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Milton, New Zealand facts for kids

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Milton Union Street in 2012
Milton Union Street in 2012
Country New Zealand
Region Otago
Territorial authority Clutha District
Ward Bruce
Electorate Taieri
 • Total 4.16 km2 (1.61 sq mi)
 (June 2022)
 • Total 2,200
 • Density 529/km2 (1,370/sq mi)
Time zone UTC+12 (NZST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+13 (NZDT)
Area code(s) 03
Local iwi Ngāi Tahu

Milton, formerly known as Tokomairiro or Tokomairaro, is a town of over 2,000 people, located on State Highway 1, 50 kilometres to the south of Dunedin in Otago, New Zealand. It lies on the floodplain of the Tokomairaro River, one branch of which loops past the north and south ends of the town. This river gives its name to many local features, notably the town's only secondary school, Tokomairiro High School.

Founded as a milling town in the 1850s, there has long been dispute as to the naming of the settlement. The town's streets are named for prominent British poets, and it is possible that the town's original intended name of Milltown became shortened by association with the poet of the same name. It is equally possible, however, that the name Milton inspired the choice of poets' names for the streets.


Milton's early history was strongly affected by the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read at Gabriel's Gully close to the nearby township of Lawrence. As Milton stood close to one of the most easily accessible routes to the interior, it grew greatly during the goldrush years of the 1860s and was a major staging post for prospectors heading for the goldfields.

Lawson's impressive church dominates the old road to Fairfax (Tokoiti).

The town was originally established at Fairfax, a settlement nestling at the foot of the hills which lie to the southeast of the town. As communication with the goldfields in the interior became more important, and the desirability of the town becoming a staging post increased, it spread down onto the plains around the river. A Gothic church, Tokomairiro Presbyterian Church, was built at this time by the architect R A Lawson. At the time of its construction, this church was the tallest building at such a southern latitude in the world. The church is still the town's most obvious landmark, and is visible across the Tokomairiro Plains from several kilometres away. It was located at the end of the main road connecting Fairfax with the main route south from Dunedin to the goldfields, and as such is an imposing structure dominating this road.

Milton was an important town in early Otago - much more so than it is today - mainly due to its location on the route to the goldfields, and also for the Bruce Woollen Mills, which were among the province's largest factories. Other prominent industries included the Kiwi Bacon Factory, which had a branch in Milton until the early 1980s. The town's importance in communication in the early years of New Zealand settlement is emphasised by it being one of the two centres first linked by long-distance telephony, with a pioneering line set up between Milton and Dunedin in February 1878. It was not until the early twentieth century that it was superseded in size by the now considerably larger local town of Balclutha. The town was also important in education in early Otago - the Tokomairiro School - now split into Milton Primary School and Tokomairiro High School - was founded in 1856, only eight years after the founding of the province itself, and was one of the province's leading schools for many years thereafter.

Milton was connected to the national railway network in the early 1870s when the Main South Line was built through the town. In 1907, the town became a railway junction when an extension of the Roxburgh Branch was constructed alongside the Main South Line from its original junction at nearby Clarksville into Milton to facilitate better operations. In 1960, Milton lost this status when the extension was removed and the Roxburgh Branch's junction reverted to being in Clarksville. The Main South Line still runs through the town.

Milton pottery

An early claim to fame for Milton was its pottery, often regarded as some of the country's finest. Clay is a plentiful natural resource in South Otago, and potteries were a major employer in the late 19th century throughout South Otago and Southland. Between 1873 and 1915 numerous pottery works operated from the Milton area, starting with William White's short-lived Tokomairiro Steam Pottery Works, reputedly the first industrial kilns in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Milton Pottery works was rescued in 1880 by former Mayor of Dunedin (1876) Charles Stephen Reeves. The industry reached its height in the 1880s, at which time five kilns were operating and over 40 staff were employed, producing building materials such as bricks and tiles, sanitary ceramics such as washbasins, and domestic and decorative dinner sets, vases, and jars.

