The Tokomairiro Plain was a wetland area fed by the Tokomairiro River as it made its way from the hills to the Pacific Ocean. The early Waitaha people who arrived in the area about AD445 travelled the water ways in bullrush (raupo) canoes (mokihi), which were propelled by poling. The Kati Mamoe (Ngati Mamoe) who followed them and then the Kai Tahu (Ngai Tahu) who came in the late 1700s also poled canoes through the wetland.
The first European settlers of the Milton District took up the land on the eastern side of the Tokomairiro plain in 1850, with the first township being built at Fairfax, now Tokoiti.
With industry requiring water for operation, a new town was established near the river and named originally named Mill Town, after the flour mill established by Peter McGill in 1857.
Other industries followed, and the town grew steadily, being proclaimed the municipality of Milton 1866.
The gold rush in the 1860s saw the Milton carriers business expand as they catered precious food and stores to the miners. It also gave rise to the large police barracks that were situated where the high school now stands for the express purpose of escorting the gold convoys on their way to Dunedin.
Farming has always been an important industry and today sheep, beef cattle, dairy cows and grain live side by side with extensive forestry plantings, which are the basis for a growing silviculture and sawmilling industry.
Further information on Milton’s past can also be found by contacting Nancie Allison at the Milton Historical Society on 03 417 8291.
Many industries have come and gone, but a heritage of interesting homes and buildings stand as reminders of a diverse and economically sound past.
A detailed map of these historic buildings is available from the Milton Information Centre located in the old Post Office building.