New Zealand’s kiwifruit pioneers


THE story of kiwifruit’s origins in the Eastern Bay is one of those contained in Seeds of Success – the stories of New Zealand’s Kiwifruit Pioneers, a book commissioned by New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers to mark its 25th anniversary.

Written by award-winning rural journalist Elaine Fisher, it traces the fascinating personal stories of growers who helped shape the industry that today employs thousands of people and benefits regional and national economies.

It was Wanganui school teacher Isabel Fraser who brought seeds home from China in 1904, which were propagated by keen horticulturalist Alexander Allison. He shared his plants with other nurserymen, who in turn developed varieties to which they gave their own names.

Hayward Wright, a talented nurseryman in Auckland, selected the variety that today bears his name, and proved to keep long enough to be shipped by sea to markets half a world away. It also tasted great and its green flesh, with a “sunburst pattern” of seeds inside, made it a winner with chefs and consumers.

By the early 1950s, enterprising Te Puke orchardists were exporting the green-fleshed fruit to Europe and the United States.

Orcharding on the Rangitaiki Plains in the Eastern Bay began later than Te Puke. Even though the plains are not prime kiwifruit country, extensive artificial drainage has helped transform land use, mainly to dairying, and also into horticulture.

By 2019, 626ha of kiwifruit was growing there. In 1983, the co-operative Rangitaiki Fruit Packers, which went on to become EastPack, was formed to pack and coolstore the fruit of 23 Edgecumbe-based growers.

For its first packing season in 1983, the co-operative used the coolstore and packhouse that one of its members, Corrie Smit, had built in West Bank Road when, as a 16-year-old, he planted a kiwifruit orchard.

The first manager was Lou Wilkins, followed by Tony Hawken as general manager and then chief executive, a position he held for 31 years until stepping down from EastPack in 2014.

This is among the stories of growers, post-harvest operators and exporters that feature in the book and are a representation of the many people who have made, and continue to make, the New Zealand kiwifruit industry the success that it is.

The heady boom times of the 1970s and the exporters involved in launching New Zealand kiwifruit on the international stage also feature, and the crisis years of the late 1980s to mid-1990s are told through the eyes of those who helped pull the industry back from the brink of disaster.

The book will be launched on July 3 in Tauranga as part of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers’ anniversary celebrations. Pre-orders can be made through the website,