Pahiatua: a safe-haven for those leaving war-torn Poland

Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and the country remained under Nazi occupation until January 1945.

Though established well before World War II, Pahiatua was richly enhanced by Polish refugees escaping their war-torn country during this time. 

Sent to a refugee camp about two kilometres from the town's centre in November 1944, the Pahiatua population quadrupled relatively quickly. Of those 838 refugees, 733 of them were children. 

While the settlement was expected to be temporary, these Polish refugees stayed due to the rise of communism in eastern Europe after World War II. At this point, many of our Polish inhabitants were already naturalised, infusing our community with a distinctive identity and dynamic way of life. 

Pahiatua offers a unique, yet familiar, environment for anyone who visits our town today. Our community is proud of its history. Plans are now in motion to further accentuate our identity by showcasing our Polish-inspired crooked forest and modern Kiwiana street sculptures.

THE ROAD TO PAHIATUA

The town’s name comes from the Māori words for resting place (pahi) and god (atua). One interpretation is that a chief escaping from enemies was led by his god to a hill, where he rested.

Pahiatua was established in 1881 in the densely forested area known as the Forty Mile Bush. At first it was a timber town, but once the bush was cleared it became a service centre for dairying and sheep farming.

Settlers were soon attracted to the area as talk of the railway coming through the town inspired big plans. 

In preparation for the opportunities the railway would bring, Pahiatua settlers shaped and constructed the Main Street so it would be wide enough for the train. Unfortunately, the decision was made to build the railway line to the west of town.

The settlers took this momentary setback and redesigned the street to incorporate a long grass median, creating a lively and inviting landmark in the town. 

Our Main Street is still the widest street in New Zealand! 

Pahiatua is where Kiwis and tourists alike come to enjoy the outdoors just a day trip away from Wellington & Napier.

PAHIATUA TODAY: EXPLORE & ENJOY!

Stop to experience our beautiful natural landscape. Stay to experience our culture and lively town centre. We welcome you with open arms.

As you explore our Main Street, you'll find a vibrant town centre filled with modern cafes and a wide range of shops and boutiques. You may even bump into a keen group of mountain bikers refuelling with food and drink after a great ride -- or fisherman who've been angling to reel in a brown trout.

If you have young kids with you, you can take them to the playground where they'll get to experience a replica World War II Harvard Plane converted into a slide.

You could treat the family to a sports event at our Bush Multisport Park. Opened in 2004, it has become the major hub for sporting activities and events in the Tararua district.

Also home to the iconic Tui Beer Brewery, Pahiatua offers beer aficionados the opportunity to learn more about this New Zealand brew.

DISCOVER MORE

Our Pahiatua Museum is the first to house the history of the Polish children who came to New Zealand following the Second World War.

Experience and learn about a significant moment in not only New Zealand's history, but the world's as well. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Pahiatua can offer.

 

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