Five minutes south of Hāwera, with Mount Taranaki gleaming in the distance, our dairy factory has stood as a landmark in Whareroa for 50 years.
Last month over 350 people – including alumni, families, and local shareholders, joined the team at our Whareroa site to celebrate the milestone.
Visitors also had the chance to climb into the cab of the latest milk tanker and view the controls. And meanwhile, inside the marquee, children enjoyed the activity corner, and Whareroa’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) showed off their equipment.
But the most exciting part for many was learning about the history of the site (or for some, taking a trip down memory lane) at the photo corner.
The wider region is home to tonnes of New Zealand History – the Forgotten World Highway, the Tawhiti Museum, and our site in Whareroa is no exception.
A lot has changed since the early days of dairying in Taranaki, where factories could be found at many crossroads with only three miles between them – this was judged to be the maximum distance to which a farmer could cart milk to the factory and still complete their daily jobs on the farm.
Locals may remember when the Whareroa site began operating in 1973, owned by Kiwi Co-operative Dairies – this was before the series of mergers which eventually saw the creation of Fonterra.
The opening was officially celebrated by Prime Minister Wallace Rowling in April 1975. By then, about 200 staff were employed at the site, and the company was processing milk from 700 suppliers who milked a total of 77,000 cows.
The late 1990s to early 2000s saw the site grow rapidly, following a merger between Alton Co-operative Dairy Company and the Kiwi Dairy Company. The cheese plant capacity was increased to 12 tonne per hour and a Mozzarella line was installed. The Whey plant was also expanded to handle another 1.4 million litres of whey.
In 2004, the Nowell’s Lakes Walkway project began when the Whareroa Farm retired land from farming. Since then, more than 25,000 native trees and grasses have been planted. The walkway spans over seven hectares and a wildlife haven thanks to the hard work from local school children, Scout groups, Hāwera Rotary Club, Normanby Lions, staff, and many other volunteers.
Reflecting on the event, General Manager Lower North Island Scott Nelson said, “the day was a great celebration of the legacy of dairying in New Zealand, and the strength of the dairying community that will continue for many generations to come”.