From the steep bluffs, the snaking river and tributaries lined with sheer cliffs and rolling hills stretching towards the central plateau and away to the sea - all originally covered in dense native scrub - this land has been lived and worked on for centuries. Māori originally lived in kāinga and pā sites on both Maraekowhai and Koiro, building fortifications and terraces for planting, the bush was burned off to clear the scrub to allow warriors to see approaching foes, or friends. The burning of the bush also gave space for kunekune pigs to grow and roam, a livelihood for the local hapū.
After the King Country was opened to Europeans in the late 19th century, riverboats conveyed adventurers into the northern reaches of the river valleys. In 1909 one of the these adventurers was Oscar Monrad. Having heard of a section of land available to lease, he travelled by train to Taumarunui spending the night at the Meredith House before embarking on river steamer to the house boat moored at the mouth of the Ohura river. This floating hotel was a popular stop for tourists and floated on the river to avoid causing friction with local Māori who were still resistant to settlers creating permanent structures after the recent opening of the region. Monrad and his companions then walked to Opatu Falls and scaled the 15 meter high bank besides the falls. At the top of the falls the arduous journey continued. Wading through the river and dragging a canoe laden with supplies through the small rapids, Monrad and his party finally reached the landing at Omutu which gave them access to Maraekowhai. Here the party would spend the cool night in an iron hut on beds of cut manuka branches.
Monrad and his companion, Mr von Blaramberg, traversed the block of high fern, thick tawa bush and manuka scrub before Monrad left them to continue on to the farthest reaches alone. Small huts offered a hospitable welcome in the corners of the block but the path was treacherous, sometimes only muddy tracks cut into steep bluffs overhanging the Ohura river. Monrad was exhausted after this expedition, often collapsing as soon as rest was called. After several days of surveying the block he made his way back to the houseboat via a small Māori settlement. As a result of this inspection, the purchase of the block was formalised under the Maraekowhai Land Development Company, of which Monrad took a share and became Chairman of Directors. His travel companion, von Blaramberg became the resident manager of the property.
Von Blaramberg immediately began the huge task of clearing the land of scrub and bush, a difficult task to do by hand. Because the land was volcanic the bush was often light but the soil was friable and light in nutrients. Land was burned off and the ash would provide fertiliser for the volcanic soil, on this pasture would be planted. Pastures had to be fenced and building erected to house the workers. Between 1910 and the outbreak of war in 1914, contractors were brought in to help clear the bush, it was strenuous work and bush camps were often primitive. Once war broke out, the availability of workers slowed with most men going off to war.
Once pastures were planted and boundaries fenced to contain stock, sheep were bought and railed to Taumarunui, from here they would be driven the rest of the way on hoof. The relationship between man and beast was important as the stockmen often had to carry some of the hogget through the particularly muddy tracts of path. This formidable journey through boggy and difficult country meant some of the stock didn’t make it to the station and those that did required time to recover. Sheep coming to Koiro had the additional challenge of having to swim the width of the Whanganui river to the farm. However, once on the farms the stock grew well making the most of the hilly and remote landscape.
Koiro is sister station to Maraekowhai and was bought and developed in 1910 by Mr Hope Gibbons of Wellington. A mill was built on Koiro to allow timber to be milled for buildings needed on the farm, this made the isolated stations self sufficient and helped build the community that supported the stations. Maraekowhai became a central shearing base for neighbouring station, in the early days 300 bales of wool were produced and then taken by sledge and then wagons over rutted roads and bog to Ongarue, a round trip that would take eight full days in summer, longer in winter. The sense of community and friendly rivalry was fostered through annual dog trial competition between Koiro and Maraekowhai stations. Eventually Koiro stations became part of the Maraekowhai Company adding to the production capacity.
For over one hundred years the Maraekowhai Land Development Company has played an important role in the pioneering spirit of the King Country. Working the often remote and difficult land into something that produces high quality cattle and sheep stock while creating and supporting the community it is part of. From day one Maraekowhai implemented a policy to play an integral part in the Tokirima region.
And it intends to continue this role well into the future.