Te Puke is a town located 28 kilometres southeast of Tauranga in the Western Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand. It is particularly famous for the cultivation of kiwifruit.
Around 1350, the Te Arawa canoe is said to have landed at Maketu after sailing from Hawaiki. The canoe was under the command of chief Tamatekapua, and he was responsible for many of the original place names of the area. Maori ventured up the rivers and streams and built many pa in the area. The name Te Puke appears on maps as early as 1867, long before there was any European settlement on the site.
Captain James Cook, the first known European to visit the area at the edge of the world, sailed between Motiti Island and the coast in 1769. This was his first voyage to New Zealand, but he did not land here. Cook named the area the Bay of Plenty as he observed that it was well populated and looked very fertile.
After the tribal wars began to ease in the 1840s, European settlers began to move to the area though not in great numbers. In 1876, James Fenton from Tauranga blazed a trail over the Papamoa saddle to Te Puke to bring surveyor Baber to the area. Before this, getting to Te Puke involved a difficult and dangerous sea journey or a tedious walk along the beach. The large swamplands around Te Puke were impassable and this kept the area from becoming settled.
However as demand for land in the Tauranga area increased the Tauranga Working Men’s Land Association was formed in 1877. They petitioned the government for 3000 acres (12 km²) of land in Te Puke, and the first of these settlers arrived in 1879.
Also in the late 1870s, George Vesey Stewart an Ulsterman from County Tyrone, applied to the government to bring settlers from Great Britain to Te Puke as he had done in Katikati. The first of Stewart’s settlers arrived in Tauranga direct from London on the Lady Jocelyn on the 2 January 1881.
To get to their new home the men rode or walked. First of all skirting the Tauranga Harbour, fording the Waimapu River at Hairini, then through Poike and Welcome Bay, and then over the Papamoa saddle (Rocky Cutting Road) and down to the settlement. The women and children came from Tauranga by boat, first to Maketu, then up the Kaituna River to Canaan Landing and then by Maori canoe up the Waiari Stream to the site of the present road bridge just to the south of the town.
By late 1881, Te Puke boasted 25 wooden buildings including two hotels, two general stores, a butcher, a post office and a smithy. The settlers quickly settled upon the land and by 1884 had established a butter factory. Draining of the swamps began. Much of the farming land was found to be “bush sick” but was later cured with cobalt. The area was found to be very suitable for crops, and maize and wheat were grown extensively. Flax milling continued until the late 1930s. Saw milling began in 1905 and is still a major industry in the area. In 1895 gold-bearing ore was discovered at Muir’s farm on No 4 Road. In 1916 a company was formed and the mine was opened in 1921. Due to it becoming uneconomical to work, the mine was finally closed in 1925 and the equipment sold. The AFFCO Freezing Works at Rangiuru opened in 1968 and HortResearch opened on No 1 Road in 1971.
The East Coast Main Trunk Railway passes through Te Puke and opened in 1928. Rail passenger services were provided by the Taneatua Express which operated between Auckland and Taneatua between 1928 and 1959. In February 1959, the steam hauled express train service was replaced by a railcar service operated by 88 seaters that only ran as far as Te Puke. The railcar service operated between 1959 and 1967, when it was cancelled due to both mechanical problems with the railcars and poor patronage, the latter largely due to the circuitous and time consuming rail route between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty at that time.
A combination of the climate and soils in the area has always made Te Puke a popular area for horticulture. From the 1880s tobacco was grown commercially but petered out in the late 1930s. Trial plantings of hops, and later rice, were also tried. Viticulture was also tried and found to be successful but for various reasons also died out. The settlers had established home orchards when finance permitted and it was found that pip and citrus fruits flourished. From this, the first commercial orchard in Te Puke was planted in 1915. Commercial plantings were of apples, pears, oranges, lemons and grapefruit. After World War Two, the Rehabilitation Department settled returned servicemen on the No 3 Road as orchardists. Followed by others with their own finance, most of No 3 Road was in orchards by 1960. By 1966, 80 owners owned about 1500 acres (6 km²) of land of which 900 acres was in citrus and balance in sub-tropical fruit including tamarillos (tree tomatoes) and feijoas. In 1934 Jim MacLoughlin had bought a 7-acre lemon and passionfruit orchard in No 3 Road. His neighbour Vic Bayliss had 2 Chinese gooseberry plants and he had sold the fruit for five pounds! Spurred on by this Jim planted ½ acre of Chinese gooseberries in 1937. During World War II, American serviceman in New Zealand were introduced to the Chinese gooseberry and enjoyed it so much that this spurred further plantings. In 1952 the first exports were made, and in 1959 the name “Kiwifruit” was introduced. Since then many more plantings have been made with Hayward (green) being the most popular. In 1998 “Zespri Gold” kiwifruit was introduced to the market and experiments are being carried out on new varieties including a peelable kiwifruit.
Te Puke Today
Today, Te Puke is a thriving town with a reasonably large main shopping street, which is also the main road passing through Te Puke. There are a number of schools, religious organisations, cultural groups, and a variety of clubs in the town.
A large number of residents work picking or packing kiwifruit during April or May, as well as others coming from other nearby towns and cities.
Te Puke has quite a number of attractions. For information on some of the attractions not listed here, visit the Te Puke Online Attractions Directory
Check out more attractions in the bay
Comvita Visitor Centre
You can learn about Comvita, which manufactures honey and health products, and buy their products at their shop.
Te Puke in the Future
There are plans for a new main road going through Te Puke, not passing through the main street and therefore moving the large bodies of traffic which now pass through the town, and the Government has set aside money for a Te Puke bypass road. There are also plans for a Te Puke Square area with a market, extensive work to Jubilee Park, and various other makeovers to the town.