Taumarunui and Rototuna: Lost and found - the tale of two communities video

Jerome Ratahi,13, does wheelies down Reu St on his red BMX. He moved to Taumarunui from Kawerau with his mum and siblings.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Jerome Ratahi,13, does wheelies down Reu St on his red BMX. He moved to Taumarunui from Kawerau with his mum and siblings.

Donna-Lee Biddle spent time in Taumarunui and Rototuna for Stuff's 'One in Five Million' series. The communities could not be more different, but is one any better than the other?

In the heart of the King Country, sits the rural town of Taumarunui.

If you can't hear it, the beat is faint.

Residents say they've been neglected and they're often overlooked by government agencies.

Most echo the line: More investment is needed to make Taumarunui an attractive option for people to live in.

There are dozens of cold, damp houses - on every street.     

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Taumarunui has been slowly losing population and house values have sagged. The locals put their hopes in tourism for a revival.

But the people are warm.

The town was blue and wet when we arrived. The weather's not much better in Hamilton, but the temperature was a few degrees cooler.

We were welcomed to Ngarau and Herewini Tarawa's whare on Matai St.

Whaea Ngarau and Matua Herewini raised their 11 children in Taumarunui. They've lived in the same homestead for 55 years.

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We were barely in the door and Ngarau asked us if we're hungry. We politely declined, having earlier eaten every item on the lunch menu at the Copper Tree Cafe (kia ora!).

Ngarau explained the rich history of the town and the love of a community she and Herewini adopted as their own, more than 60 years ago.

She took us to her front porch and pointed to every house up and down the street - she knows all of her neighbours.

"You look thirsty," Ngarau said. "Do you want a cuppa tea?"

"Kāo, whaea, I'm ok."

The hospitality isn't isolated to the Tarawa residence.

You tend to stand out in a community of only 3500, especially when you have a camera hanging from your neck.

We parked on the main street in town - Hakiaha - and not only were there ample parks, the town is void of parking metres.

Over two days, we spoke to half of Taumarunui.

Many were curious about why we were there but they all wanted to yarn.

Some told of the lack of resources for youth and the lack of jobs.

Tourism is the way forward, most said.


Forgotten World Adventures run rail cart tours from Taumarunui (CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF)

A 20-year-old, who only wanted to be known as Dan, asked if we could campaign for a pub in the town.

The town has been forgotten, and neglected, but it's a community that is welcoming, hopeful and boy, do they feed you well.

Two hours north is a suburb that has no similarities to Taumarunui.

In fact - it's the complete opposite.

House values in Hamilton's newly-carved suburb, Rototuna, are among the most expensive in the city.

You could buy four three-bedroom homes in Taumarunui for the price of one house in Rototuna.

The suburb attracts the elite and if you're a first-home buyer, you're probably not going to be able to afford to live here.

Cookie-cutter houses line the streets and semi-retired couples walk their labradoodles.

The suburb is aesthetically pleasing.

But many don't know their neighbours, you can become lost in a suburb where everyone blends in. 

The grind to maintain a three-quarter-of-a-million dollar mortgage means most people have fulltime jobs.

Rototuna has five high-decile primary schools in the area.

It's a big attraction, according to local principal Brian Sheedy.

I attended a community meeting a few years ago, where parents from Rototuna cried at the thought of having to send their children to nearby decile three Fairfield College.

They wanted a high school and the Ministry of Education gave them one. Rototuna Junior High School opened last year, followed by the senior high this year.


Real estate agent Cathy O'Shea has sold 122 hectares of land in Rototuna over the last 10 years (CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF)

There's no land left to build in Rototuna, houses are being snapped up as soon as they come on the market and one real estate agent said she sold land on the outskirts of the city, that won't be developed until 2040.

The area is perceived as safe and many of its residents would agree that it is. But what's a beautiful home if you're working too hard to enjoy it?

These two communities are no better or worse than the each other.

Each caters for their people, and there are several pros and cons to living in both.

What I have learned though, is that it's not the beautiful streets or even the picturesque mountains that make a community what it is - it's the people.

It's the interactions and connections with those in your community groups, whether that be your marae, your school, your workplace or at the pub. Relationships are invaluable, possessions are secondary; bake for your neighbours, take a stroll, and look out for one another.

 - Stuff

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A tale of two communities video

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