Ruanui Farm, Matawai

About page

This page gives the history of the Ruanui farm, near Matawai, Gisborne, New Zealand. The history is from when the land was first taken up as a bush block in 1903 until 2005. Ruanui was the name given to the farm by the Korte brothers. The story of the farm is typical of land settlement in the Matawai district.

Use the Ruanui menu to navigate quickly around this page. Pictures can be viewed in the slide show.



Ruanui farm is located beside the Motu River, 6 km upstream from Matawai towards Opotiki on Highway 2 (shown on Google Map below). Altitude on the farm ranges from 1800 feet (550 m) to 2500 feet (800 m). The land is a mixture of steep and rolling hills, with rhyolitic ash soils from volcanic eruptions in the central North Island.

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It is not known why the name Ruanui was chosen for the farm by the Korte brothers. "Ruanui Station, Matawai" was used by Henry Korte in The Annual Sheep Returns for the year ended 30th April, 1908.

It is possible that the farm was named after Ngati Ruanui, the name of the maori tribe who lived in South Taranaki where the Korte brothers had lived before moving to Matawai. Their father, Christopher Korte had a dairy farm at Awatuna in South Taranaki.

An alternative explanation is that Ruanui represents two maori words: rua (the numeral two) and nui (size, quantity, vastness, greatness, importance, amount, abundance, plenty). Or perhaps there is no meaning?


Christopher Korte and Julius Bulst decided that their farms in south Taranaki were too small for their sons and they needed to obtain additional land. They identified bush blocks in the Motu Valley, and flipped a coin to decide who would obtain which block. Julius got the block nearest to Motu (and Matawai) with some flat land and Christopher got the western block.

The Poverty Bay Herald reported on 18 January 1902 "The Land Board has granted the following applications for land in Motu: Section 9, block 10, C. H. Korte; section 8, block 10, J. Bulst."

Ruanui was occupied with right of purchase - leased from the Government on 1 January 1903. Money was borrowed from the Government to fund development of the land.

In 1903 Ruanui was totally covered with heavy bush: Matai, Rimu, Tawa, Kaihikatea, Hinau and Rata on the lower slopes and valleys.  On the upper slopes were large areas of mainly red and brown beech with a sprinkling of totara on the high ridges.  Underneath the high canopy were ferns, ponga, supplejack, lawyers, makomako, konini, thousand jackets, whiteywood, tutu, rangiora, lancewood, etc. Bird life included: tui, bellbirds, pigeons, kaka, fantails, tomtits, hawks, sparrow hawks, blue mountain ducks. Wild pigs wandered through the undergrowth.


Korte Brithers

Korte Brothers
Henry, Chris and Fred.

Henry, Christopher and Frederick Korte moved to the Matawai bush block leased by their father in 1903. Their 965 acre section was covered in heavy bush, had no pasture, fences or buildings. They considered the heavy bush an indication of the potential for good farming country. They started clearing the land, constructed a whare, and began farming.

The lease was transferred to Henry and his brothers Chris and Fred in January 1905. At this stage, Rakauroa was the nearest settlement, with the Rakauroa and Motu areas having been settled earlier. Henry Korte transferred his interest in the Matawai lease to his brothers Fred and Chris on 15 November 1913 because he had moved back to Taranaki. The farm continued to trade as Korte Brothers.

Following the Second World War, both Chris and Fred's sons wished to obtain farms. The Ruanui farm was purchased by George Korte, Fred's eldest son on April 10 1947. Fred Korte, Chris's son, attempted to purchase the property next door to Ruanui from his uncle Albert Bulst, but the sale fell through due to delays with finding his military records. He subsequently purchased a farm near Te Kuiti.

In 1978 Ruanui was purchased by Robert Korte, son of George, and grandson of Fred Korte. He farmed the property until 2005 when the stock and land were leased to a neighbour.

Road Access


Initially there was no road to Ruanui, just a walking track up the Motu River from Matawai through the bush. Horses were left in Matawai to graze until some pasture was established at Ruanui.

The Poverty Bay Herald reported on 22 February 1904 that a letter about road access had been received by the Cook County. "Mr H. Korte drew attention to the state of Motu Valley road leading to section 9, block X., to which section there was no access whatever without trespassing on other people's property. About 25 chains of bush needed felling, and 45 chains of side track.— It was stated that this was under the jurisdiction of the Ngatapa Road Board, to which body it was referred."

