Kaitangata, New Zealand

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Coordinates: 46°17′S169°51′E / 46.283°S 169.850°E / -46.283; 169.850 Coordinates: 46°17′S169°51′E / 46.283°S 169.850°E / -46.283; 169.850
CountryNew Zealand
Region Otago
Territorial authority Clutha District
 (2013 census) [1]
Area code03
Local iwi Ngāi Tahu

Kaitangata is a town near the coast of South Otago, New Zealand, on the left bank of the Clutha River ten kilometres south east of Balclutha. The town is known to its residents simply as Kai.


In June 2016 the town gained international attention when new low cost housing was offered there, and local mayor of Clutha District, Bryan Cadogan, estimated there were 100 [2] -1000 job vacancies in the region; [3] the news was carried by The Guardian and TVNZ's Seven Sharp . [4]


A view of the Clutha River where it enters the sea from Kaitangata. Inch Clutha in the middle distance. Clutha from Kaitangata.jpg
A view of the Clutha River where it enters the sea from Kaitangata. Inch Clutha in the middle distance.

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.


In 1863 there were only 29 eligible voters in the wider district, which included Inch Clutha and Matau. [5] By 1865 the population for the wider area was given as 403 males and 253 females – a total of 656. [6] Considerable expansion took place with the arrival of rail and the local population sought to have the town proclaimed a Municipality in July 1878. [7] Kaitangata was within Bruce County at the time.

According to the 2006 New Zealand census, the usually resident population of Kaitangata was 810, an increase of 21 since 2001, but by 2013 this had fallen by 48 to 762. 50 years earlier in 1956 the population was 1,286. The town is largely of European descent, with well below the national average of people recorded as being non-European (7.1%).


Initially access to Kaitangata was by boat up the Clutha River. When road access was being improved at considerable expense in 1862 there was opposition in favour of a steamer service on the river. [8] In 1862 the town was described as a port of entry with a customs house. [9]

Road access remained problematic up until the mid-1870s due to poor construction and surface flooding. [10] A rail link (the Kaitangata Line) to the South Island Main Trunk was constructed in 1875, primarily for moving coal. Prior to the construction of the line, the coal had been shipped down the Clutha River.



The origin of the town's Māori name remains uncertain (definition is Cannibalism in Maori kai=food tangata= people). It is the name of a figure in Māori mythology, but could also refer to cannibal feasts held after tribal fighting between the Kāi Tahu and the Kāti Māmoe iwi in the district. One can translate the name from Māori to English as "food" (kai) for "people" (tangata) or as "people for food". After the mining disaster in 1879 a local newspaper pointed out the meaning of the name and its appropriateness in the circumstances. [11]

European settlement

In preparation for organised European settlement, in 1847 a party that consisted of Joseph Thomas, R J Harrison, and Charles Henry Kettle surveyed the area of land known as the Otago Block, lying between the Clutha and the Tokomairaro Rivers. The surveyors identified the present location of Kaitangata as suitable for a village on their map. When Europeans settled in the area through the early 1850s, sheep- and dairy-farming started. The town's first settler, in 1855, was John Lovell.

Frederick Tuckett had discovered coal in the nearby area in 1844 at Coal Point, but access meant that mining did not commence until the late 1850s. At Kaitangata mining began in 1862, just after the township commenced with the sale of its first 40 sections on 28 February 1862. [12] In August 1862, 25 sections were sold in the township for an average of £14 per section. [13] The Presbyterian Church acquired a site for a church in late 1862. [14] Mr James Kirkland was the first Minister appointed on 10 September 1863. [15] The town by 1862 had a customs house, a police station, and stores. A resident magistrate. Andrew Chapman, was the first Post Master, appointed on 15 September 1863. [16] Chapman was later adjudged bankrupt because he was not a competent businessman, and a new Post Master was appointed on 1 February 1865. [17]

A primary school was established in 1866 and its roll reached 50 pupils in April 1873. [18] [19] Flax mills opened in early 1870. [20] In November 1870 a Volunteer Unit, part of the No 1 Clutha Rifles, formed. [21] A saw mill had been established sometime before 1872. In 1873 a town library commenced operations. [22] Cheese manufacturing started. A minor property boom occurred in 1875–1876 with the arrival of rail in the town, with sections selling anywhere up to £100 by June 1876. [23] [24] The telegraph arrived some time in 1877 and a new Presbyterian Church opened in October that year. [25]