The industry in Milton did not survive the loss of manpower during World War I, though pottery as an industry continued in South Otago at Benhar near Balclutha, which was a major producer of toilet bowls and other domestic ceramics until the 1990s.

Modern Milton

Today, Milton is, after Balclutha, the second largest town in South Otago. Its form is largely a ribbon development along the main highway (State Highway 1), with an extension north of the northern branch of the river (the suburb of Helensbrook). The old town of Fairfax is now a village with the Maori name of Tokoiti (meaning "small poles").

Milton's main economic livelihood is as a service town for the surrounding farming community, although forestry is also becoming of increasing importance. It is also home to Calder Stewart, one of New Zealand's largest construction firms.

The farming settlement of Milburn two kilometres north of Milton, has recently been controversially chosen as the site of a new prison.

"The Kink"

Cars navigate the infamous kink in Union Street, Milton

In Milton there is an unusual planning anomaly - the main street (Union Street) is straight for several kilometres as it runs across the Tokomairaro Plain and through the town, yet in the northern part of Milton it has a kink in it at 46°7′0.08″S 169°57′50.16″E / 46.1166889°S 169.9639333°E / -46.1166889; 169.9639333. Heading north on the main street the road moves a whole road-width to the west.

The reason for the anomaly is disputed. A widely accepted view, but not the official view, states that the road was set out by two surveyors, one moving north and the other moving south, each of whom set out the road to the right of their survey line. Another widely held belief is that the change of course was designed to protect a large tree which formerly stood at the site where the kink is. However, why during the development of a milling area a single tree would be protected, and why the road would not return to its original line after passing the tree are both unexplained by this theory.

Notable people

  • Ken Bloxham, All Black rugby player
  • Richard Hayes, pilot
  • Sam Hayes, TV news journalist
  • Thomas Joseph King, Army Officer
  • Tony Kreft, All Black rugby player
  • Frank Oliver, All Black rugby player
  • Richard Pearse, aviation pioneer who lived in Milton for some time
  • Martin Phillipps, musician who spent some of his childhood in Milton
  • Edward Stewart, All Black rugby player
  • Daryl Tuffey, test cricketer


Milton covers 4.16 km2 (1.61 sq mi) and had an estimated population of 2,200 as of June 2022, with a population density of 529 people per km2.

Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
1976 2,235 —    
1981 2,262 +0.24%
1986 2,211 −0.46%
1991 2,088 −1.14%
1996 2,016 −0.70%
2001 1,917 −1.00%
2006 2,046 +1.31%
2013 2,070 +0.17%
2018 2,157 +0.83%

Milton had a population of 2,157 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 87 people (4.2%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 111 people (5.4%) since the 2006 census. There were 861 households. There were 1,086 males and 1,068 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.02 males per female. The median age was 42.9 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 429 people (19.9%) aged under 15 years, 333 (15.4%) aged 15 to 29, 945 (43.8%) aged 30 to 64, and 447 (20.7%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 87.8% European/Pākehā, 17.8% Māori, 1.7% Pacific peoples, 1.9% Asian, and 1.8% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

The proportion of people born overseas was 8.3%, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 56.1% had no religion, 33.4% were Christian, 0.3% were Hindu, 0.1% were Muslim, 0.1% were Buddhist and 2.2% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 123 (7.1%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 591 (34.2%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $26,800, compared with $31,800 nationally. 150 people (8.7%) earned over $70,000 compared to 17.2% nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 816 (47.2%) people were employed full-time, 252 (14.6%) were part-time, and 54 (3.1%) were unemployed.


Primary schools

Milton Primary School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 6 students, with a roll of 93 as of February 2024.

Tokoiti School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 6 students, with a roll of 29.

St Mary's School is a co-educational state-integrated Catholic primary school for Year 1 to 6 students, with a roll of 55.

Secondary schools

Tokomairiro High School is a co-educational state secondary school for Year 7 to 13 students, with a roll of 203.

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