A dray road was made from Matawai to Ruanui by 1910 and a bridge constructed over "Korte's creek" in 1911.  A buggy drawn by 2 horses was purchased by the Korte's.  As the years passed some of the roads were metalled. By 1930 the road from Matawai to Ruanui was metalled all the way.  The road continued past Ruanui as far as Te Wera, and a branch to Opotiki through the Waioeka Gorge eventually became State Highway 2.

In 1957 the road past Ruanui was realigned to the present route, widened, and a bridge at Ruanui was replaced with two large culverts.

1906 Farm Dairy

1907 Whare

Korte brothers at their Whare in 1906
Photo by William Brook, surveyor

Ruanui buldings in 1907

Ruanui buildings in 1906
Storeroom (left), Whare (center) and new woolshed under construction (right). Photo by William Brook.

The earliest surviving farm dairy for Ruanui was by Henry Korte for 1906.

In January and February he reported shearing sheep (ewes and 70 lambs), purchasing 133 ewes and rams, tending potatoes, burning bush, sowing grass seed, clearing trees for a fence line, splitting posts. Some of the burning and seeding was for neighbors. Income was received for wool, grazing, work for other settlers and mutton sales.

The main activity in March was fencing (13 days), sheep dipping at a neighbors (Mortleman's managed by Mr Fleming) and sowing more grass seed and harvesting potatoes.

April involved more fencing (14 days), cutting scrub, some pig hunting (2 caught) and mustering (some for neighbors.).

The main activity in May and June was felling bush and scrub (30 days), searching for a lost person (3 days), cutting firewood, making jam and pigeon hunting (8 shot one day).

July involved more forest clearing (4 days), pig hunting, gardening, fencing, paperhanging, cleaning up after heavy rain.

August involved preparing timber for a shed and yards (splitting posts, palings and shingles), building the shed, more scrub cutting and felling timber, checking sheep and some work on the road for the Government.

September was again mainly spent felling bush, planting vegetables, checking sheep. A trip to Gisborne to attend a funeral took 5 days, including 1 day in Gisborne.

In October a contractor, Cameron Brothers, started clearing 100 acres of bush (£49). The Korte brothers cleared bush, mustered sheep for docking (101 lambs from 158 sheep), and attended the A & P Show in Gisborne.

In November the sheep were put on Bulst's new grass next door, the flooring was laid in the new shed, vegetables were planted and tended, and considerable time was spent clearing bush.

1908 Description


On 19 February 1908 Ruanui was offered for sale.  It was withdrawn from sale on 5 July 1909.  The sale description was as follows: 

  • Area 965 acres,  with 350 acres in grass,  615 acres in bush.  Heavy timber with several hundred acres of good milling.
  • Fencing 170 chains, four paddocks. Stock on hand: 450 sheep and 5 horses.
  • Buildings: Whare (12 feet by 16 feet),  storeroom, woolshed, sheep yards.
  • Access by dray road to within 3.5 miles,  remainder by 6 foot track.  Easiest way to property via Te Karaka through Waihuka Station to Matawai.  Nearest town, Gisborne 51 miles.  Nearest school,  Rakauroa 9 miles.  Nearest dairy factory,  Motu 13 miles. No telephone, but expected in Matawai shortly.
  • Leasehold with right of purchase expires January 1912,  rent £27 per annum,  right of purchase £554-17-6.  Mortgage Government advance to settlers $595 due 1 August 1908, interest £40. Price £4000 without stock. Terms cash.


Ruanui about 1930

Ruanui buildings about 1930.
Fred Korte's cottage (left) and Chris Korte's cottage (center back), car shed (right)

New Woolshed about 1940

New Woolshed in 1937
An engine room was added in 1938.

Big Hill Ruanui 1936

Ruanui from across the Motu River in 1936.
Big Hill (center) is 800m. Buildings in valley.

