Orchards of the Nelson region


Stoke Orchards

Stoke once had orchards everywhere, with hawthorn or occasionally gorse or macrocarpa hedges on the boundaries.

The population was sparse, so everyone knew everyone. Geoffrey Gates who lived on Main Road Stoke at The Havens recalled the following orchard owners - Monopoli, Gilbert, Neale (where Whareama is now), Harry Chisnall in Songer Street, Pitts-Brown, Cyril Dee, Wallie Wilson (Main Road Stoke), Robinson Brothers (possibly on their present site ), H. E. Stephens (Woodstock), and Marshall at Hayes Corner, where he also made cider. There were a few other farms, such as that of James Marsden which occupied 950 acres from Songer Street to Marsden Road, and George Manson in the area of Manson Avenue.

Geoffrey, like many others, went to work in an orchard when he left school. He worked for Gilberts, who had the orchard opposite his home, for eight shillings a day. The hoses used for spraying were about 80 feet long, and horses and carts were used for the hard work of dragging them round the trees. The spray was in 150 gallon containers and two men walked behind the horse and cart to spray the trees.Apples were packed on individual farms and inspected for quality at the port.

Woodstock homestead

The Woodstock homestead,  on Main Road Stoke, was built by Captain Robert Nicholson around 1853. It has a Category I Historic Places Trust listing.The house was a grand cob building set on 24 acres of land and one of  four notable properties in Stoke, the others being Isel House, Wadsworth House and Broadgreen House,which is also a Cob construction.

Woodstock homesteadWoodstock homestead (1967) Nelson PhotoNews
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Nicholson named the property after the immigrant barque he skippered to Nelson in 1847. He died aged 43 in 1863. William Ford Beatson an English architect was employed to design the house. He designed a number of notable Nelson properties including the nearby St Barnabas' Church, All Saints Anglican and St Johns Methodist Churches in Nelson.

Cob houses were popular as they were durable and easy to build.  Earth was excavated from the large underground cellar which was lined with stone.  The four exterior walls and middle wall in the house are all cob construction. From the internal wall others divide off to form a total of eleven rooms. The 45cm thick walls were topped with timber in the second storey and the house had timber gables.

Captain Nicholson was a horse racing fanatic and used the front paddock as a racecourse and the front balcony of the house had a large canvas canopy for guests to sit under and view the action.

The property had several owners and became one of the first commercial orchards in the 1880s with apples being the primary crop.

The  Stephens Orchard

The Woodstock homestead and land was purchased by Herbert Edward Stephens, in 1920 from John Bushby who had returned to England. Herbert had been born in New Zealand, but became a gold mining engineer in Australia for many years before returning to New Zealand, seeking a property for his family. Herbert was reported as saying he was attracted by the sign saying “firewood for life” and the house became home to 3 generations of the Stephens family and the land transformed into a highly successful orchard.

Herbert worked for the Apple Export Board, which later became the Apple & Pear Board, becoming the London manager responsible for selling apples for New Zealand orchards in England. He could see a good future for orchardists. In 1899 the first trial shipment of apples and pears to the United Kingdom, carried in cool storage by the S.S. Papanui from Lyttelton, had earned a fair price, and returns from a Nelson shipment in 1910 were also encouraging. Improvements in cool storage of apples in the 1920’s opened up export opportunities. Herbert and the New Zealand High Commissioner Sir James Parr, presented the Prince of Wales with the millionth case of apples exported from Nelson in 1928.

The Millionth Case. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Ellis Dudgeon Collection: 255268
Click image to enlarge

Edward Stephens, known as Eddie, was Herbert's son and was eight years old when the family moved to Woodstock. He stayed on the orchard until 1981 although his two sons Michael, in 1967 and David in 1973, progressively took over the management and bought shares in the land. The 1950s -1970s were boom years for the industry and co-operative behaviour between orchard owners resulted in not only selling produce but finding co-operative ways for the bulk buying of orchard supplies.

The Stephens orchard started to diversify with a roadside shop selling apples and pears and also peaches, nectarines, plums and tomatoes which grew on the property and an adjoining 2-3 hectare block purchased by Michael Stephens. Apple juice proved popular and complemented the products being sold at the adjacent Robinsons' Orchard who were then producing a popular apple cider.

Eddie set up the Waimea Trading company in the late 1960s-70s for better bulk buying of commercial supplies. This company later changed its name to Combined Rural Traders (CRT).

Eddie, along with other orchard owners was part of a group that started the volunteer Stoke Fire Brigade  in the 1950s. Fire was a real threat to Stoke properties. They used their orchard spray equipment and put pumps into reverse to suck water to fight fires.  Eddie lost an eye fighting a gorse fire.

By the 1980s costs had increased markedly. In 1993 the Stephens orchard land was sold to be used as residential land. Tasman District Council had made district planning changes and resulting rates meant it was not economically viable to continue.

Nelson Orchards 1900-1960s

In the early 1900s there were 137 orchards in the Tahuna-Richmond area. In those days a living could be made from a 5-10 acre block selling produce mainly to the local market.  By the 1930s bulk production became more important and orchards started to amalgamate. Orchards in Tahuna started to disappear and the drift towards concentrating orchards in Moutere, Motueka and Riwaka became more evident.

Moutere hills had been established in orchards since 1910, when A. McKee of Riwaka bought 2600 acres of land that sheep and rabbits were starving on, in the belief the land was good to grow apples on.  He followed the example he had seen in Tasmania and with the right varieties and right soil management, including plenty of fertiliser, apples and pears flourished. Others soon joined him. Companies formed to buy land such as Tasman Fruitlands Ltd and the Moutere Amalgamated Fruitlands Ltd started orcharding in the Mahana area in 1913.  Mapua was known as the Seaton Estate and, in 1914 marketed as New Zealand’s latest enterprise - Apple Growing for the great markets of the North. Port Mapua was the shipping point for the produce.  Port Nelson became the main shipping point for the region becoming a direct link to overseas markets. 

