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The Maungatapere Dairy Factory

The Maungatapere Co-operative Dairy Company started life in 1907 and became a major player in the local economy – and changed the local skyline.

In the early days, roading and access to developed land was challenging, but over the years progress was made. As fertilisers became more available and turned ‘waste gumlands’ into dairy pasture, farming became the mainstay of the local economy.

By 1915 the Co-op had 67 farmers supplying milk and produced 68 tonnes of butter. This rapidly grew and continued to grow, with the Maungatapere factory being a solid performer that prospered over the years through several plant upgrades and an expansion into milk powder.

dairy factory opening (1).jpg

Image source: The Maungatapere Co-operative Dairy Company, Limited: golden jubilee, 1907-1957 compiled by K.W. Inder

Although the factory originally made only butter, operating 7 days a week, as technology allowed, the buttermilk that was leftover from the butter-making process was pumped to a buttermilk plant where it was dried and packaged for export. The butter was cut and packaged by hand, mostly into large 25kg boxes that were destined for export, with some butter ‘pats’ for home use also being made from time to time and transported to stores by the ‘cream truck’ which delivered locally.

Despite winning awards for the export-quality product it produced, in 1988 the Maungatapere factory was closed when the newly built Kauri plant was opened. Around 100 staff were employed by the factory at this time and its closure had a big impact (especially economically) on our region.

More than just butter

Like most other co-operative dairy companies, Maungatapere started a trading department within a few years of opening. But it was destroyed by fire in 1919 and the company decided not to rebuild.

Instead they encouraged the Farmers’ Union Trading Company to open a store nearby. But they slowly rebuilt their retail department, which was in the current Mangatapere Transport Limited (MTL) building at one stage, before Mate Vuletich of Longview Wines bought it.


By the 1930s the Maungatapere Co-op had opened a petrol station and in 1938 the sale of petrol, groceries, farming equipment, and general goods brought in £111,000 (a fortune in those days). Soon they were also offering life insurance too.

In the 1950s, they went into the fertiliser business when records show they bought the Kaigoose Lime Works which was the first provider of bulk lime supplies in the Whangarei region. It’s not clear when they sold it, but in the early eighties when Neville Church was running it, the works were being leased from Sandy Sime. They also purchased the Maungatapere Store from the Farmers’ Union Co.

In the early 1960s Mid-Northern Dairy opened Whangārei’s first supermarket (where the Packard Museum now lives). It stocked everything from groceries to hardware, stock food to home appliances, farm equipment to clothing. The store even had a paint-mixing machine. You could book other companies’ items through the store such as tractors and concrete supplies, and get on-farm delivery of petrol and diesel.

You name it, they could put it through their books, which was a huge benefit to farmers.

The Maungatapere store closed in 1986.

packard museum.jpg

Transport woes

Transport was difficult for the area until after WWII. In 1865 the road link between Whangārei and Maungatapere was established by settler William Hawken’s company Hawkens Roose and Land. The road connected Maungatapere to Whangārei through Maunu. Prior to this the main transport route had been via the Northern Wairoa River.

Once the road was established, horses and sleds were used to transport fresh cream from the farms. The 25kg butter blocks were collected and transported to the Whangarei Town Wharf and then transported to Auckland via the ‘butter boat’ or train.

dairy factory loading butter (1).jpg

Image source: The Maungatapere Co-operative Dairy Company, Limited: golden jubilee, 1907-1957 compiled by K.W. Inder

Powering the plant

Coal was essential to production. From the early days until flooding closed the mine in 1955, the factory relied on coal from the Kamo Coal Mine. After that, coal came from the Whareora Coal Mine until the plant was moved to electricity (date unknown).

Somewhere for staff to live

Due to the location and transport limitations at the time, it was necessary for the company to provide housing for their staff. So they built houses next door to the factory on Mangakahia Road. Eight were built before 1940 for an average of £408 each and 12 more between 1940-57 for an average of £2321 each. 

By 1957 the company owned 20 “attractive and comfortable dwellings” for their staff.

One of the buildings was quite large and was a boarding house run by the dairy company for young men living away from home. It was still being used in the early eighties but closed down as the need disappeared. Boys had cars now and could flat in Whangārei. This building is now Mountainview Rest Home.

dairy factory housing

Image source: The Maungatapere Co-operative Dairy Company, Limited: golden jubilee, 1907-1957 compiled by K.W. Inder

Changing names

Over the years, the Maungatapere site has been part of several co-operatives. In 1937 they purchased the Springhead Co-operative Dairy Company and merged with them. In 1963, the Maungatapere Co-op merged with Maungaturoto and Whangarei to form the Mid Northland Co-operative Dairy Company, making them the second biggest dairy company in New Zealand.


They continued to merge with other co-operatives to become the Northland-wide Northern Co-op, before the formation of Fonterra as a New-Zealand-wide co-op in 2001 – although by that time Maungatapere had already closed.

End of an era

The amalgamations into bigger and bigger co-operatives, combined with the economic thinking of the time was that centralisation was the best way to go. In 1983 an announcement was made that within 5-7 years the Maungatapere, Whangārei and Moerewa branches would be consolidated into one site - either by building a new complex on land owned in Maungatapere or by purchasing land for a new site at Kauri.

Both sites were inspected for a new factory estimated at $82m. There were concerns about the Kauri site, but in the end, it was decided it was the best location and the new factory site was announced in 1986.


The same year, a new butter factory was completed at Maungatapere with milkfat being shipped down from the Far North after the Moerewa and Awanui butter plants were closed.
But the new factory only had a short life. When the newly-built Kauri plant was opened in 1989, the Maungatapere factory was closed - just three years after its expansion.


Although it was reopened the following year (1990) to make skim-milk powder for a period before closing its doors for good (exact dates unknown).


Download the Maungatapere Dairy Factory timeline of events


The Northland Co-operative Dairy Industry
– A History by Gordon McLauchlan, 1996, Four Star Books.

The Maungatapere Co-operative Dairy Company
- A Golden Jubilee 1907-1957, compiled by K.W. Inder.

Thanks to:

  • Former Maungatapere retail store manager Rex Marshall for his memories and information sharing.

  • Graeme Dickeson for the timeline he compiled that you’ll find on the wall at the Office Cafe.


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