When R.C.Reid, a West Coast goldminer, journalist & politician passed through Karamea in the early 1880’s, he felt that the settlers had “turned the corner of their troubles” and that it would “scarce be possible to find in all New Zealand a more productive district.”

Maori occupation in this area appears to have been mainly coastal. The first Europeans were early goldminers in the 1860’s. The first true settlement of the area took place in 1874 when the (then) fine harbour and sea provided the only means of contact with the outside world. The original “special settlement” was on the South Terrace, but poor soil forced the settlers down to the river valley. One side of the river (Umere) was known as the ‘Land of Promise’, the other side (Arapito) as the ‘Promised Land’.

Farming was to become a major industry, but timber, flax and gold also provided a means of living. The Murchison earthquake in 1929 caused the silting up of the harbour and cut the community’s road link for about two years.


Dairying remains a major industry in Karamea. Horticultural enterprises and a growing tourism industry also provide income, while the service industry employs approximately a quarter of the workforce. Recent improvements in the cellular network are enabling a growing number of remote workers to settle in Karamea, and work online.

The Karamea Centennial Museum holds an excellent archival and photographic record of Karamea's early history. You could also check out Karamea in the West Coast section of the New Zealand Online Encyclopedia.

For more history stories from the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough region visit The Prow.