Takaka Hill is a range of hills located in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand. Made of marble which has weathered into many strange forms and with numerous sink holes, it is typical karst country.
There is only one road winding over and around the flanks of Takaka Hill, following the valleys of the Takaka River to the northwest and the Riwaka River to the southeast.
It rises to 791 metres at its highest point and separates the coastal communities of Golden Bay from those of the more populous Tasman Bay to the southeast and because of its winding nature isolates Golden Bay from the rest of the South Island.
Takaka Hill is notable for its marble quarry and for many caves, including Ngarua Caves which are open to the public and feature deposits of moa bones. Harwood's Hole, at one time the deepest cave in New Zealand, is also to be found on Takaka Hill.
Takaka Hill, as many other areas in and around the Golden Bay, has also been the location for many scenes filmed for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Takaka Hill divides Nelson and Golden Bay. Its steep, twisting road reveals the ancient craggy lime and marble formations and caving system that give the hill its popular name, Marble Mountain. Its resources have been widely used.
Takaka Hill is a mysterious place, with its rocky karst landscape and extensive cave system which featured as a film location for Lord of the Rings .
It is also a place of legend. Local Maori believed the taipo (devil) lived in the Canaan area on top of the hill. Taking refuge from Te Rauparaha on the hill at Canaan, they fled when they heard deep underground rumbling, fearing it was the growl of taipo. Charles Heaphy, who, in 1843, became the first recorded European to cross the hill to Golden Bay, was later asked whether he had come across the taipo. Such noises are thought to be caused by the underground drainage of the hillthrough the Middle Earth Cave system.
In early years, the usual way to get between Nelson and Golden Bay was by sea, around Separation Point. Following the Aorere gold rush in the 1850s, a foot track over the hill was widened and improved. In the 1870s the Bates brothers began calling for a bridle track over the hill to Takaka, and then a coach road. Planning for coach road began in 1886, following a different route to that of the foot track. This was despite arguments that a road to Golden Bay should follow the coastline. On January 3, 1888 it was announced that two buggies had been driven over the road, taking three and a half hours to ascend the Takaka side and two hours to descend to Riwaka.
The opening of a road made the quarrying of the hill's limestone and marble resources possible. Quarrying began at Kairuru, 10km from Riwaka on the Nelson side of the hill, in the early 1900s.
Marble from there gained national prominence in 1911, when it was chosen for use in the construction of the new Parliament Buildings in Wellington. The Government architect, John Campbell, specified Takaka marble from Kairuru because it had the necessary strength and could be polished to a high creamy lustre. The heavy marble blocks were transported via a tramline down the steep hillside for 10.4 km to Sandy Bay and shipped to Wellington. A total of 5000 tonnes of marble had been quarried at Kairuru by the time Parliament Buildings were completed in 1922.
Later, the quarry provided marble for the Massey Memorial in Wellington and for decorative features in the Beehive in the 1970s. Some of the old quarry machinery from the original quarry can still be seen on the privately owned Kairuru Farm. Today, marble for tiles and building panels comes from a new Kairuru quarry in the Holyoake Valley.
In 1938 Arthur McKee and his sons Guy and Tasman bought a quarry near Ngarua, which led to the formation of Lime and Marble Ltd. The McKees had established the Fruitgrowers Chemical Company, which produced spraying oils and lime sulphur for the apple industry, Port Mapua in 1932. The quarry also supplied lime for glassmaking and burnt lime for local agricultural purposes. Lime is still produced from the Ngarua quarry by Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-Op Ltd, near the Ngarua Caves.
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