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Just 14km from the Egmont National Park, the Stratford township is home to around 5500 people who are entertained daily by New Zealand’s largest Glockenspiel clock, which sees Romeo and Juliet emerge at 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm daily.
One of the region’s most historic areas, Stratford District is not only the gateway to Mt Taranaki, but its largest town is also a living shrine to one of literature’s finest – William Shakespeare. Originally named Stratford-upon-Patea by early settlers, the bustling centre boasts street names taken from 27 of The Bard’s plays and enjoys a close relationship with other Stratfords around the world.
With dairying the area’s main industry, Stratford offers a huge range of rural activities, lush gardens, farmstays and sporting facilities, along with a nationally-renowned speedway, racecourse and golf course. Running between Stratford and Taumarunui is the Forgotten World Highway 43, a three-hour trip threading its way through pristine sub-tropical rainforest and past more than 30 sites of significant interest, such as the 85m Mt Damper Falls (the North Island’s highest waterfall), historic Whangamomona Village, Tahora Saddle, the Moki Tunnel and Aotuhia’s ‘bridge to somewhere’. Don’t miss the Stratford Pioneer Village, Percy Thomson Gallery, Whangamomona Republic day or Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. Other settlements and districts in this area include historic Eltham with its charming pioneer town centre, Toko, Kaponga, Pukengahu, Strathmore, Makahu, Midhirst, Ngaere, Tariki and Mangatoki.
On State Highway 43 Taumarunui is 146 km to the east. This road is known as "The Forgotten World Highway", due the scarcity of settlement along the road in contrast to its earlier history. A sign reads "No Petrol for 140 km".
Physical Geography Stratford's view of Mount Taranaki (facing west), with Fanthams Peak to the left of the main peak. Stratford is a service town for the many dairy farms of Taranaki. The Stratford District takes in about one quarter of the Taranaki Region, and includes four major geological features: the Taranaki volcanic cone, its associated ring plain, the Patea Rivercatchment, and the eastern hill country.
Taranaki Volcanic Cone The south-eastern face of Mount Taranaki is in the Stratford district, the north-westernmost point of the district being the 2518 m high peak. From the peak the boundaries run almost due east and due south.
Pembroke Road winds up the mountain slope from Stratford to a carpark and lookout at "The Plateau", at 1172 m. Manganui skifield is a short hike from the carpark, across the Manganui Gorge.
On the south-eastern face of the mountain, Manaia Road gives access to Dawson Falls and the Konini Lodge, at 890 m altitude. The natural Wilkies Pools are a short hike above the lodge.
Taranaki Volcanic Ring Plain The Taranaki volcanic ring plain provides a steady contour with a subtle gradient, upon which Stratford and its environs have been settled. The easy gradient and rich volcanicsoils and the high level of rainfall provide high quality pasture and agricultural land. Within this area the ring plain is drained by three river catchments: the Manganui River catchment to the north, the Waingongoro River catchment to the south, and the dominant Patea River catchment.
Patea River The headwaters of the Patea River are on the eastern face of Mount Taranaki, above Stratford. From there the river flows eastwards, its upper catchment taking in a narrow area of land between the Manganui River catchment to the north and the Waingongoro River catchment to the south.
Stratford is on the banks of the Patea River, at the junction of the Patea River and Paetahi Stream, approximately 15 km east of the headwaters. Due to the narrow width of the catchment, the southern boundary of the town is on the Patea/Waingongoro divide, while 4 km to the north Midhirst is on the Patea/Manganui divide.
Much of the eastern hill country falls within the catchment of the Patea River and its tributaries. However, to the north the district takes in Waitara River and its tributaries, including the Makara, Makino, Matau, Mangapapa and Mangaowata catchments. At its northernmost point the district also includes the Mt Damper Stream and its associated swamp and falls, which feed into the Tongaporutu River.
In the east the district takes in the Whangamomona River catchment, and also most of the Tangarakau River catchment, both of which feed into the Whanganui River. This area is separated from the west by the densely forested Whangamomona Saddle, making it an isolated and distinctive part of the district, and the area once had its own county council.
Population Stratford is a rural service centre, serving the agricultural economy of its wider hinterland.
After a period of decline, the last five years have seen significant economic growth and some associated population growth in the town. In the 2006 census the district population was 8889, with 5327 in the township and 3562 in the surrounding rural area. This was the first time that the town had recorded population growth since the 1991 census.
The population of the district peaked in 1961 at 11,300, and since then the town has fluctuated between 5229 (2001) and 5664 (1996).
Economy The Egmont Ring Plain provides steady contours and fertile volcanic soils which, together with the high level of rainfall, make for some of the best dairy country in New Zealand. The district is predominantly dairying (57,300 dairy cattle), while the rolling to steep eastern hill country supports dry stock farming and forestry (42,000 beef cattle; 281,300 sheep).
History & Culture Whakaahurangi The Māori name for Stratford is Whakaahurangi, meaning face to the sky. The name is taken from a story of a Patea chieftainess named Ruapu-tahanga who, returning from a visit to Kawhia, camped overnight near the location of the current town. Being a clear night, Ruaputahanga lay contemplating the stars when slumber overtook her. Withdrawing in respect, her followers observed that their chieftainess slept “with her face to the sky”. The site continued to be used as a camping place for Māori along what became known as the Whakaahurangi track, linking the south Taranaki tribes to those in north Taranaki, and further north to Kawhia. Each traveling party would recollect the story of Ruapu-tahanga sleeping with her face to the sky. The name is fitting, given the exposure of the area to a broad horizon on the face of the mountain’s ring plain.
Surveying There is no record of Māori settlement in the vicinity of Stratford. Before British settlement the area was covered in dense forest and swamp. The Vogel schemes of the 1870s provided the necessary impetus to lead to the construction of a railway line south of New Plymouth, and the creation of road access at the same time, to open up access to the rich soils under the mountain.
In 1876, Taranaki Waste Lands Board assistant surveyor Edwin Stanley Brookes, Jnr. cut a meridian line from Waitara to the site of Stratford, and oversaw the subdivision of a block between the Manganui River and the Patea River. The surveying of a new site for a town on the banks of the Patea River was authorised on 11 June 1877, and the northern half of the town (above the Patea River) was laid out by William Skinner in July. More lots were laid out by Peter Cheal in 1879, and in 1880 Skinner was directed to survey the southern half of the town.
Naming Stratford clock tower "glockenspiel" On 3 December 1877, the name Stratford-upon-Patea was adopted, on the motion of William Crompton of the Taranaki Waste Lands Board. The supposed similarity of the Patea River to the River Avon in England led to the adoption of this name, and Crompton was known to have a literary turn of mind. There was a trend at the time to name towns after the birthplace of prominent British men. The William Shakespeare 'connection' led to the naming of 67 streets after Shakespearian characters from 27 of his plays.
Today New Zealand's only glockenspiel clock tower plays the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet three times a day. The spoken words are provided via external loudspeakers - there is no carillon (multiple bells) as would be more typical for glockenspiels in towers.
Settlement and Growth Stratford was formally classified as a town in June 1878, and on 31 August 1878 an auction of 455 sections saw the first sections sold. By 1881 the population was 97, comprising 56 males and 41 females, with 22 houses. By 1891 this had grown to a population of 342 and by 1896 1,256. This growth continued steadily until the mid-late 20th century, and has since fluctuated between 5229 (2001) and 5664 (1996), numbering 5,337 at the last census.