Recreation Ground, Mackaytown Railway Station.

Recreation Ground, Mackaytown Railway Station.

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
Recreation Ground, Mackaytown Railway Station.
It is said that the flat stretch of Albert Road was once nearer to the northern side of the hill and that James Mackay was responsible for planting the big pine trees that still mark the old route. Some of the original families were: Milroy, Nealie, Patterson (Ernie Smith), Wattie Smith, Mrs White's Boarding House (now Miss Pickman's home). On the opposite side of the road were the Douglas Littlejohns, the Mackaytown School (built in 1902), Sullings, Cochran and Daunton and a Church Reserve. Around the corner from Mrs White's Boarding House was Mrs Meagher's home. Originally, this was one of the temporary hotels. Mrs Meagher, a great-hearted widow with a large family, was always sent for when there was trouble in any of the Mackaytown homes. Her daughter, Madge, was born there, and her son Alan, popularly known as "King", became an inveterate prospector and friend of all. He used to recall that an extraordinary character worked for Dr Craig. Known as "Weepo", he was tattooed, short and a well—built coloured man, who was a wonderful athlete and children liked to watch him when he was training. He was adept at swinging clubs, but also two short-handled axes with blades as sharp as razors! An old imperial soldier, known as "Blucher", lived in a shanty in Mackaytown. He was frequently drunk and had been injured when a coach ran over him. He was unable to walk, and strapped to a stool, he propelled himself with the aid of short crutches. He took much pleasure in scaring cheeky children. Another character was "Spud" Murphy who lived near the top of the present "Cutting" in a hut which had to be moved in a hurry when Doherty's Creek broke through and undermined his section, washing much of it away. The Cutting was later formed to take the place of the steep steps which for years had been a link between Mackaytown and Karangahake.

A large house on the bluff facing the mountain and commanding a magnificent view, was the home of Mr Kitching, Accountant for the Talisman Company. This area is now the property of Jack Milroy.

Early residents of the Rahu Road from Mackaytown Hotel end were, on the left hand side: Wight, Snelgar, Snodgrass, Gibbons, O'Brien, Nelson, C. Lloyd, Hardman, Goldsworthy, O'Neil, and on the hill: Billing, Wilson, Bailey, Noble, Redfern, Remington, Flavell, Clarke, Jackson, Kulmar, Morrison, Green, Morris (Muirhead). On the right hand side of the Road: Ball (Clarkin), Bogue, Laurie, Ryall, Gubb, McDuff (Principal of School of Mines) (Palmer), R. Lloyd, French (Dare), and beyond the Cutting: Dodd (Wigmore), McLoughrey (McMillan, Young, Turnbull, Gavin, Bradford). Other settlers were Collett, Williams, Pennell.


The late Fred Dare Snr came from Thames in 1900, married Alison Laurie and spent most of his life in Mackaytown. He was competent in all phases of mining and also a noted sportsman. There were three children: The late Isobel (Mrs Mortleman of Opotiki), Fred, a retired Headmaster of Auckland, and Olie, who held high positions in the Government Service in Wellington and overseas.

Ralph Pennell, a brother of John (whose wife was the famous Nurse Pennell of Paeroa), was among the first settlers who arrived during the gold rush and took up a block of land at the far end of the Rahu Road with his wife and eight children. They were: Annie (Mrs Brown), Cis (Mrs Gibbons of Kopu), John, Ralph and Lottie (Mrs Peterson) who attended the first Mackaytown School; May (Mrs Meads), Lena (Mrs Kulmar), Esther (Mrs Allan) were amongst the earliest pupils at the Karangahake School, as were Zillah (Mrs Roberts of Waihi) and Bill, who were born at their Rahu home. They had lost their mother by then and life was not easy. They went to school via Butler's Track. Their father, a Shift Boss at the Woodstock, and the older boys were always involved in mining, but cows provided part of their livelihood. The men would carry heavy cans of milk on their way to work and the children would follow with smaller ones and deliver the milk on their way to school. They were an outstanding family. They recalled that Dan Campbell, who drove the Mail Coach over the Rahu from Waihi to Paeroa used to call at their place for refreshments. (Sharing was then an important part of life.) Some years ago Mrs Burke of Taupiri, daughter of the late Zillah Roberts, donated a sum of money to the Paeroa Historical Society, suggesting that it be spent to provide an engraved seat at the Karangahake Picnic Area, in memory of the Pennell family.


About the turn of the century there was a Volunteer Rifle Brigade, the Range being situated at the foot of the eastern hills. Beyond this, Mr Noble, who was an executive at the mines, put in a tunnel and men worked there searching for scheelite, or calcium tungstate, an ore of tungsten. This is one of the minerals that always fluoresces (in this case, blue). It is remarkably heavy and looks like creamy white quartz. Tungsten is the metal used for the wire in electric light bulbs and also to harden steel. However, finds in this area were negligible, but further up the Rahu Road was a deposit of Cinnabar, a red mercuric sulphide, which was worked for some time by J. .B. Morris, the owner of the property.


