As in the rest of New Zealand, the economic depression of the early 1930s halted growth in Bay of Plenty. The dairy trade was hit hard as prices for butter and cheese reached rock-bottom in the all-important British market.
The timber industry
At the same time, a new Bay of Plenty was being forged on the poor soils of the Volcanic Plateau. Through the 1920s and 1930s the plateau had been planted in pines. One reason was that stocks of native timber were diminishing (many of the mills working native logs closed in the 1940s and 1950s). In 1941 a paper mill opened at Whakatāne.
The Second World War slowed development, but in the early 1950s the government reached an agreement with private investors for the processing of timber from its Kaingāroa Forest. Tasman Pulp and Paper, the company established for the purpose, built a large new mill beside the Tarawera River, where it runs below Mt Edgecumbe. Kawerau, a new town built nearby in 1953, had a population of 2,740 by 1956. Young Māori from the eastern rural settlements and further afield migrated to the ‘timber towns’ for work, as did many others.
The port at Tauranga
Much of Kawerau’s timber was to be exported. A 1919 report had observed that Tauranga’s natural harbour could be developed into a first-class port. It favoured new wharves at Mt Maunganui, with deep-water berthage. In 1950 the government agreed: a port at ‘the Mount’ would also be the terminus of a rail link from the forest at Murupara to Kawerau, and from Kawerau to the East Coast main trunk line.
From a total of 40,000 tonnes of timber in 1954, the port was handling more than a million tonnes by 1965, and more than 3 million tonnes in the early 1970s.
The port expansion allowed the export of logs and pulp and paper products, and prompted the development of related industry, notably fertiliser and chemical works. The port also captured trade from further afield when the Kaimai railway deviation, including a tunnel, linked the Bay of Plenty with the Waikato region in 1978. Tauranga then became accessible by rail for timber products from the large Kinleith mill on the western side of the Volcanic Plateau.
A new identity
Dairying recovered from the depression. Summer resorts such as Waihī Beach, the ocean side of Mt Maunganui, and Ōhope became increasingly popular. But it was the timber industry that transformed the Bay of Plenty in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962 a regional survey noted that the integration of the coastal and inland areas, once considered completely separate, was having a significant effect on development. The Bay of Plenty’s identity was evolving, along with its economic fortunes.