The first building constructed at Ruanui was a whare 16 feet by 12 feet (4.9m x 3.7m) with iron chimney. It was built out of split timber (rimu) and blocks (matai later replaced with totara).  Joists,  studs and rafters were split from rimu logs.  Wide boards up to 18 inches (46 cm) wide and six feet long (some 8 feet or 2.4m) and 1.25 to 1.50 inches (3-4 cm) thick were split and trimmed with axes for the sides of the whare and inside walls.  There may have been shingles on the roof at the start,  but by 1906 there was an iron roof.  A floor was put down in the whare in 1909.  The flooring was sledged down from Ree's mill which was about a mile up the Motu River. This was the initial home for Henry, Christopher and Frederick Korte at Ruanui.

A woolshed was constructed in 1906, again from split timber. The shed was designed for blade shearing, prior to the adoption of mechanical hand pieces. A rat-proof store was constructed, on posts with galvanized iron sheathing. This was used to store food (potatoes, large quantities of flour, etc).

These buildings were on some flat land beside a stream, about 200 m from the front boundary. The buildings can be seen in a 1906 photo (above) taken by William Brook, the Public Works Department surveyor from Motu.

A four-room cottage was built in 1912 prior to the marriage of Fred Korte and Elizabeth Redpath on 12 February 1913. The house survived a bush fire on their wedding day. In 1915 a second cottage was built at Ruanui by Mr E Emmerson (Matawai Builder) for the Chris Korte and his bride Selma Bulst.  Both houses were built from sawn rimu. Further additions were built subsequently for both cottages.

In 1927 Chris Korte purchased a Chevrolet car and in 1928 Fred Korte purchased a Ford car. A car shed was constructed, and also used for sheep at shearing. A larger new 3-stand sheep shed for shearing was built in 1937, and subsequently an engine was purchased to power shearing gear in 1938.

In 1947 Ruanui had 2 cottages, a woolshed with 2 shearing machines and grinder powered by Pitt petrol engine,  a cowshed,  and 4 other buildings built 1904-1927.  There were 2 sets of sheep yards and 2 sets of docking yards.

In 1954 George Korte made significant improvements to the cottage his father Fred built: concrete chimneys were installed; a coal range installed to provide hot water, cooking and heating; and the house was enlarged with the addition of a bathroom, toilet, laundry, kitchen, and two more bedrooms. The inside toilet replaced the long drop toilet and hot water for baths and laundry no longer had to be heated in the outside copper.

Chris Korte's cottage was used as a shearers quarters, and upgraded by George with a shower in 1954. The woolshed was enlarged in the 1960's as the sheep flock grew and a third shearing machine installed. Another shed was constructed for vehicles. During the 1960's the cowshed was moved and enlarged to store hay and buildings around Chris Korte's cottage were moved to other parts of the farm, enlarged, and used as hay sheds.

Robert Korte had a new woolshed constructed in 1988, on the site of the 1906 woolshed. He also made some improvements to the cottage built for Chris Korte in 1913 and to his house (originally Fred Korte's cottage).

Ruanui presently has at the front of the property the two original cottages, both modified and enlarged, a new and old woolshed, two vehicle sheds and a hay shed. There are two other hay sheds on the farm, and a couple of small sheds beside stock yards.


Back of farm in 1930

Back of Ruanui in 1930
Note the dead timber and pasture.

Sheep with Bidibidi

Sheep at Motu, 1930
Note the cover of bidibidi on body and heads.
Source Dick Twisleton

As noted above, Ruanui was covered in heavy bush that had to be cleared to establish pasture for livestock. Bush was felled by the Korte brothers and contractors. Contractors felled all trees under 2 feet (60 cm) diameter. As soon as felled bush was dry enough in summer it was burnt. Following the bush fire, pasture seed was scattered in the ashes to establish pasture.

Although there were plans to mill timber on Ruanui, bush fires destroyed most of the forest before it could be milled. As noted above, there were several hundred acres of bush suitable for milling.

When George Korte took over Ruanui most of the pasture was low fertility grasses (browntop, sweet vernal grass, danthonia) with not much clover. Much of the land was covered in partly burnt logs making access and stock movement difficult.

Pastures were greatly improved from the 1950's on by undertaking a program of replacing the pastures established after bush fires with new ryegrass-clover pastures. The improvement involved using a bulldozer to push logs together to burn, burning as much timber as possible, planting a crop of swedes for winter sheep feed, and sowing new pasture. New pastures were maintained with regular annual aerial application of fertiliser. This improvement could only be done after bulldozers and aircraft became available in the 1950s. The land was too steep to cultivate and sow with a wheel tractor, but the cultivation could be done by bulldozer.