Apples being loaded at Port NelsonApples being loaded at Port Nelson. Nelson Photo News, March 4 1961
Click image to enlarge

Fruit growers organised themselves into many district associations including the Nelson Fruit Growers' Association, and affiliated themselves to a national body, the New Zealand Fruitgrowers' Federation Ltd, with the aim of getting a fair price for growers who were often affected by seasonal gluts of fruit. In 1916 A. P. Allport was the director representing Nelson. The New Zealand government could see the potential to grow and support an important export industry and co-operation between producers was vital to success.

The passing of the Orchard and Garden Pests Act in 1908 led to increased production and the Orchard Tax 1916 imposed an annual tax of one shilling per acre every orchardist had planted in orchard, supported the work of the Federation. Amendments followed with various other levies.

In the 1920s some serious problems faced orchardists, such as woolly aphis, fungal diseases like black spot and brown rot , and managing fruit in cool storage.  The Cawthron Institute worked to find solutions and the introduction of the Aphelinus mali parasite was very successful in controlling woolly aphis. Spray programmes and orchard management techniques and temperature/humidity control in cool stores resulted in a stable and financially viable apple industry by the late 1940s.

Innovations to help the industry were developed locally. Waimea West orchardist G. C. McMurtry developed one of the first grading machines in the 1920s. It was a hand grader and soon came into general use. After  the war he invented a case nailing machine, and a machine for labelling cases. J. Marshall , growing fruit at Stoke, developed a Sunbeam grader and case press and produced apple cider and wine.

The Millionth Case. [1934] The Nelson Provincial Museum, Ellis Dudgeon Collection: 255268
Click image to enlarge

By 1947 the bulk of orchards in the Nelson Province were in the Moutere Hills and apples were by far the major crop.  Of the 3922 acres in orchards at that time only 347 were in the Stoke/Richmond/Tahuna area. During World War II Nelson allocated 90% of its fruit crop to meet the countries' fruit shortages but quickly returned to exporting, and the 1950s- 1970s were boom years for the industry.

The Apple and Pear Marketing Act of 1948 had vested the purchase and marketing of the apple and pear crop in the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board. This guaranteed a reasonable income and purchase of crops. Other important legislation included the Orchard Levy Act of 1953  transferring the power to levy from the Department of Agriculture to the Federation. Improvements in streamlining levies and focusing funds into areas of importance was achieved. Another Nelsonian, J.H.Parker, a Nelson grower and ex-All Black, took the role of Chairman of the Federation in 1955. Around this time growers were granted the chance to get a license to sell fruit at authorised market places and the Board also started selling to the public in 1956.

Apple & Pear Board Processing Factory (1964) Nelson Photo News
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In 1947 pioneer work on bulk harvesting was done in Nelson at the orchard owned by N. & E. Williams. This became a huge innovation for the industry as a whole, making picking easier, faster and cheaper. Shallow linoleum lined, multi bushel bins were mounted on surplus bomber air wheels allowing bulk harvesting, while the use of forklifts in the packing sheds and, at Port Nelson, loadingonto the ships meant less manual lifting of cases and damage to fruit.

The guaranteed price for apples paid by the Federation, and freedom from marketing worries had allowed growers to put capital back into their orchards, caring for crops and improving and modernising management techniques.

In 1959 a record crop faced serious competition in overseas markets and new markets were sought. As an expression of service to the industry a factory in Nelson was set up manufacturing high quality fruit handling equipment, some based on N. Williams designs, under the ANSA brand, and manufacturing branches were set up in Australia and South Africa.

In 1961 the Apple and Pear Board opened a new 160,000 case cool store and, in 1962, a fruit processing plant in Stoke went into producing apple juices, slices, sauces and pie fillings with lower grade fruit. The Apple and Pear Marketing Board became ENZA in 1992, and their apple plant remains in the same location in Stoke. 


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  • Hi my mother picked apples in 1963 on an orchard in nelson ...the owner was mr argue (I have lots of photos) having just moved to mapua I'm interested to know if anyone knows where this orchard was... thanking you.
    Ed - the orchard was in Mahana according to the Nelson PhotoNews and the Electoral rolls

    Posted by Lani Patterson, 08/05/2022 11:18am (1 year ago)

  • My Great Grandfather owned and eventually sold in 1913 an Orchard in the Motueka Area - It was called Marlow Orchard. Does anyone know the address of this orchard?

    Posted by Lee Asher-Simpson, 18/02/2022 4:16pm (1 year ago)

  • My grandfather Arthur McKee build a cob home at the top of the Bluffs in around 1917 when the Bluffs road was completed. The house is still occupied today. Arthur made his own acetylene gas for heating & cooking. He had his own windmill for pumping water from a ground well to a header tank.He & a friend imported the very first pneumatic tired bikes.His 100 acre orchard block included a block of experimental varieties supervised by the Department of Agriculture.In the early days before the Bluffs road was completed supplies for Tasman were landed by boat from Nelson to the beach at the foot of the Bluffs and hoisted on a wire rope drawn by horses to the top of the Bluffs hill.

    Posted by Fred McKee, 04/04/2017 2:56pm (6 years ago)

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Further sources - Orchards of the Nelson region



  • Spencer, L. (1983, January 8). Open door. Nelson Evening Mail, p.7


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