TAPAWERA CAMP HISTORY
Tapa: edge; wera: hot or burnt
From 1914 to 1918 the 12th Nelson, Marlborough & West Coast Regiment was based in an army camp in Tapawera to facilitate training grounds held first by the Volunteers. These comprised the Nelson City Company, Waimea Rifles, Stoke Rifles and H Battery as well as the Wakatu Mounted Rifles. On the transition to Territorials in November 1911 they became the 10th (Nelson) squadron Mounted Rifles. When the former Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast Regiment gathered in Tapawera for this training, the regimental emblem, made from large white rocks, was placed on a private hillside above the training grounds just to the north of Tapawera village. The stag-shaped emblem was well maintained during the war years, but gradually disappeared after the end of World War II. One hundred years later (in 2014) Tapawera volunteers re-instated the emblem on the hill, along with a storyboard by the road, and launched a ceremony to mark this important part of the town’s history.
The Nelson-based explorer/surveyor Thomas Brunner was probably the most notable explorer in the area. Brunner spent years exploring and circumventing what is known today as the Kahurangi National Park. He undertook many of these trips with his Maori guide and lifelong friend E Kehu, who lived in Motueka and knew the Motueka Valley and Wangapeka terrain very well. In March 1846 (with Heaphy) Brunner and Kehu spent months exploring from Farewell Spit to Hokitika via the West Coast, followed by another lengthy exploration inland from Nelson to South Westland via the Buller River. On this occasion they faced starvation to the point where they ate Brunner’s dog, thus earning Brunner the Maori nickname ‘Kai kuri’ (dog eater). Other notable explorers of areas around Tapawera include Samuel Stephens (1843), James MacKay (1858), Hochstetter & Brough (gold mining 1859), John Rochfort (1859) and Thomas Salisbury (1863).
This mural on the public toilet in Tapawera in the upper Motueka River valley depicts a digger panning for gold. Gold was first found in the area in 1859. A sitting of the Nelson Provincial Council in 1861 voted that £100 (around $10,000 in 2010 terms) would be offered as a prize for the discovery of a payable goldfield in the area. The next year four men received £25 apiece for their discovery in the Rolling River (a tributary of the Wangapeka). Gold was also found in the Tadmor, Sherry and Wangapeka river valleys.
Following the 1859 survey by Von Hoechstetter, a workable gold field was discovered at the Wangapeka by Pilkington, James and Griffith. The discovery of a quartz reef by Culliford started the subsequent gold rush in 1869, and the Wangapeka township with a population of 250 emerged at Courthouse Flat. A five stamper battery was built in 1871 to crush the ore but the yield was pitifully low. With the onset of the depression in 1932, more claims were taken up at Rolling River but the mining continued to be unprofitable. Today, the original township has all but vanished. Cullifords Battery and much of the equipment still lies alongside the walking tracks of Blue Creek and Nuggety Walk near Courthouse Flats.
Tobacco was grown in the Nelson-Motueka area from the 1840s and provided jobs and wealth to the district for over 70 years until demand reduced, pushing growers to switch to other crops such as fruit. Gold diggers at Tadmor in the 1870s grew their own tobacco, compressing it into plugs by applying a weight to a long pole, which forced the tobacco down into a mould.
Tapawera was established as a population centre when the Midland railway was built in the early 1900s, with the intention to connect Nelson with the rest of the south island by carrying passengers and freight. Small locales such as Kiwi, Tui and Kaka in the Tadmor valley were also stations on the line. However, in the 1930s after a painfully slow building progress focus soon turned to the contruction of main roads and highways and in 1952 the railway was targeted for closure. In 1954 Kiwi was the site of a protest, where women sat on the lines trying to get the government to keep the line open, however their protests failed. Today’s Tasman Great Taste cycle trail follows much of the original railway into Tapawera from the Nelson direction, including through the historic Spooners Rail Tunnel through which the trail passes.
The land at the head of the Motueka valley was open country in the 1840s and had probably been burnt off by Maori. A shepherd named Gordon worked there, and the area was originally called Gordon Downs. An accommodation house was built at the Motueka River crossing in 1856 and the land was farmed for sheep, but was poor country. From 1926 exotic forests were planted marking the beginning of the Golden Downs State Forest, with Golden Downs Forestry headquarters and dedicated worker houses established in Tapawera in the 1960s. With a large part of today’s Kahurangi National Park formerly known as Northwest Neslon Forestry Park, the forestry industry became a main provider of income for Tapawera residents until it’s closure in 1987, the headquarters now mostly empty with some of the worker houses privately purchased and rented out.
Today Tapawera is currently a prime producer of blackcurrants, berries and hops, as well as dairy, beef and sheep. Surrounded by stunning scenery, trout-filled rivers and national parks, Tapawera also now has it’s own ‘Kahurangi Gateway’ landmark and tourism is rapidly growing in and around the local area, this further boosted by Tapawera being the main destination on the southern part of Tasman’s Great Taste cycle trail.