Weeds were a problem in the early years in the district. Scotch and Californian Thistles established after bush fires, and also bidibidi. Bidibidi seed clung to the wool of sheep, reducing its value. Ragwort and foxgloves became established weeds in the district and were declared noxious for a time. Improvement of soil fertility with regular superphosphate application resulted in more vigorous pastures and greatly reduced weeds.


Top dressing

A Fieldair Beaver top dressing fertiliser
Photo by Ernie Tait.

Initially no fertiliser was used on the farm.  The ash from the burnt forest provided sufficient nutrients for many years and stock did quite well. However by the 1920's some farmers were putting on some fertiliser where their farm was adjacent to the railway. 

At Ruanui some fertiliser was spread by hand in 1927.  In 1929 10 ton of superphosphate was railed to Matawai and carted out to Ruanui on a small truck. The fertiliser was packed out by horses to paddocks around the front of the farm and spread by hand. Small quantities only were put on periodically until 1946.

During the late 1920's and early 1930's  there appeared a bush sickness and stock did not thrive so well as formerly through the winter. It was found that by adding cobalt to fertiliser mixtures the stock improved. For a time farmers scattered small quantities of cobalt around by hand and even put some on the backs of sheep for them to scatter about.  Later in the 1940's it was possible to buy superphosphate containing cobalt. The volcanic ash soils on Ruanui have naturally low levels of cobalt.

Aerial top dressing of fertiliser started in the Gisborne district after the second World War, with Tiger Moth aircraft initially used, and later De Havilland Beaver aircraft being used. The Beaver was the first aircraft that could carry a tonne of fertiliser. Ruanui used Les Brown's airstrip, about 2 km east of Ruanui, with Fieldair Ltd doing the top dressing for many years. Regular application of superphosphate fertiliser greatly improved the productivity of both pastures and livestock.



Ruanui lambs, 1974


Perendale rams at Ruanui, 1974


Ruanui cows and calves, 2005

Ruanui, being a hilly property, was developed for sheep and cattle farming.


The number of sheep farmed increased as the area of cleared land increased: 1904 - no sheep; 1905 - 80 sheep; 1908 - 450 sheep; 1917 - 600 ewes put to the ram and produced 570 lambs; 1929 - 911 ewes; 1932 - 890 ewes,  848 lambs; 1944 - 640 ewes,  505 lambs.

The usual practice in the early years was to keep most sheep to the two-tooth stage.  Some lambs and old ewes were sold.  Old ewes,  two-tooth wethers and four tooth wethers were sold to the freezing works at Gisborne or at Waipaoa.  In later years more wether lambs were sold to the freezing works.

Romney ewes and Romney Lincoln cross ewes were purchased in the early years. It was found that Romney ewes lost most of their wool on scrub, lawyer and vines prior to shearing in December. It was therefore the custom in the whole district to mate Lincoln or English Leicester rams to Romney ewes, or Romney rams to Lincoln or English Leicester ewes. Their offspring produced a coarser and stronger wool than the Romney, and the wool was more likely to remain on the sheep until shearing time. By the 1930's the more developed farms in the district used Romney rams all the time.  Bidibidi was also very widespread and used to stick to the wool.  Much of the bidibidi seed was shipped to England and was sold with the wool. By the 1940's the bidibidi was greatly decreased except for ferny and dirty gullies and steep slopes.

Romneys became the predominant sheep breed at Ruanui until the introduction of the Perendale breed in the 1970's. Developed from the Cheviot and Romney, the Perendale is a dual-purpose wool/meat sheep producing a 28-32 micron wool with a 125 mm (5 in) staple length and is characteristically a high fertility animal able to produce prime lambs. Perendales require little attention, especially at lambing time, the ewes are excellent mothers, and lack of wool on their hocks and face makes mustering and shearing faster than Romneys.


In the early years (1907-1926) the usual custom was to buy in weaner steers and keep them until 3 years old.  This was necessary as after the bush fires fern and scrub always came away.  The heavier cattle were needed to crush the paddocks periodically. Three and a half year steers were sent to the freezing works at Waipaoa, Nelson's or Kaiti.

