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About Central Hawke's BayNgā kōrero o Tamatea

Ever wondered what the history was of our beautiful little part of the world? Find some information below, kindly supplied by our friends from the Central Hawke's Bay Museum, to satisfy your interest!

Brief History

Taken from the Central Hawke's Bay Museum websiteRuataniwha Survey District. large

The earliest permanent occupants of Heretaunga were Ngati Whatumamoa and Ngati Awa to the North of the Ngaruroro River and Te Aitanga a Whatonga to the South. The key to occupation at Waipukurau in ancient times was the prized eeling lake of Whatumā. Significant stands of native timber surrounded Whatumā Lake in those days and Kereru (native wood pigeons) were snared in abundance.

The arrival of Archdeacon William Williams on 20th January 1840 as the first resident missionary on the East Coast certainly made more impression on the exiled Maori population at Nukutaurua than the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi 17 days later. Yet these two events were the catalyst that led to the repatriation of Hawkes Bay during the following five years. In November 1851, Donald McLean bought 279,000 acres on behalf of the Crown. This area of Central Hawkes Bay was known as the Waipukurau Block.

The two major towns in the district, Waipukurau and Waipawa had very different starts to colonial life. As one of the first established inland towns (1860) in the colony, Waipawa has, even from the earliest days, taken a leading part in the history of the province of Central Hawkes Bay. Founded by an early settler, Mr. F. S. Abbott, Waipawa soon became a progressive community and administrative center for the area stretching from Te Aute to Woodville, bounded by the Ruahine Ranges and the sea. The original Waipawa County Council was formed in 1877.

In the 1850’s six run holders controlled the best grazing land in Waipukurau. 1867 saw the village and part of the surrounding country belonging to H.R. Russell who did not sell any of his property. Russell leased his land with the idea that all of it would be reverted to a town council in 99 years time, so as to realize his personal dream of making Waipukurau the richest city in New Zealand.

A rich inland plain runs from North to South known commonly as the Ruataniwha Plains (north of the Tuki tuki river) and Takapau Plains further South.

As the towns progressed, communications with other Hawkes Bay centres increased. In 1867 both telegraph and road services between Napier and Waipawa commenced. In 1874 the railway was begun in Napier and by 1876 had reached Waipawa.

Waipukurau thrived during the post-Second World War agricultural boom. Car yards opened in the town to meet demand from wealthy farmers. By 1951 Waipukurau had six banks. With the decline of farming profits from the 1970s businesses such as stock firms merged, and banks and transport companies closed. In the 2000s Waipukurau was still supported by farming and related industries.

Unlike Waipukurau, Waipawa was soon surrounded by many smaller farms that supported its growth. However, from the early 20th century its population lagged behind Waipukurau. The closure of the longstanding branch of the Williams & Kettle stock agents in 1987 was symbolic of the economic difficulties experienced by rural service centres like Waipawa during the later 20th century. The east side of the main street houses the regional museum (Central Hawke's Bay Museum).  In 1986  the council built a new shopping mall behind the west side. The Central Hawke's Bay District Libraries Waipawa Branch is situated here.

General Information

Central Hawke’s Bay District covers an area of 333,450 hectares with a population of 14,142 (Taken from 2018 Census).  It covers the area from Pukehou-north to Takapau-south, and from the western Ruahine ranges to the eastern coast.  Each of the four corners of the district has a marae.  These are: Pukehou, Kairakau, Rongo Maraeroa (at Porangahau) and Rakautatahi (at Takapau). Other statistics are available at the Statistics NZ Website

There are two main towns in Central Hawke’s Bay - Waipukurau and Waipawa - with a number of smaller townships including Otāne, Takapau, Tikokino, Pōrangahau and Ongaonga; as well as several beach townships including Kairakau, Pourerere, Aramoana, Blackhead and Te Paerahi.

State Highway 2 runs through the centre of Central Hawke’s Bay leading south to Palmerston North and the Wairarapa and north to Hastings and Napier.  The nearest north and south cities to Waipukurau are Hastings, 50 kilometres, and Palmerston North, 108 kilometres.  It is 70 kilometres to Napier Port and 75 kilometres to Napier Airport.

 The railway runs through Central Hawke’s Bay with one station at Waipukurau.  This is the main line running from Wellington, via Palmerston North, to Napier. 

