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Old Flour Mills of Kawhia

Flour Mills of Kawhia - by Taylor White

A report in the "New Zealander" in 1828 read; - "Captain Smith put into Kawhia for flax - that being the only article of commerce produced by the Natives." Capt Smith was the first European to visit the West Coast of the North Island for trading purposes.

From 1849 to 1863 Kawhia was a favourite port for trading vessels and considerable shipments of wheat, flour, flax, pigs and potatoes were exported in return for clothing, tobacco, guns and ammunition.

There was a regular service to Sydney and to a lesser degree South America. They say it was quite common to see several large vessels waiting in the harbour to be loaded.

A further article in the "New Zealander" dated 31 October 1846 read;­ "The Natives of the Mahoe Pa on the Waiharakeke, Kawhia, went to Auckland to sell pigs for £50.

Money to go towards the erection of a water power flour mill on the Waiharakeke River. Mr Waldron of Kawhia was engaged to construct the mill and was busily employed procuring the necessary ironware etc. The Natives intend to return to Auckland in two or three months with more pigs for the same cause".

In those days immense areas of wheat were cultivated by the Maoris, who were numerous around the harbour. A customs officer was put in charge of the port just prior to the Maori war of 1863 which terminated all communication between the two races.

Kawhia remained closed to Europeans for the following 30 years. An interesting article in the "Kawhia Settler" reported that four of the 37 vessels trading at Kawhia, the "John Whitely" (Capt Liddell), the "Ann", the "Harriet" and the "Victory" all mastered by Captain Leathart were each built on the Kawhia harbour. The "Ann" was wrecked in 1856.

There were several mills on the Kawhia Harbour, one in Owhiro at the junction of the Waiharakeke and Ounu streams and others in Ohau and Kiwi Bays.

All that remains of the Owhiro mill is the dam formation, two thirds of the way across the valley. The mill stones from near two small streams in Ohau Bay have in recent years been retrieved by Kevin Woods who farms the property. Obviously water was used to drive the mills.

The wheat was grown by the Maoris who dug the low lying land around the harbour, working side by side in long rows. Wheat was grown on the Tawarau block behind Piri Piri and also on land near the old Tynan homestead (today David Donald's property) in Te Anga.

The wheat grown on the plateau opposite Speedies' property was carried over a well used bluff, down the river to Te Anga, up over Donald's hills, across the road through Grant Holmes' farm to the Taumatatotara before going down to the mill at Owhiro.