Clubs and societies

A cricket club was formed by January 1864. [26] The Ancient Order of Oddfellows was established in September 1865. [27] A Temperance Society was set up in 1871. [28] By 1877 there was a football club. [29]

Coal mining

Memorial to the 1879 mining disaster Kaitangatamemorial.jpg
Memorial to the 1879 mining disaster

An initial report on coal in the nearby area at Coal Point was carried out by J G Lewis in 1859. [30] This was followed by Dr Hector's survey of the coal fields from 1862–1864 and his report was published in June 1864. In it he identified the area around Kaitangata as being suitable of coal extraction. [31] William Aitchinson had already begun extracting coal near Kaitangata in 1862. [32] In 1871 he leased his mine to John Thompson of Balclutha. [33] He installed a wooden tramway from the mine to the Matau River. [34]


Coal mining was the mainstay of the town's economy from the 1870s until 1972, when the last state-owned underground coal mine closed. In addition to the earlier mentioned Thompson mine, MacFarlane and Martin opened a new mine in March 1872, with Dunedin merchants Messrs Findlay and Chapstick being added as additional owners a month later. [35] Their mine was referred to as the No 1 Coal Company mine. In September Thompson and Aitchenson reached agreement to raise capital to expand their mining operation by way of a new company, the Kaitangata Coal Mining Company. [36] The Company made a rail link to the South Island Main Trunk at Stirling in 1875.

In September 1873 ownership of the No 1 Coal Company Mine passed to a Mr McLaren. [37] Later the same year Messrs Findlay and Watson opened their mine. [38] 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.

Industrial action

In 1873 miners at the Kaitangata Coal Mining Company struck for higher wages. Their claims were unsuccessful and work resumed after about a month. [39]

Mining accidents

In either late 1873 or early 1874 the No 1 Company's mine caught fire. By July 1874 the fire had broken out of the mine and attempts to put out the fire were unsuccessful. [40]

One of New Zealand's early industrial disasters occurred at the Kaitangata mine at 8am on 21 February 1879, when the lives of 34 miners were lost in an underground explosion. On the day of the explosion 47 men were employed at the mine. The cause of the explosion is believed to have been a methane gas build up that was ignited when the mine managers brother entered a disused area of the mine with a lit candle. [41] The Coroners Court verdict found negligence on behalf of the mine manager and his brother, together with the lack of legislation as the contributing factors in the disaster. [42]

Open cast

Kai Point open cast coal mine A mountain of coal.jpg
Kai Point open cast coal mine

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, founded by George Cross, has been mining coal at Kaitangata since 1951 and produces coal for local industry and domestic heating. It was producing 55,000 tons of coal per annum. [43] The remaining open-cast mine produces lignite, which is primarily used in household fires and industrial boilers.


In 1873 local residents petitioned the Provincial Government to construct a Branch Line from the South Island Main Trunk to Ropers Creek near Kaitangata to enable coal to be easily transported from the mines. [44] In 1874 the Provincial Government applied for consent to raise a £27,750 loan to construct the Branch line with an extension as far as Coal Point. [45] This was unsuccessful and as a result the Kaitangata Coal Company began to investigate constructing its own line.

A railway construction company, the Kaitangata Railway Company was formed and Government consent sought to construct the line. After the Railway Company was formed it amalgamated with the Coal Company, forming the Kaitangata Mining and Railway Company. Construction of a railway line from Kaitangata to the South Island Main line at Stirling was commenced 1875 and was completed on 31 March 1876. It was a private branch line serving the township and the mines. Eventually the line later came into the state Mines Department's possession. It was closed in 1970.

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.


In April 1877 several local stores were set alight by an arsonist, although only one was destroyed. [46] A £250 reward was offered for locating and prosecuting the offender. The culprit was never found.

In 2010 and 2013 the town has gained some notoriety due to several high-profile crimes connected with the town, notably cases of arson. [47]


Introduced species

Black swans and pheasants were introduced into the area in the 1860s by the Acclimatisation Society. Trout were introduced into the Matau River in the 1870s.