Maori History

(Taken from Te Ara: the Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

Ngāti Kahungunu is the largest iwi (tribe) in Hawke’s Bay, and the third largest in New Zealand. Its people claim descent from the earliest-known settlers of the region and the eponymous ancestor Kahungunu and his kin, who arrived later.

First migrants

Māori settled in Hawke’s Bay around 1250–1300 AD. Over time settlements were established on the coast from Māhia in the north down to Pōrangahau in the south, and along rivers and waterways inland. Heretaunga and Te Whanganui-a-Orotū (Napier’s inner harbour) were two important early settlement areas.

Later migrants

The people who became known as Ngāti Kahungunu arrived in the region some time during the 16th century. Kahungunu, whose grandfather captained the Takitimu waka (canoe) from Hawaiki to New Zealand, was in born in Ōrongotea (Kaitāia) and grew up in Tauranga. He later travelled down the east coast, making a series of marriage alliances with high-born women as he went. He finally settled at Nukutaurua (Māhia Peninsula), the home of his fourth wife, Rongomaiwahine.

Their descendants, who also lived at Tūranganui (Gisborne), populated Wairoa and spread south into Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa. These migrations make up the three strands of the tribe: Wairoa, Heretaunga and Wairarapa. Some descendants on the Māhia Peninsula identify as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine rather than Ngāti Kahungunu.

Rangitāne tribal ancestors arrived at Māhia Peninsula aboard the Kurahaupō waka about 1350. Rangitāne later settled in Heretaunga but, after Ngāti Kahungunu arrived, they migrated further south to Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua (around Dannevirke), where the Hawke’s Bay section of the tribe was centred in the 2000s.

European Contact

In October 1769, Captain James Cook and the crew of the HMS Endeavour were probably the first Europeans to set eyes upon Hawke's Bay. Cook was deterred from landing believing the Maori were hostile, but named the Bay after Sir Edward Hawke, First Lord of the Admiralty, before eventually landing north of what became Gisborne (Wright, 1994). For more than fifty years after Cook's visit, no further Europeans visited Hawke's Bay. After 1830, European traders, whalers, missionaries and other forerunners of permanent settlement began to appear in Hawke's Bay. The whalers began with stations at Waikokopu and Whangawehi, in the Mahia district during the late 1830s. From here they moved down the coast to other bases, among them Cape Kidnappers and Waimarama (Campbell, 1975).

Around the same time, missionaries began traveling to Hawke's Bay to convert the Ngati Kahungunu tribe to Christianity. The Anglicans were the earliest missionaries to reach Hawke's Bay under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). They had already established a mission station in the Bay of Islands under the leadership of Rev. Henry Williams in 1823 ( CMS missionaries made significant journeys to Tauranga, Rotorua, and later to the East Coast to establish mission stations ( Rev. William Williams, the younger brother of Henry Williams, was the first missionary to reach Hawke's Bay via Wairoa in 1833(Campbell, 1975). By 1840, he established the first mission station at Turanga (now Gisborne) and took charge of a parish extending from the East Cape to Cape Palliser (Encyclopedia NZ). Bishop Selwyn, accompanied by Chief Justice Martin, was the next member of the Anglican church to visit Hawke's Bay in November 1842 and reported that in the Ahuriri district there was 'a very numerous Christian community although it had only once been visited by a missionary'(S.W. Grant, 1986). To maintain contact with the Maori converts it became necessary to appoint more missionaries, but it wasn't until the close of 1844 that the first missionary was appointed to Hawke's Bay. On 12 December 1843, William Williams and William Colenso received a grant of ten acres from the local people of Te Awapuni (present Awatoto, Napier) to establish a mission station at Ahuriri on Hawke's Bay (Ibid). William Colenso, a lay missionary, printer and amateur botanist from the Bay of Islands, was appointed to take charge of the new mission station. He arrived in Te Awapuni with his wife on 30 December 1844 to take charge of the District extending from Taupo to Wellington and embracing the whole area eastward of the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges (Encyclopedia NZ). A chapel was eventually built and dedicated at Te Awapuni, the first service being held on 5 December, 1845. Such were the beginnings of the establishment of Christianity in Hawke's Bay, the congregation solely Maori, as the influx of Europeans had not yet occurred (S.W. Grant, 1986).

