Coordinates: 39°25.5′S 175°17′E / 39.4250°S 175.283°E / -39.4250; 175.283
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Seddon Street in Raetihi
Seddon Street in Raetihi
Coordinates: 39°25.5′S 175°17′E / 39.4250°S 175.283°E / -39.4250; 175.283
CountryNew Zealand
DistrictRuapehu District
  • Ruapehu General Ward
  • Ruapehu Māori Ward
CommunityWaimarino-Waiouru Community
 • Territorial AuthorityRuapehu District Council
 • Regional councilHorizons Regional Council
 • Total3.86 km2 (1.49 sq mi)
 (June 2023)[2]
 • Total1,090
 • Density280/km2 (730/sq mi)

Raetihi, a small town in the centre of New Zealand's North Island,[3] is located at the junction of State Highways 4 and 49 in the Manawatū-Whanganui region. It lies in a valley between Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks,[4] 11 kilometres west of Ohakune's ski fields.

Early history and economy[edit]

Evidence of Māori people living here in the fourteenth century has been found. Ngāti Uenuku dwelled at Raetihi and Waimarino (known now as National Park, located approximately 35 kilometres/22 miles north on Highway 4). There is little evidence of large permanent settlements but hunting parties were common during warmer months.

In 1887 the Government purchased the Waimarino block from local Māori, and the first European settlement, at Karioi, involved setting sheep to graze on open tussock land. Between 1908 and 1947 the area provided 700 million superficial feet of building timber. The remnants of 150 sawmills have been discovered, and the milling of rimu, tōtara, kahikatea, mātai, and beech trees employed many people. Only two major mills continue to operate, one at Tangiwai and one at National Park.

Raetihi (originally called Makotuku due to the river flowing at the town's edge) became the focal point for travellers going between Wanganui and Waiouru. A thriving town emerged to serve the timber workers and those passing through. A trip North from Wanganui was not for the faint-hearted. The scenic "River Road" passing through Pipiriki was treacherous with primitive tracks and long falls if you left the track. Those who completed the journey to Raetihi found hospitality, accommodation, blacksmiths and saddlers for weary horses and supplies for their further travels north.

Rātana Church

The great fire of 1918 was a setback to many businesses and homeowners in Raetihi. The loss of numerous mills slowed the timber industry but it continued successfully into the 1940s, when the supply of strong native timber began running out. Replanting forests in fast-growing pine was a consideration, but at the time it was not possible to treat this relatively soft wood effectively to make it suitable for outdoor uses.

Although farming was an option for some, it could not equal forestry as an employer. From the 1970s through to the 1990s, Raetihi, like many rural New Zealand towns, suffered from a depressed economy. As elsewhere in New Zealand, sheep farming has also declined, and the two most prominent agricultural activities are cattle farming and vegetable growing.

At present, tourist attractions such as the Dinosaur House Museum and Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail (part of Ngā Haerenga, New Zealand's national network of cycle trails) and various commercial operations providing opportunities to explore the Whanganui River offer hope for a more diverse economic future. Its close proximity to Mount Ruapehu and popular ski-fields has led to the establishment of accommodation and cafes to cater for the increasing number of visitors.

The setting of John Mulgan's classic novel Man Alone, particularly that of Stenning's farm, is based on Raetihi.[5]

Railway and museum[edit]

Waimarino museum

From 18 December 1917 to 1 January 1968, Raetihi was served by the Raetihi Branch, a branch line railway that diverged from the North Island Main Trunk in Ohakune. The station building remains in the town today, relocated from its original site and restored as part of the Waimarino Museum.[6] The museum holds an archive of documents and photographs from the broader Ruapehu area, some of which are available online.[citation needed][7] It was originally situated on Station Road near the Makotuku River bridge on the road to Ohakune. When the railway reached Raetihi in 1917, it played a vital part in the logging industry. Closed to passengers in 1951, the line ceased operations completely in 1968 due to the decline in tree felling and milling.

The railway station building was moved to its present site on Seddon Street in 1981, seven years after the formation of the museum society. Two more buildings, the jail cells and stables, were moved from their original location by the Makotuku River to the museum site in 1983.

The museum holds documents, photographs, and items of daily life showing the progression of the town from its beginnings as a Māori settlement in the 19th century, the arrival of timber mills and large scale logging between 1900 and 1960, and the slow decline of the town following the end of the logging boom to the present.

The museum is run by volunteers and is open for viewing most weekends and by appointment. A number of archival photographs and documents are available for wider viewing on the museum's website.