At 10am on 11 May 1877 a seismic sea wave from the 1877 Iquique earthquake caused an 18 inch high wave up the Clutha River past Kaitangata, with the river eventually rising to four feet above its former height. This repeated hourly for most of that day. [48]

Drainage and flooding

In 1877 workers began to drain the lakes at Kaitangata. [49] The community hoped that by draining the lakes a source of flooding which plagued the area would be removed.

At the end of September 1878 the whole township was severely flooded, no lives were lost but considerable damage was done to the township. The road to Granton was washed away and the railway bridges piles were undermined. [50] [51]

Recent developments

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. [52] In 2010 a museum focusing on the coal mining industry was opened. [53]

Kaitangata promotions house and land package

Empty sections in Kaitangata Kaitangata land and houses.jpg
Empty sections in Kaitangata

In May 2016 Kaitangata Promotions began offering a house and land package in Kaitangata for $230,000 [54] In June this story was picked up by other New Zealand media and then following a story in The Guardian became a worldwide media phenomenon. As an indication of the level of interest, By the end of the June daily pageviews for "Kaitangata, New Zealand" on Wikipedia were exceeding those for world cities like Sydney and Los Angeles. [55] The mayor of Clutha district Bryan Cadogan said that "more than 10,000 people" had expressed interest in coming to live in Kaitangata. [56]

Media misinformation

At the beginning of July 2016 some media outlets including the San Francisco Chronicle online edition SFGate began falsely reporting that Clutha District Council was actually giving away houses or money to the value of US$160,000 to potential residents. [57]

Rules for buyers in scheme

On 5 July property sales for the house and land package were temporarily suspended. [58] The incredible response to the scheme, at one point saw more interest in Kaitangata than perhaps any other place in the world, [59] and the real estate agent responsible had received more than 9000 emails regarding it. Accordingly, the promotions group wanted to ensure that it was genuine settlers which were buying the sections and not just speculators.

To achieve this:

Rules would be set, including that successful buyers would need to declare their intention for the land, speculators would not be encouraged, and buyers would agree to build within two years.

Otago Daily Times


Kaitangata School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 8 students, [60] with a roll of 100 as of March 2020. [61]

