Woodville is a small town in the southern North Island of New Zealand, 75 km north of Masterton and 25 km east of Palmerston North. In the 2006 census 1,398 people are usually resident in Woodville, a decrease of 81 people, or 5.5%, since the 2001 Census.
It appears that Woodville was a traveller's rest spot in Maori history. It was also a place to rest for hunters as they walked from one side of the Manawatu Gorge to the other. The local iwi were Rangitane, and maintained strong and positive relations with other tribes for the most part.
They arrived at Wharetiti from Bare Island, Waimarama and continued northwards to Tongariro. Local Maori would construct temporary housing when the Titi began to arrive and harvest the birds from their burrows, preserving them inside pouches made from bull kelp which they carried up from the coast. It is some years since muttonbirds were last seen on this part of the Ruahine Mountains.
One interesting local landmark is Whariti, one of the main peaks in the Ruahine Ranges near Woodville. The name appears to be a corruption of the original name Wharetiti (Whare – house, titi – muttonbird (the Sooty Shearwater)). According to an interview on Radio Woodville in 2009, the peak of 920 m (2950 ft) gained its name when migrating muttonbird nested on top of the ridges of the Ruahine mountain range.
The town is in the Tararua District and the Manawatu-Wanganui region, although it has strong ties with the Hawke's Bay region, of which it was once a part, but is often considered to be the northern boundary of Wairarapa. It is within the catchment area of the Manawatu River.
Woodville is at the northern end of the Tararua Ranges, close to the gap between them and the Ruahine Ranges formed by the Manawatu River. The Manawatu Gorge provides the easiest access between the east and west coasts of the southern North Island, and is a major transportation link.
The Palmerston North - Gisborne railway line and State Highway 3 run through opposite sides of the Manawatu Gorge, and the latter has its junction with State Highway 2 at Woodville. At Woodville Railway Station, the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line meets the Wairarapa Line and a balloon loop permits through running via the Wairarapa to Wellington.
Due to low freight levels, the northern portion of the Wairarapa line is currently under review as part of KiwiRail's turnaround plan. In some weeks there is only a single train on the line, running from Wellington to Napier. The use of the railway by Fonterra for bulk milk haulage from Oringi means the Hawke's Bay line is sufficiently busy.
Woodville's place in European migration history was established when it became the third of three sizeable timber milling towns in the 'Seventy Mile Bush' which extended along the eastern side of the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges. The others were Dannevirke and Pahiatua.
As farmland was settled and cleared, a number of small dairy factories were established to process the supply of milk for consumption as milk, cheese or other dairy products. As recently as the mid-1980s the dairy factory at the western end of Woodville, on State Highway 2 heading towards the Manawatu Gorge, operated a cheese processing line and a 'factory shop' selling dairy produce direct to the public. A thriving sheep and beef economy at one stage supported a number of local trucking firms and carriers, among them Gunn Transport and Hawkes Bay Farmers Transport, both of which were based at the now-derelict site at the corner of State Highway 2/Vogel Street and the Wairarapa bypass. These business were only economic in the pre-deregulated transport industry that existed prior to the Rogernomics reforms of the Lange Labour Government elected in 1984. With the lifting of distance restrictions (vehicles over a certain weight were at one stage restricted to travelling only 150 km from their geographic base) Woodville's role as a transport hub quickly fell away.
In addition, the local community sustained a supermarket (closed in the 1980s,) a Feltex fabrication factory - built in the mid-1970s and closed by the mid-1980s - at least four or five service station or garage outlets of which only one remains on the west side of the township (Known as Caltex Woodville), and a significant railway presence. The advent of the Oringi Meatworks in 1980-81 was a boost to Woodville's economy as a consequence of significant wage inflows from Woodville people working at Oringi. Oringi's plant closed in 2008.
Very little light industry has survived into the 21st century, and the local agricultural community is supported from Palmerston North, Pahiatua or Dannevirke. Milk from farms in the Woodville district is now transported by rail from the Oringi Milk Transfer Station to Hawera for processing. There has been a boost to the local economy with the construction and maintenance of the Te Apiti Wind Farm on the ridges above the town.
Woodville continues to host a successful horse-racing, rearing and training industry, based at the Woodville & Pahiatua Jockey Club's track on the north-east of the town.
The foothills of the Ruahine and Tararua mountain ranges are to the west of Woodville, and they now host New Zealand's largest wind farm, which was established in the early 1990s and continues to expand. The prevailing westerly winds in the Manawatu-Southern Hawkes Bay region provide a consistent Median Wind Velocity which is the key relevant measure for wind generation as a renewable energy source. Further south, Wellington's reputation is perhaps inaccurate - the Manawatu's flat pastoral lands and in particular the funnel effect created by the Manawatu Gorge in the area near Woodville are well known for being subject to high winds regularly. Following detailed assessment and testing in the early 1990s, the decision was made by newly privatised electricity generation companies to site two large farms on the ridge-lines. As at early 2010, as many 50 wind turbines, over 40 m in height, dot the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges. Woodville now uses this fact as part of it promotion. However many people consider the windmills to be an eyesore and believe they are detrimental to the environmental landscape, seen as far away as Palmerston North.
Woodville was the birthplace of the Mountain Rock Music Festival, a celebration of New Zealand music growing to be the largest celebration of NZ music during the 1990s. Artist Gottfried Lindauer is buried in the Old Gorge cemetery.
Woodville has produced a number of well-regarded sporting competitors, particularly in the 1980s. Among them is 1987 All Black Robbie McLean, who played for the Woodville Rugby Club and Wairarapa-Bush at the time of his national selection. McLean was born in Hawera and was highly regarded by then selector and former All Black No 8 Brian Lochore. Others include Wairarapa-Bush flyhalf Kevin Carter, who at one stage held the national record for number of dropped goals in Division 1 season and was instrumental in the side's success in the old Division 1 first-class championship in the 1980s; and National Basketball League competitors Joe Schmidt and Paul Walsh, both of whom played for Ubix Palmerston North in the 1986-87 seasons. Schmidt also played first-class rugby on the wing for Manawatu. He has since gone on to a successful coaching career with teams in New Zealand and Europe, including winning the Heineken Cup with Irish province Leinster and two Six Nations titles with Ireland.