The little engine that couldn’t: the Miranui tramway

The Miranui flaxmill, located in the Makerua swamp just north of the Horowhenua town of Shannon, was once New Zealand’s largest flaxmill. The mill operated from 1907 to 1933, and had 19 mills, operating 42 flax-stripping machines and employing more than 700 workers during the height of the flax industry in 1916-17. Continue reading

Opiki toll bridge: graceful relic of a thriving flax industry

When driving north along State Highway 56 through the low-lying plains flanking the Manawatu River, a traveller cannot help but notice a suspension bridge to the north of the current road, a tall industrial chimney incongruously positioned at the western end of its span [click here to view map]. Now, its suspension wires dangle without purpose, as if suspended in time as well as space, but this graceful structure still strikes a dignified – if somewhat ghostly profile – on the landscape, hinting at an important role it played in the local economy in the not too distant past. Continue reading

A rare survivor – Taupo swamp

Our environmental history is littered with the stories of wetlands that were drained to make way for farmland or settlements. But in the Wellington region, there is a rare example of a substantial wetland that survived this onslaught. It is an example of how – paradoxically – an environment’s utility as a source of a commercial resource can sometimes provide for its preservation.

Over the last 150 years there were a number of attempts to drain the swamp for farming, but these attempts succeeded in only partially draining the swamp. Continue reading

Flaxmilling in the Manawatu

Now, the Manawatu region of New Zealand’s North Island [click here for map] is known for its farming and wind turbines, but for a few decades from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, flaxmilling was one of the region’s most important industries. When farmers began to drain the swampland to establish pasture in the late 19th century, they found the process stimulated the growth of the flax already growing naturally in the area.¬† From this chance discovery, flaxmilling grew from the 1870s and continued until the 1930s. Continue reading