Notable people

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  1. "2013 Census QuickStats about a place: Kaitangata". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  2. South Otago town of Kaitangata makes world headlines punting the Kiwi dream, The New Zealand Herald , 12:49 PM Thursday 30 June 2016
  3. Roy, Eleanor Ainge (29 June 2016). "Tiny New Zealand town with 'too many jobs' launches drive to recruit outsiders". The Guardian . Dunedin. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  4. "Afford to live the Kiwi dream: Kaitangata 'buzzing' as appeal for workers goes global". Seven Sharp . TV ONE. 2 July 2016. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  5. The Superintendency, Otago Daily Times, Issue 407, 10 April 1863, Page 5
  6. Tokomairiro, Bruce Herald, Volume III, Issue 65, 6 July 1865, Page 3
  7. Meeting at Kaitanagata, Clutha Leader, Volume II, Issue 107, 28 July 1876, Page 5
  8. The Clutha navigation, Otago Daily Times, Issue 187, 21 June 1862, Page 5
  9. Advertisements, Southland Times, Volume I, Issue 15, 30 December 1862, Page 4, Column 2
  10. Visit of the Secretary of Works, Clutha Leader, Volume II, Issue 57, 12 August 1875, Page 5
  11. Editorial, Bruce Herald, Volume XI, Issue 1098, 25 March 1879, Page 5. "Apropos of the late colliery disaster in the Bruce district [...] the word Kaitangata, which is of Maori origin, means 'a man-eater,' which it has fully proved to be."
  12. Kaitangata, Advertisements, Otago Witness, Issue 528, 11 January 1862, Page 4, Column 3
  13. Untitled, Otago Daily Times, Issue 205, 5 August 1862, Page 4
  14. Presbytery of Otago, Otago Daily Times, Issue 318, 26 December 1862, Page 4
  15. Untitled, Otago Daily Times, Issue 551, 23 September 1863, Page 4
  16. Untitled, Otago Daily Times, Issue 624, 17 December 1863, Page 4
  17. New insolvents, Otago Daily Times, Issue 1084, 10 June 1865, Page 5
  18. Education Board, Otago Daily Times, Issue 1462, 4 September 1866, Page 5
  19. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 480, 18 April 1873, Page 3
  20. Flax, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 304, 23 February 1870, Page 3
  21. Inch Clutha, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 343, 23 November 1870, Page 7
  22. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 484, 29 April 1873, Page 6
  23. Opening of the Kaitangata Branch Railway and Coal Pits, Otago Daily Times, Issue 4471, 17 June 1876, Page 3
  24. Kaitangata Land Sale, Clutha Leader, Volume II, Issue 102, 23 June 1876, Page 6
  25. Opening of new Church, Kaitangata, Clutha Leader, Volume IV, Issue 171, 19 October 1877, Page 6
  26. Tokomairiro, Otago Daily Times, Issue 670, 10 February 1864, Page 5
  27. Untitled, Bruce Herald, Volume III, Issue 76, 21 September 1865, Page 3
  28. Inch Clutha, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 363, 12 April 1871, Page 5
  29. Untitled, Clutha Leader, Volume III, Issue 143, 6 April 1877, Page 5
  30. Report by J G LEWIS Esq on the Clutha Coal Fields, Otago Witness, Issue 397, 9 July 1859, Page 3
  31. Dr Hector's report on the coal fields of Otago, Otago Witness, Issue 654, 11 June 1864, Page 5
  32. To the Editor, Otago Daily Times, Issue 235, 20 September 1862, Page 6
  33. Balclutha, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 367, 10 May 1871, Page 6
  34. Untitled, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 382, 30 August 1871, Page 5
  35. Editorial, Otago Daily Times, Issue 3148, 9 March 1872, Page 2
  36. Miscellaneous, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 437, 25 September 1872, Page 2
  37. , Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 532, 26 September 1873, Page 6
  38. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 582, 24 March 1874, Page 6
  39. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 475, 28 March 1873, Page 6
  40. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume VII, Issue 617, 24 July 1874, Page 6
  41. Kaitangata Mine Disaster, History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage
  42. The Kaitangata catastrophe, Otago Daily Times, Issue 5322, 11 March 1879, Page 3
  43. http://www.kaipointcoal.co.nz/ Kai Point Coal website
  44. Proposed Kaitangata Railway, Bruce Herald, Volume VI, Issue 506, 27 June 1873, Page 6
  45. Proposed Railway Resolutions, Bruce Herald, Volume VII, Issue 600, 26 May 1874, Page 3
  46. The fire at Kaitangata, Otago Daily Times, Issue 4723, 7 April 1877, Page 2
  47. Authorities investigating after fire at three-bedroom house, Helena de Reus, Otago Daily Times, 30 July 2013
  48. The tidal wave, Clutha Leader, Volume III, Issue 149, 18 May 1877, Page 3
  49. Kaitagata Lakes drainage, Otago Witness, Issue 1350, 13 October 1877, Page 5
  50. Kaitangata, Bruce Herald, Volume XI, Issue 1049, 4 October 1878, Page 4
  51. Kaitangata, Clutha Leader, Volume V, Issue 223, 18 October 1878, Page 5
  52. "Kai: Now the good news" (Otago Daily Times, 22 July 2006)
  53. Flood of memories return at opening of museum, Rachel Taylor, Otago Daily Times, 25 October 2010
  54. Kaitangata Promotions. "Kaitangata – House and Land Package from $230,000". Community.Scoop. Scoop.co.nz. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  55. "Kaitangata". informationism.org. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  56. Elder, Vaughan (2 July 2016). "Kaitangata — so hot right now". Otago Daily Times . Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  57. "Kaitangata". informationism.org. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  58. White, Samuel (5 July 2016). "Town's section sales on hold". Otago Daily Times . Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  59. Informa. "Wikipedia Page view stats for Kaitangita were now beating London and New York". informationism.org. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  60. "Kaitangata School Ministry of Education School Profile". educationcounts.govt.nz. Ministry of Education.
  61. "Kaitangata School Education Review Office Report". ero.govt.nz. Education Review Office.
  62. Prime spot at festival, Helena de Reus, Otago Daily Times, 16 March 2013