Kaitangata, New Zealand
The town sits close to the coast on one of the branches of the Clutha River's delta. The small island of Inch Clutha lies immediately to the southwest of the town. Close to the town to the north lies the small Lake Tuakitoto, which drains into the Clutha via a small stream which runs to the west of Kaitangata.
According to the 2006 census, the usually resident population of Kaitangata was 810, an increase of 21 since 2001. The town is largely of European descent, with well below the national average of people recorded as being non-European (7.1%).
The origin of the town's Māori name is uncertain. It is the name of a figure in Polynesian mythology, but could also refer to cannibal feasts held after tribal fighting in the district between Kāi Tahu and Kāti Mamoe. The name can be interpreted from Māori to English as, 'food for people' or 'people for food'.
Kaitangata's European history is closely tied to coal extraction. One of New Zealand's early industrial disasters occurred at the Kaitangata mine in 1879, when the lives of 34 miners were lost in an underground explosion.
Coal mining was the mainstay of the town's economy from the 1870s until 1972, when the last state-owned underground coal mine closed. Several open-cast mines have continued to exist (both state and private) up to the present day, such as the Kai Point Mine. The Kai Point Coal Company has been mining coal at Kaitangata since 1951 and produces coal for local industry and domestic heating.
From 1876 to 1970, the Kaitangata Line railway served the mines; initially privately owned, it later came into the state Mines Department's possession. The locomotive that operated the line for many years, known during operation as an "Improved F", was donated to the preservation society at Shantytown in Westland and it operates heritage trains today with the nameplate "Kaitangata" in honour of its former home.
The underground mines produced sub-bituminous coal of a high quality, which was used primarily as fuel for the steam locomotives, in use in NZ until the 1960s. When the railways switched to diesel locomotives the decline of underground mining occurred. The remaining open-cast mine produces lignite, which is primarily used in household fires and industrial boilers.
In recent years the town has gained some notoriety due to several high-profile crimes connected with the town (notably cases of arson in the 1990s). A local promotions society (formed from the former ratepayers' association) has improved this image somewhat and has been responsible for numerous civic projects in and around the town.
"Kai: Now the good news" (Otago Daily Times, July 22, 2006)
- KAITANGATA MINE DISASTER - 21 FEBRUARY 1879
- Kai Point Coal Mine website
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