When Allan Dick was here in 2009 (he’s been everywhere, man!), he called this mill a time capsule and “one of the most remarkable places in New Zealand”. It’s also our heritage. New Zealand was virtually built on timber, mutton and minerals, and the Endean/Ottaway sawmill near Waimiha typifies the way a mill town would have looked in the middle decades of last century.

Fruit trees still flower

New Zealand’s only surviving native timber sawmill operated at Ongarue Stream Road from 1927. Like most mills of its day, it was steam driven, and there was no shortage of wood to stoke the big boiler that powered the mill before three-phase electricity arrived in the early 1960s. Named after the first owner Jack Endean, the mill had several managers including George Ottaway who eventually purchased it in 1990.

Stepping back in time – old houses, vehicles and timber

However, not long after that, pine became more profitable than native timber, farms were sold, and the mill closed in 1996. Gone were the days when houses were built using rimu for joinery and mataī floors were the norm. Sustainability wasn’t really considered in those days and suddenly pine was found to be cheaper, quicker to grow and easier to use.

The mill operating in 1965 – a Morrie Peacock photo from the Middleton collection

Now, more than 20 years later, the nine or ten unpainted houses that made up part of the mill town are still standing, and although they’ll need some work to make them habitable, Gerrard Beeson who, together with George’s brother Ian Ottaway has managed the place since George passed away last year, says it’s do-able. Gerrard acknowledges that restoring the buildings and equipment is a daunting task but says there’s a lot of potential for a unique tourist attraction where visitors will be able to overnight in the houses or park up self-contained motorhomes.

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