Early Mass Centres
In the early 1900s more people lived in the mill towns of Oruanui and Mokai than in Taupo. A mill began production at Mokai in 1903 with a rail link to Putaruru, a major engineering feat for those times. The wooden bridge over the Waikato river, constructed in 1903, was the longest wooden single span bridge in the southern hemisphere.
In 1913 a church at Mokai was built and was in use until the early sixties. In the late 1920s Mokai’s population was population was 2000 while that of Taupo was only 400. The Mokai mill closed in 1948 and the Maroa mill opened the same year. It was to become the biggest sawmill in the Southern hemisphere, but like Mokai and Oruanui, it became a ghost town as the population gradually moved away in search of work elsewhere after logging stopped.
Rosaleen McBrayne in the 1976 Parish History had this to say:
In the early days, a priest travelled from Waihi to Mokai once a month for Mass, staying there from the Friday till the Monday for instruction, Baptism, marriages etc. The population of Mokai and Oruanui was almost all Maori, and the Mokai Church was packed for Mass. The Mokai marae was used extensively for meetings concerning Maori land ownership, shareholding, and timber royalties. Father Langerwerf parish priest at Waihifrom 1903 until his death in 1935, used to travel to Mokai on horseback, stopping overnight in Taupo. Stories are told about the time Father Langerwerf was swept off his horse in the Tongariro River and only saved himself from drowning by grabbing hold of the horses tail. When Taupo became a separate parish, with regular Masses at Taupo and Wairakei, Mass was celebrated every fortnight at Mokai and once a month at Oruanui and Maroa.
Father de Bree recalls visiting Mokai in 1936, when all the houses were occupied and there was plenty of labour for the local sawmill. Mokai was still looked upon as an ancient historic place and, at the time of his visit, the local Kaumutua was Turau te Torno, who was well versed in Maori tradition and history, and known for his oratory. The late Pei te Hurinui Jones listed him as a fine, outstanding Maori scholar. Father worked closely with Taite and Turau Te Torno and later with Muirama Osborne and Sam Andrews.