Connection with New Zealand film production[edit]

Vintage Building
Waimarino County Offices (Former)

Raetihi's economic difficulties made it the perfect location for Skin Deep (1978; Geoff Steven), a black comedy and social satire about a town much like Raetihi. In the film, the local council, made up largely of local businessmen, decide that one way to improve the economy would be to hire a woman to come in from Auckland and provide massages at the local gym.[8]

Larry Parr, writer, director, and producer of films and teleplays, as well as Chief Executive/Kaihautū of Te Māngai Pāho, grew up in Raetihi. In 1986 his New Zealand comedy starring Billy T. James, Came a Hot Friday (directed by Ian Mune), premiered there.[4][9]

For Without a Paddle (2004; Steven Brill), an American film featuring Burt Reynolds, local traffic signs were replaced with American-style signs and cars drove on local roads as though in the United States. Raetihi also provided the closest access point for several scenes in Vincent Ward's River Queen (2005); Horopito, setting for much of Smash Palace (1981; Roger Donaldson), another New Zealand film, is also nearby.[4]


The Bank of New Zealand (Former)
  • 1892 – Raetihi is founded through the government purchase of the Waimarino Block. Until the Main Trunk Line in completed in 1907, Raetihi is accessible mainly via the Whanganui River and horse and dray from Pipiriki.
  • 1896 – Raetihi School opens – with a roll of 36. Mr W. Hird, of Nelson is first principal.
  • 1900 – Raetihi is the largest centre of the King Country with almost 4,500 people.
  • 1903 – co-operative dairy company established.
  • 1911 – The double-fronted Bank of New Zealand building opens on 17 March under the management of TM Butts, on its current Seddon Street site.
  • 1915 – Royal Theatre Opens in lower Seddon Street
  • 1917 – Railway branch line reaches Raetihi.
  • 1918, 18 March – The 'Great Fire' – about 200 houses were destroyed.[10]
  • 1918 – Influenza epidemic.


In addition to a Rātana Church, there are six marae or marae grounds in the Raetihi area associated with local iwi and hapū:

In October 2020, the Government committed $1,076,297 from the Provincial Growth Fund to upgrade a group of 7 marae in the region, including Mākaranui Marae, Mangamingi Marae and Raetihi Marae, creating 129 jobs.[14]


Raetihi covers 3.86 km2 (1.49 sq mi)[1] and had an estimated population of 1,090 as of June 2023,[2] with a population density of 282 people per km2.

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Source: [15]

Raetihi had a population of 1,038 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 36 people (3.6%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 3 people (0.3%) since the 2006 census. There were 339 households, comprising 528 males and 507 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.04 males per female. The median age was 33.2 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 291 people (28.0%) aged under 15 years, 186 (17.9%) aged 15 to 29, 444 (42.8%) aged 30 to 64, and 114 (11.0%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 55.2% European/Pākehā, 66.8% Māori, 2.9% Pacific peoples, 2.0% Asian, and 0.9% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.

The percentage of people born overseas was 5.5, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people chose not to answer the census's question about religious affiliation, 44.8% had no religion, 30.1% were Christian, 14.5% had Māori religious beliefs, 0.3% were Hindu, 0.3% were Buddhist and 0.9% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 54 (7.2%) people had a bachelor's or higher degree, and 243 (32.5%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $24,100, compared with $31,800 nationally. 66 people (8.8%) earned over $70,000 compared to 17.2% nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 360 (48.2%) people were employed full-time, 147 (19.7%) were part-time, and 36 (4.8%) were unemployed.[15]


Raetihi Primary School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 8 students,[16] with a roll of 104 as of February 2024.[17]


  1. ^ a b "ArcGIS Web Application". statsnz.maps.arcgis.com. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Subnational population estimates (RC, SA2), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (regional councils); "Subnational population estimates (TA, SA2), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (territorial authorities); "Subnational population estimates (urban rural), by age and sex, at 30 June 1996-2023 (2023 boundaries)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 25 October 2023. (urban areas)
  3. ^ "Place name detail: Raetihi". New Zealand Gazetteer. New Zealand Geographic Board. Retrieved 29 October 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Brodie, Ian (2006). A Journey through New Zealand Film. Auckland: HarperCollins. p. 68. ISBN 186950 610 3.
  5. ^ see A Good Mail: Letters of John Mulgan 2011; note on page 10
  6. ^ David Leitch and Brian Scott, Exploring New Zealand's Ghost Railways, revised edition (Wellington: Grantham House, 1998 [1995]), 27–30.
  7. ^ Waimarino Museum, Archival pictures and documents, accessed 29 October 2007.
  8. ^ "Skin Deep (1978)". IMDb. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  9. ^ Stowell, Laurel (6 June 2018). "Former Raetihi man Larry Parr honoured for services to film and television". Whanganui Chronicle. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  10. ^ Craig, Dick (1990). The King Country. Waitomo: Waitomo News. pp. 136–137.
  11. ^ Ellis, Moana (13 May 2021). "$6m economic recovery project underway at Whanganui and South Taranaki marae". Stuff. Retrieved 26 February 2024.
  12. ^ "Te Kāhui Māngai directory". tkm.govt.nz. Te Puni Kōkiri.
  13. ^ "Māori Maps". maorimaps.com. Te Potiki National Trust.
  14. ^ "Marae Announcements" (Excel). growregions.govt.nz. Provincial Growth Fund. 9 October 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Statistical area 1 dataset for 2018 Census". Statistics New Zealand. March 2020. Raetihi (223000). 2018 Census place summary: Raetihi
  16. ^ "Ministry of Education School Profile". educationcounts.govt.nz. Ministry of Education.
  17. ^ "Education Review Office Report". ero.govt.nz. Education Review Office.