Taranaki small towns on Surf Highway are worth a detour
Eltham is the second largest town in Taranaki, home to Victorian buildings and a town of firsts. Historically the town is an industrial powerhouse with the first butter exports being shipped from Eltham. The town offers vintage and retro-shopping with several well known Eltham shops located in old banks and other historic buildings. With its vibrant and eclectic arti scene it is a definite stop for visitors interested in exploring the Taranaki art community. It is a great place for a day trip from New Plymouth. Explore the town of firsts.
Eltham was named after a village in Greenwich, England. According to some records the name was bestowed by a surveyor who named it after Eltham, a part of Woolwich, England.
Eltham is located by the Waingongoro River in central Taranaki.
- Heritage trail exploring streetscape Victorian and Edwardian buildings
- Pease building quirky vintage machinery collection, Mike Coil’s Eltham Taranaki museum. Full… – The Shed Magazine
- Town murals with even the Police Station hand painted by school children
- Eltham, with its substantial dairy industrial heritage continues to offer visitors a chance to shop at the Fonterra Cheese shop
- The Village Art Gallery is a community art gallery promoting local and district art. A hub for Taranaki artists. Exhibitions change monthly.
- Centennial soldier’s park walkway
- Eltham Friday Market is weekly from 9.00am onwards. Weather permitting.
Eleven buildings are registered as significant buildings with the NZ Historic Places Trust. Stop at the Village Art Gallery, cafes and the old BNZ shop for retro finds. Lake Rotokare walks are family friendly beginning at the picnic area The lake is New Zealand’s longest man made lake, two public boat ramps with access for water skiers and wake boarders. And, perhaps shoppers did not get the message, the place is a shopping mecca for discerning bargain hunters, retro-hunters and vintage clothing, bric a brac or anything quirky and slightly old.
- A town of firsts (unofficial)
- Lake Rotorkarea picnic and become a kiwi guardian
- Pease vintage machinery collection, things that turn on and oddities bring to life how things were
- Stark and Bridger Park are linked together with the children’s toy wall adjacent to Bridger park entrance
- The extraordinary Chinese businessman Chew Chong who exported the country’s first butter from Eltham to England in 1884 and built the first dairy factory in 1887 (a first for NZ)
- Eltam’s the first town in New Zealand to acquire a tarred sealed street in 1906.
- Industrial architecture first with the suspended concrete floor of the Pease building 1909. The floor has very strong enormous solid concrete legs.
- Have you tried a local favourite at the cafe, a scone with jam and cream (local of course). A scone weighing a massive 119.45kg in 2010 set the current Guinness World Record for the largest scone.
- Local politician and long term mayor 1941-1947 Charles Wilkinson was responsible for several of Eltham’s shop buildings and his home, Ashleigh Lodge, is one of Eltham’s most substantial heritage buildings.
- Visitors who criticise small towns
Where to take the best selfie
- Pick a town mural, for instance heritage mural on King Edward St or Rotokare Reserve mural on The Village Gallery wall
- Pick a heritage building such as 1901 Old Post Office building on Bridge St
- Lake Rotokare picnic with locally sourced Eltham cheese as a set piece in the photo moment
- Eltham toy wall with its quirky displays
Who turned up and settled in Eltham?
- Maori oral history documents tracks through lush lowland podocarp bush exiting at the current Eltham. The Ngaere Swamp nearby was a rich source of eels and flax. The area is the confluence of a number of natural waterways with the Waingongoro River, a transportation route for pre-European Maori.
- In 1884 Eltan was barely a blip with 25 residents by the late 1880’s the population grew with the opening of land for farming. In 1989 Eltam became part of South Taranaki District with the local body amalgamations.
- NZ’s first commercial butter factory in 1887 opened by Chinese immigrant, Chew Chong, wow the prejudice at the time. Mr Chong’s nifty silk attire, his snappy suits, the gentlemen had charm and business sense in spades. He thought about gold mining and decided to sell groceries instead. Definitely a smart cookie.
- Axemen competitions, wood chopping Mr George McCauley won the 1st World Championship in Eltham, 1911
- Over 100 years trading Renco, manufacturer of rennett calls Eltham home. One of the world’s largest producers of rennet. The secret ingredient of cheese among other delicious edibles.
- The first Rotary cowshed was designed in Eltham.
What makes the place tick over?
- Eltham is an agricultural service and shopping centre for the district. Eltham supports a number of industries related largely to the rural economy. Among these are the manufacture of butter, cheese, and rennet; ham and bacon processing; and the manufacture of meat smallgoods, meat freezing and packing. A local speciality is the manufacture of novelty cheeses, notably “blue vein”. Other industries include timber milling and joinery, and the making of concrete poles.
Best time to go
- Year round, if it’s raining pop into the local cafes and enjoy a scone
- 1,970 (2020)
- Enormous dairy tankers with double trailers while crossing the road
- An ideal day trip from New Plymouth to a weekend exploring the district. Stay awhile in the town of firsts.
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