Cattle numbers were: 1908 - none; 1910 - 60 head; 1920 - 150 head; 1932 - 117 head including 30 cows; 1944 - 200 head.

The first record of a bull being purchased was in 1931.  By the 1940's 80 Hereford cows were run and 2 bulls were required. 

During the early years (1909-1930) the farm had several milking cows,  4-5 depending on requirements.  These were milked by hand and calved so as to have milk available all the year round.  The milk was set in basins and the cream skimmed off the next day.  The cream was churned into butter.  surplus butter could always be sold locally.  An Alpha-laval milk separator was purchased in 1928 and installed in a new 2 bail walk-through cowshed with a concrete floor. Dairy farming was not possible because there was very limited suitable flat or rolling land at the front of the property near the road.



Ruanui had no electricity until 1955 when a Lister Start-O-Matic diesel generator was installed in the woolshed. The diesel engine powered the shearing plant, as well as the 240 volt generator. The generator provided electricity to the house where it powered the lights, a washing machine, and small appliances. It was not operated during the day, except to run the washing machine and for shearing, so was unsuitable to operate a hot water cylinder, refrigerator or deep freeze.

Mains electricity had been reticulated to Matawai in 1956. The remainder of the district, including Ruanui, did not get mains electricity until 1962. A field crew installing lines, poles and transformers for the Power Board lived in Chris Korte's cottage for several months while they worked in the district west of Matawai.

Fraser Cameron, an electrician from Opotiki and cousin of George Korte, did electrical work in the Matawai district for many years. Fraser stayed at Ruanui overnight while working in the district.

1947 to 1978


Sowing new pasture at Ruanui

Ruanui House 2005

Korte House 2005
Originally Fred Korte's cottage.

Ruanui in 2005

Ruanui in 2005
A view down the western boundary. Big Hill (right)

Runanui in 2005

Ruanui in 2005
View from back of farm. Big Hill (left)

George Korte farmed Ruanui from 1947 until 1978.

In April 1947 when George Korte purchased the stock and land from Korte brothers, Ruanui had 668 breeding ewes,  137 cull ewes,  227 Romney ewe lambs,  176 wether lambs,  28 rams, and 196 cattle including 58 calves. The farm had 9 main paddocks and 4 smaller paddocks. The back paddock was 240 acres. Fences were in average order with original wire. 

George continued to develop Ruanui during the period he owned and managed the farm. Initially development involved fencing to allow better utilisation of pasture, then from the 1950's clearing logs and timber, regrassing and aerial topdressing.

Following pasture improvement, the newly sown pasture was usually sub-divided into 2-3 smaller paddocks. By 1978 the farm had 35 main paddocks and several holding paddocks.

A few paddocks were suitable for hay making once timber had been removed and improved pastures established. It became the practice to make hay in summer to feed to cattle in winter. Hay sheds were constructed to store hay.

Farm tracks were improved to make access around Ruanui easier. Tracks were constructed and maintained by the bulldozing contractor when he visited to do the stumping, disking and sowing of swedes and pasture. A number of crossings for both stock and vehicles were built across the streams that run through Ruanui.

Cattle yards were constructed a mile up the valley in Ruanui where there was an area of relatively flat land and holding paddocks. Three sets of sheep yards were constructed to allow stock work on different parts of the farm, and the yards by the woolshed were enlarged.

George also made improvements to buildings at Ruanui.

The number of stock wintered and stock performance was improved during the period George farmed Ruanui. In 1978, 1570 ewes and 400 cattle were wintered, double the number wintered in 1947. Lambs and cattle were sold prime for slaughter.

1978 to 2005

Robert Korte, George's son farmed Ruanui from 1978 until 2005 when the farm was leased. Robert continued to develop the farm, improving pasture areas that had not been developed by his father, increasing the number of paddocks, and further increasing livestock numbers. A new woolshed was constructed in 1988. Further fencing was done to make stock lane ways so that stock movement around the farm was easier.

Robert also made some improvements to the Ruanui buildings. In 2005 Robert leased Ruanui to a neighbour and moved to Ormond and subsequently Te Karaka. It had taken three generations over a hundred years to develop the Ruanui bush block.

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