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Coordinates: 46°11′S 168°52′E / 46.183°S 168.867°E / -46.183; 168.867
Country New Zealand
Region Southland
Territorial authority Gore District
 (June 2020)
 • Territorial 1,710
 • Urban
Time zone UTC+12 (NZST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+13 (NZDT)
Area code(s) 03
Local iwi Ngāi Tahu

Mataura is a town in the Southland region of the South Island of New Zealand. Mataura has a meat processing plant, and until 2000 it was the site of a large pulp and paper mill.


It is situated on State Highway 1 and the Main South Line railway, on the eastern fringe of the Southland Plain 13 kilometres south west of Gore and 53 kilometres north east of Invercargill. On the southern side of the town, New Zealand State Highway 96 diverges from SH 1 and runs westward through nearby communities such as Te Tipua and Waitane, ultimately terminating in Ohai. The town straddles the Mataura River which flows south through the town and is a source of brown trout. On the northern outskirts of the town the river falls over a bed of sandstone 6.1 metres (20 ft) high to create the Mataura Falls which is known by local Maori as Te Aunui (the great current).

The land rises to the Hokonui Hills 13 km to the north-west, while to the east is a series of hills.


The town's population was 1,560 at the 2006 census. This compares with a population of 1,715 in 1951 and 2,085 in 1961.


While there was no permanent Maori settlement in the present day location of Mataura prior to the arrival of European settlers, the location was well known to local Maori for the harvest of lamprey (which they called ‘kana kana’) in October of each year as they made their annual passage up the falls. The closest Maori settlement was the kaik (unfortified village) of Tuturau, which was located near the east bank of the Mataura River 3.2 km (2.0 mi) downstream from the present town. In 1836 this village was the scene of the last act of Maori warfare in the South Island. A war party of approximately 70 members of the Ngāti Tama and Te Āti Awa tribes under the command of Te Puoho, chief of the Ngati Tama tribe and an ally of Te Rauparaha attacked and occupied the village which was later retaken by the local Ngāi Tahu under the leadership of Hone Tūhawaiki (paramount chief of the Ngāi Tahu) and Te Matenga Taiaroa who had been at the Bluff when news of the war party's presence in the Southland came.

Arrival of the Europeans

In 1854 the Murihiku block of land (which included Mataura) was purchased from local Maori by the Otago Provincial Council, with the objective of developing it up for settlement by immigrants from Great Britain. At the time travellers between Southland and Otago were drawn to the Mataura area by the presence of the Tuturau ford located about 3.2 km downstream of the falls and the northern ford which was located approximately 1.6 km (0.99 mi) above the falls. By 1856 the Otago Provincial Council had recognised that if development was to succeed a ferry had to be established at the falls to enable a direct overland transport between Dunedin and Invercargill. At the time the only alternative route was going by sea along the dangerous southern coast.

In 1859 the Otago Provincial Government built a wooden truss bridge which rested on a large rock in the middle of the falls and was suitable only for foot traffic with large animals and vehicles restricted to crossing on the ferry. As the bridge was always wet and slippery with spray from the falls, the face of the falls was removed by dynamite which moved the falls upstream. This work which damaged the look of the falls was in vain as the bridge was totally destroyed by a major flood on 22 April 1861. To encourage use of the bridge the council also built the Mataura Ferry Hotel on the west bank of the river. This was leased to John MacGibbon who with his family were the first inhabitants of the settlement and as part of his 7-year lease had the right to charge a toll on anyone crossing the river within a mile below and above the falls. At the time the only other Europeans living in the area were John Turnbull who owned the Tuturau Run and the Shanks family who owned the Marairua Run. The loss of the bridge meant that travellers reverted to using the ferry which had been established north of the falls. In 1866 James Pollack won the tender for the lease of the Mataura Ferry Hotel and offered to build a replacement bridge in return for the right to charge tolls for 12 years. His offer was declined by the Otago Provincial Government who built a replacement bridge of the suspension type, which was opened on 27 August 1868. Crossing the gorge downstream of the falls it was a more substantial timber structure with 16 supporting cables passing over stone pillars before being anchored in rock. A footbridge was added in 1898.

In response to the commencement on construction on the new bridge James Pollack built the Bridge Hotel on the east bank of the river by the bridge and sold the Mataura Ferry Hotel. He also petitioned the government to undertake the first survey of the location which subsequently named the area the Town of Mataura Bridge.

As a major mail coach stop on the route from Dunedin to Invercargill the bridge soon attracted a number of businessman who set up premises on the east bank around an area called Bridge Square. The construction of the telegraph line between Dunedin and Invercargill which passed through the town lead to the establishment in December 1868 of the first post and telegraph office in the Mataura Valley. This consolidated the settlement's position as a major transportation and communications hub. This in turn led to it attracting more businessmen, and becoming a major service centre. As a result of this growth a school was established in 1870. The moving of the former Mataura Ferry Hotel (by now renamed Cameron's Hotel) downstream to a location on the west bank where it was better able to service the passing traffic initiated development on the west bank which was assisted by the surveying of the west and north Mataura in 1874.

In 1875 a railway line was built from Gore to Mataura which in conjunction with establishment of the Mataura Paper Mill helped the town evolve and develop into the major industrial centre in Eastern Southland. The 1921 railway station has been listed NZHPT Category II since 1996. It is a standard class B station, of weatherboard and slate.

Replacement of the bridge

By the 1930s the narrowest of the bridge which restricted travel to one direction at a time and its light construction had become inadequate for the increasing traffic and heavy loads. As a result, a new bridge was constructed by the Ministry of Works immediately upstream of the suspension bridge (which was subsequently demolished) and opened on July 1939 by Bob Semple, the Minister of Works. It was a single span bow-arch reinforced concrete 53.8 metres (176 ft 6 inches) in length.


The town's swimming pool opened in 1956.

Electricity supply

Because it had surplus generation capacity the freezing works had since 1905 been supplying electricity to the nearby town of Gore, while due to the town's financial situation Mataura residents were still using candles and kerosene powered lamps. It wasn’t until 1911 the Borough Council was able to reach agreement with the freezing works for them to increase their generating capacity so that they could supply the Mataura load. After taking out a loan to finance the expansion of the generation capacity and the installation of a distribution system around the town the first power began being supplied from 5 October 1912. Mataura retained its own independent power system until 1932 when due to technical issues it became impossible for the freezing works to continue supplying the town. As a result, the borough council accepted an offer to sell their power system to the Southland Electric Power Board, which took over responsibility for supplying the town from its distribution network.

Notable citizens

Cardigan Bay

Mataura is the birthplace of Cardigan Bay, the famous New Zealand pacer. Cardigan Bay was the first standardbred to win $1,000,000.

  • Williams, Jolene. The Business History of the Mataura Paper Mills 1976 to 2000. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  • Mataura Ensign 1887. A Visit to the Mataura Works. Accessed 25 June 2010.


Children receive their primary school education at Mataura Primary School. Children of intermediate and secondary school age are bussed to Gore to continue their education there.

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