The following history was researched and written by the late Mrs N Clark for the Te Pahu School 75th Jubilee in 1986. Thanks to the Clark family for their kind permission to reproduce this.
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Mahanga, at the head of which was a chief named Mahanga. Mahanga was a descendant of the occupants of the Tainui canoe which landed at Kawhia. He is said to have been the first Tainui Chief to penetrate peaceably into the Lower Waipa Valley. His Pā, called Purakau, was built at the junction of the Kaniwhaniwha stream and the Waipa river (this site is now  owned by Mr Noel Adams). Mahanga settled at Te Pahu and divided his land between a son and a daughter. The son waged war with the Kawhia Mäori and suffered a severe defeat. Mahanga took part in the NZ War against the European Government and when this was over his land was confiscated and he went to live at Waitetuna.
With a staggering load of war debt and big payments for British soldiers still on New Zealand soil, the Government of the day was anxious to see the militiamen settled on their own land and becoming self sufficient. The district of Harapepe was chosen to settle some of these men. On the 16th February 1865 Von Tempsky and his men came up the Waipa river and landed at Te Rore, then continued overland to Harapepe where they set up their tents. The country was still in a disturbed state and Harapepe had to be made safe so a Redoubt was built. The land was surveyed, and sections were allotted to the Forest Rangers.
Few men possessed enough money to buy equipment to sow their crops. No employment was to be had locally. After taking over their farms, the men were still required to attend monthly parades and were not permitted to leave the district without official passes. The men had to choose between starvation and obedience to orders. Little wonder many chose to desert the Waikato settlements in large numbers. Militiamen who remained at Harapepe set to work to turn their land of fern, flax and bush into productive land. They cleared and fenced enough land to hold stock. There were no roads and soldiers had to rely on river transport and pack horses to carry agricultural implements and stores.
others walked off their land in search of paid work. Many of the original sections allotted were abandoned and a special Act of Parliament had to be passed to release them for sale.There was always the fear of an attack from Māori tribes and settlers were able to seek shelter in the blockhouse.
Harapepe had a hotel called “Settlers Arms”. With the departure of more soldiers the hotel was forced to close, but re-opened on the return of more officers. A store was established and generated enough business to survive.
Some roadwork was now available to the settlers at 4/6d. a day. They were required to supply their own forks and shovels, find their own food, and the means to travel nine miles to and from work. By the end of 1867 the road was negotiable on horseback or by horse and dray, two thirds of the way to Pirongia.
Some land was now cultivated and grassed, stock numbers increased. Crops of maize, pumpkins, potatoes and wheat were grown and the settlement was becoming self sufficient.
This area was very isolated for many years. It was bounded by the Waipa river which was not bridged at Whatawhata until the 4th April 1881 and at Te Rore on the 12th July 1881. Settlers depended on the river service for their supplies and transport. Harapepe Post Office opened in 1867 – this was situated between Mr B. O’Connor and Mr W. Henderson’s gateway.
Later, in 1886, an Act of Parliament was passed providing for the establishment of a County Riding system. In these days there was a dirt track running from Whatawhata through Johnstone’s hills and along what is now known as Grove Road. A road was surveyed via Te Pahu through the Karamu flats and was called the Main Road. These roads were merely tracks, passable only by horses and foot traffic, and it was not until approximately 1908 that a start was made to form and metal them.
The attic of Garrett’s homestead is thought to have been used as a schoolroom before the erection of the Harapepe School in 1877 (the school site is where Mr W. Henderson’s home now  stands). This School was built a similar style to the Te Rore School and had an opening roll of 26 children. The families represented were: Hodgson 8; Rosborough 3; Ormsby 5; Rolla 1; Thompson 1; Burns 1; Pohlen 2; McGuirk 3; Southey 2. Harapepe was a part-time school with Te Rore. Education matters were at a very low ebb at this time and attendance was poor. The value of the children’s labour on their farms was of more importance to their parents than the education and future welfare of the children. If it was time for potato harvesting or time for cutting the wheat, school attendance was low. In 1884 one of the teacher’s wives was employed to teach sewing at the school for five pounds per annum, but after sometime this appointment was allowed to lapse as no one wanted to pay this high salary.
At this time there was one Presbyterian minister to serve the Waikato and church services were held once a month or less in the Harapepe Schoolhouse. Weather conditions played an important part as to whether the minister could come – he had to cross the Waipa river in a punt.
