Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000

By Basil Thorp

Why should this no exit country road be any more newsworthy than any other, of which there are almost hundreds throughout New Zealand?

Four reasons:

  1. It was the main highway between the Thames-Waihi Goldfields and the Waikato and further south during the horse drawn era, up until 1903;
  2. It had a notorious railway crossing and the railway station - now long since gone. (See article in Journal 36, page 18 [see Journal 36: Paeroa - Waihi Railway 1905-1983 - E]);
  3. It led to the Paeroa Golf Course and
  4. Its Oak trees planted in the late 1800s by an early settler, Alfred Thorp, give the road its special character.

Many a story could be told of the characters that have lived along the road, but for this article, one must confine comment to the road itself.

Rotokohu meaning, "Valley of the Mist", was the logical place for the arterial route south, as it takes an almost straight line from Paeroa to Te Aroha - a distance of ten miles, three miles shorter than the present route.

Why then was the route altered?

One can only surmise that as the railway was built across the swamps, then the road builders of the day mistakenly thought it would be cheaper to follow the railway. The road formation from Paeroa was never ending, as fast as metal was dumped, it disappeared into the peat. Likewise, power and telegraph poles sank or developed crazy angles. Incidentally the state hydro high-tension feeder lines from the Waikato River remained on the Rotokohu route.

The road has had three names, firstly, Te Aroha Road, then Old Te Aroha Road and now Rotokohu Road.

What was the significance of the Golf Club?

It meant that when the road was sealed around the 1970s, there was a good argument for taking the seal as far as the golf club, which was a good 3½miles from town.

While in today's figures that is only a five minute drive, when the road was in its metalled state, it was very slow and wearing on tyres and vehicles, largely because the middle section runs across unstable peaty ground and very course metal had to be used. There were three worn tyre tracks between the mounds of metal. One had the choice of driving through the loose metal or braving the potholes in the tyre tracks. Bicycles were a no-no, although one girl from the French family did brave the daily three mile trip into town.

Traffic was very intermittent, many farmers only going to town once a week for supplies. Passing another vehicle was a work of art, as both vehicles would have to move off into the loose metal, as there were only (as earlier mentioned) three wheel tracks. The power poles were at the edge of the metal so these had to be avoided as well (these have since been moved). So Rotokohu Road was a typical country road, which has now become a much used speedway for all and sundry in their Japanese cars.

Where families before only had one car, the norm now is two or three and they are used almost constantly. This is an interesting observation of the road users on Rotokohu Road. Taxis were a common sight, showing no regard for other users. These have largely disappeared with the advent of the 'cheapie cheapie' Jap cars. Likewise herds of animals were a common sight, either moving to other paddocks or just grazing the 'long acre' or maybe moving to the saleyards.

During this period there was only one brief flurry of activity. In the late 1950s the railway department had a hill removed opposite the golf course to make a foundation of 6 acres for the new railway station. A fleet of trucks ran for several months up and down the road in clouds of dust.

Today we have a super highway and despite the traffic, I wouldn't want to go back to earlier times.