For assistance in compiling this chapter we especially thank Grace Morran (nee Milroy) and her brother Jack. They were born in Mackaytown and have continued to live here. Grace, a keen sportswoman, has been a wonderful friend, and a teacher at Paeroa College, while Jack is the proprietor of a thriving Poultry Farm. Their late sister, Jean, gave outstanding service to missionary work and teaching in Maori communities — especially in the Urewera. We also thank Evie Spinks (nee Marsh) and Anne Nield (nee O'Neil) who checked details for us.

On many of the sites of early homes spring bulbs still bloom - "in memory!" But the predominant Elaeagnus Hedges that grew untrimmed to an enormous size, fell victim to later Bulldozers.


Talisman House, Mackaytown, 1900.

Talisman House, Mackaytown, 1900. McCombie Family in residence.

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
Talisman House, Mackaytown, 1900.
In 1895 the Coromandel Goldfield was past its zenith and miners were migrating to Ohinemuri. Will and Dick White were two who came here and batched — but not entirely — for once a month their indomitable mother rode through from Coromandel to cook "and do" for them. Then the family decided to come and join the boys.

Mr E.D. White, who was a miners' carpenter, and his 15 year old daughter, Annie (later Mrs D. Leach), rode the two horses through, spending the night at Tapu. Mrs Leach recalled that she always rode side-saddle. This advance party prepared for the family at the little cottage that had been made available for them at "Siberia", a location above the Crown Mine up the Waitawheta Gorge. There were only two cottages there and the other was occupied by the Sandy McNeil family whose descendants are well known.

Meanwhile Mrs White, with the remainder of her brood of 10 and their belongings, set out by boat from Coromandel to Auckland and thence by boat again to Paeroa. They arrived there at dawn and were conveyed by "double buggy" to Karangahake.

The extreme difficulties of the access to Siberia - the children walked to school on the water race - decided Mr White to build a home in Mackaytown about 1898. This proved too small for the large family and, being a carpenter, he set to work on a larger house which later, as the children left, became Mrs White's Boarding House (now the home of Miss Rickman).

Will, the eldest of the family, had mining is his blood and it took him far afield. He and others from here went to the Klondike and then, because he had a leaning towards Africa, he joined the Boer Forces and served there. He went to London after that but returned to Africa.

Mackaytown School, 1908

Mackaytown School, 1908

KARANGAHAKE the years of the gold 1875 -1935
Mackaytown School, 1908
Dick was an outstanding footballer. Then there was Frances (Mrs Tregoweth), Annie (Mrs Leach), and Rose (Mrs Williams) who remained a resident of Mackaytown for many years. She and her husband and son Harry were on a farm up the Rahu Road, but when Mrs White was left alone, they came down and lived with her and cared for her until the end of her long life. When her husband died, Mrs Williams and Harry (by now a trained electrician) moved to Auckland. Flora (Mrs Egan) lived in Hamilton, and Doug (who went to the First World War), married and lived abroad. He was connected with an aluminium company but returned to Mackaytown with his family and was assaying for a time. Alice became Mrs Bussy, and Joe, a well—known "Postie", died in 1959. There was Rachel (Mrs McDonnell) and Gladys (Mrs Maunders), who was born in Mackaytown.

Annie White worked in the Karangahake Post Office with Mrs Airey, and in 1903 married Mr David Leach, then engine-driving at the Talisman, and very interested in prospecting. In 1908 they took over Nat White's stationery shop and conducted a very busy trade selling a multiplicity of goods until they left Karangahake in 1912. During this time, Mr Leach served on the School Committee, introduced good books, and awarded wonderful prizes. He was responsible for many of the old photographs we still have. He arranged for Mr Causley of Thames to take them and had them printed and coloured in bulk as postcards. (Note the "Published by D. Leach".) Mrs Leach recalled a rather desperate happening which, nevertheless, had a humorous "aside". One night burglars broke into their shop and carried the safe to the river bank by Dad Lee's shanty. There, they "blew" it open, to the very great consternation of poor old Dad Lee who knew that the Miners' Magazine was nearby. Recounting the event the next day, he said, "I thought I was getting blown into maternity!".

When Mr Leach moved to Henderson, Mr McDonnell, who was baking for Keating, bought Keating's branch business in Paeroa and in 1915 Mr Leach returned to take over from Stewart, the Victoria Bakery, which for many years was the district's main source of bread.

Mr and Mrs Leach had four children. Leslie, whose home is at Murrays Bay is a retired surveyor. He lived in Borneo for 20 years where he did the first Triangulation Plans for the Government, He then surveyed Tonga, and later was in the Bahamas. Frances (Mrs Mackie) was a nurse and then for many years an invalid in a wheelchair, is happily well, at .Beachhaven. Will is a retired school teacher. Joan (Mrs Bogue), lives at Beachhaven.

The Leach family continues to hold summer reunions at Karangahake, arriving with caravans and tents.