The School continued with its irregular attendance, closed for a short time, re-opened, and was eventually burnt down in 1891. By this time Karamu School had been in operation for two to three years, so some of the pupils transferred to Karamu to be educated.An excerpt from the Waikato Times dated 20th January 1891 – I have, where possible, put in brackets the present day owners of the farms. “After crossing the bridge (by Waikoha Road), the main road for a couple of miles runs through the beautiful farm of Mr Noble (Noel Adams and Pat Fitzgerald). On the right hand is about 30 acres of oats just coming out in ear. Further on and on the opposite side is about 40 acres of wheat and oats. One piece of oats had just been cut, and there was so much bird damage as it was the first one in the district to ripen. Mr Noble has also just harvested a paddock of rye grass, for seed. After leaving here we pass Mr Harsants farm (Dallan Smiths-Johnstones), and the road winds prettily along the edge of the bush, and near the Kaniwhaniwha Stream. As we pass over the little bridge leading into the Kaniwhaniwha valley the school (Karamu) can be seen high up on the left, and numerous well beaten tracks leading up to it. The main road leads through the valley, which is now looking at its best, good crops of oats and potatoes, and a rich sward of grass are to be seen. Wherever settlement can be seen it is always on the flats. The road seems to rise higher and at last we reach a point overlooking the well-known and formerly well-populated settlement of Harapepe. The principal stock kept seems to be sheep. Some nice plots of turnips have been planted for winter feed. After leaving the settlement on our way to Te Rore, the first farm reached is that of Mr Thompson (O’Connor), whose over-hanging pines and willows shade the road. At the end of Mr Thompson’s property is the School (Harapepe) deserted and silent during the holidays. We now reach the farms of Rosborough and Hodgson. Mr Rosborough has a large area of land, some in turnips, and a considerable quantity of both wheat and oats which are looking well.”
All farmers in the district had a mixture of breeds of cows and a few pigs. The pigs were kept in primitive conditions compared with today’s standards. As the farms improved, more emphasis was placed on dairying. Creameries were established at convenient points throughout the district.
The Harapepe Creamery (above), which was built in 1897, was situated approximately where Mr Forward’s house is now.
The Karamu Creamery (below) began operation in 1906-1907. This was situated to the right of the Karamu Post Office. The factory manager lived in a house further down the road.
Herds of cows were all hand milked and the milk was taken to the creamery, then by horse drawn wagon to Ngaruawahia. There was great competition to get to the factory first in the morning. If you missed your turn it was sometimes a long wait, as the milk had to be weighed, a test taken and then the skim milk was carted home and used for feeding pigs and calves. With the advent of home separation in 1911 the creameries closed and the lives of the dairymen changed again. The first separators were turned by hand and this was a time consuming chore. Later kerosene, benzene and diesel engines were used to drive milking machines. During the early 1930’s electricity in homes and cowsheds transformed the lives of settlers. The motor lorry appeared, to carry cans of cream to the factory. Finally the milk tanker came and collected the milk. Over the years increasing automation and modernisation of cowsheds, farm implements and home appliances has changed lifestyles.The early settlers were never short of food. When winter started they would kill a fat beast and salt it down. There were numerous wild pigs and wild cattle in the bush and one of the diversions the men indulged in was to hunt these animals. One of the greatest disadvantages the early settlers suffered was the problem of access to medical aid. In the case of emergencies, the nearest doctors were at either Te Awamutu or Hamilton, and a call for one involved a long and tedious ride on horseback.About 1900 a flax mill was started on the banks of the Mangaone Stream on land now owned by Mr Ted Rogers. Later another mill was erected on the other side of the road, approximately where the group of pine trees are at Karamu. The flax was cut by hand, tied in bundles and sometimes floated downstream to the mills – there were no willows growing on the sides of the streams then, stripping machines scraped each leaf until the outer covering was removed. These were then soaked in the river and then dried on fence lines.
When the flax supplies were exhausted the mills were dismantled. A sawmill was built and operated in Mr Dallan Smith’s (Johnstone’s) paddock. Another sawmill operated in Mr Lyall Smith’s milling timber from Moore’s Gully. At one time there was talk of a railway going from Frankton, through Haddock’s farm, past the Kaniwhaniwha Limeworks and onto Kawhia. The bush had been cut by Returned Servicemen, and the line was surveyed but never installed.
A limeworks established on a co-operative basis under the Chairmanship of Mr Haddock was worked for some years, but eventually closed. The Karamu Lime Company now  occupies a five acre site on Johnstone’s property, and opened its doors for business on the 25th September 1972. A store was built capable of holding 9,000 tons. There is thought to be 50 years supply of lime in this area. With the change of ownership the company now operates under the name of Superior Lime 1979 Ltd.
The 25th February 1958 saw the worst flood since 1907. The Te Rore bridge and Harger’s Bridge, which were the sole access routes into Te Pahu, were all under water. Telephone lines with Te Awamutu and Hamilton were cut. There was no power, and the school was closed. Cream was taken from the area in boats or barges. The area was isolated for almost a week.
Te Pahu has been lucky to have the convenience of a country store and garage. In 1952 Mr Errol Christian built a store and garage adjacent to the existing store, operated by Mr and Mrs Colin Shaw. In 1963 Mr and Mrs Don Brown bought the shop and operated this business for five years. In 1968 Mr and Mrs Brian Coomber became the owners. Mr Don Manning worked the garage for 18 years – an amenity that is necessary in a farming community. When Mr and Mrs Coomber left Te Pahu, Mr Shaw transferred his business and the Post Office service to the Te Pahu Store. During 1980 Mr and Mrs Murray Sanders purchased the complex and operated it until 1985 when Mr and Mrs Hans de’Ryke took over the shop. Mr Doug Semmens now  owns and operates the garage.
Looking back it is amazing to see how much the district has developed, from dirt tracks to tarsealed main roads, from bush covered land to the developed, lush grassland featuring on all the farms today. The struggles and the hard work of the early settlers have left a community spirit that is still with us, and this must be treasured and passed on to the following generations.