The first school was established in Okaihau in 1873 in a log hut along the Okaihau ridge towards Marangai. However, the dampness in this building was bad for the children’s health, so the school shifted to the house of a local man, Mr Joseph Harrison. In 1874, the first proper school building was opened with twenty one children on the roll.
In those days, meat and butter came from Australia, the butter surviving the journey a lot better than the meat! Of course, back then, there was no road to Kaikohe or even further north to Mangamuka. Gum diggers arrived in the area in 1890 and school children could find them on the shores of Lake Omapere and, if they were lucky, they might get a piece of gum in the shape of a ball or a heart from the gumdiggers. Children, as they grew up, could make money crosscutting in the kauri bush to get kauri gum.
Okaihau got really busy in the 1910s and 1920s when the town was the headquarters for building the railway line north. Schools sprung up in different places around Okaihau. There were two “public works” schools; Okaihau East School and the Upper Waihou School. The surnames of some of the five-year olds at school here in 1937 are still heard in the district today; Bindons, Rowsells, Penneys, Radovanovichs, Floods. The original attendance register is still held at the school. Teachers used fountain pens, and students walked to school or came by horse. We still have an original ink blotter advertising Shell Oil.
See if you can find R5 around the school. This is the original school building which Mr Harrison taught in. The room is made of pit sawn kauri and is still used as a classroom today. The classroom was moved to this site in the 1930s and was transported on logs pulled by bullock teams.
It was decided in 1937 to join all the local small schools together and make one larger “consolidated” school. This was put on the site of the current Okaihau College. L Block was opened as a brand-new modern school for country children in the north in 1938. When the school opened, there were 93 boys and 87 girls in attendance aged from five to sixteen. In 1940, electricity arrived in Okaihau, by which time there were fifty-seven secondary students at school (Years 8 – 12).
The centennial celebrations of the Okaihau and Districts schools was held in 1974. If you have a look, you can find a commemorative plaque on the front of the Administration Block showing that the school was officially opened as a proper college on 7 July 1973. This was exactly one hundred years after the first school started in Okaihau. Today we have around 430 students in Years 7 – 13 who travel to school in buses from as far away from Kohukohu, Kaikohe, Waima and Horeke.