Land purchases

By the late 1840s pastoral farmers in Wairarapa were pushing north in a quest for more land. The first flock of sheep in Hawke’s Bay arrived in Pourerere in 1849. Early pastoralists negotiated leases directly with Māori, which was illegal at the time, prompting the government to act so it could control all land transactions. Hawke’s Bay Māori also wanted more Pākehā settlers, because they brought money and prestige, and offered the government land in exchange. In 1851 government agent Donald McLean purchased three blocks of land, which totalled 254,547 hectares. More land was purchased through the rest of the 1850s, and sometimes triggered conflict between Ngāti Kahungunu hapū (sub-tribes).


Hawke’s Bay saw little fighting during the New Zealand wars of the 1860s, compared to places like Taranaki and Waikato. Land shortages were not an issue for Hawke’s Bay Māori at this stage, and there were no contentious European settlements in the region. However, opposition to land sales and surveying was brewing. Some chiefs were sympathetic to the Māori King movement in Waikato, but few joined the conflict. Donald McLean used his influence to keep them on the government side.

Members of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith arrived in Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay in 1865. Battles took place at Ōmarunui and Pētane, with Pai Mārire warriors and their local supporters fighting kūpapa (neutral or ‘loyal’) Māori and colonial forces in 1866. These battles were seen as acts of rebellion and resulted in land confiscations around Mōhaka and Wairoa.

Māori resistance leader Te Kooti raided Mōhaka in 1869, killing 61 Māori and seven Europeans.

Repudiation movement

More Māori land throughout the region was purchased over the next few decades. Prices paid were generally low, and in many cases not all rightful owners were consulted before sales were made. Some deals were done in secret. These practices led to discontent and conflict amongst Māori, fewer sales, and attempts by some to stop sales altogether. This developed into the ultimately unsuccessful repudiation movement of the 1870s, which rejected all sales and leases.


Most of the Māori land purchased by the government was leased or sold to settlers who established stations to graze sheep and, in some cases, cattle. From 1862 settlers were able to buy land directly from Māori.

Many of these stations were thousands, and even tens of thousands, of acres (0.4 hectares) in size. Most were located in Central Hawke’s Bay and north towards Wairoa. Forest-covered southern Hawke’s Bay was largely unsettled by Europeans until the 1870s.

Unwelcome Wanderers 

Fences were rare on the early pastoral stations, and many settlers could not or would not stop their sheep wandering onto other stations and Māori land without permission. Māori sometimes refused to return offending sheep until their owner paid money for the grass they had eaten. When John Harding’s sheep strayed onto George Cooper’s farm in 1863, Cooper’s brief note conveyed his annoyance: ‘I beg to give you notice that I have two of your rams … and that unless you remove them within 48 hours from the receipt of this notice I shall castrate the same.’1

Large-scale pastoralists soon dominated the region’s farming economy, and smaller operators found it difficult to buy decent land. When even small blocks of land were offered for sale they were often snapped up by station owners. The ambitious but cash-poor had to work on stations and try to save enough money out of wages to buy their own property. Between 1892 and 1935 the government purchased parts of 56 stations, totalling 107,154 hectares, under the Land for Settlements acts to subdivide into small farms.

Town founding

Early Hawke’s Bay towns grew up after the settlement of the country blocks by pastoral runholders (farmers). Napier (1855), Havelock North (1860) and Wairoa (1865) were founded by government, while Waipawa (1860), Waipukurau (1860s) and Hastings (1873) grew from subdivisions created by pastoralists and land speculators.

Settling the Seventy Mile Bush

The heavily forested inland area in southern Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, known as the Seventy Mile Bush, was not comprehensively settled by Europeans until the 1870s. Before this only a few pastoral stations had been established in forest clearings around present-day Dannevirke (the first in 1861). In 1870 it was one of the largest areas of land in the region still owned by Māori.

When Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel implemented an immigration and public-works scheme designed to boost economic growth in the 1870s, the Seventy Mile Bush was identified as a good place to settle new immigrants. This coincided with the plans of local politicians like John Davies Ormond and Donald McLean, who wanted to open up the forest lands for settlement and allow for overland access into Hawke’s Bay from the south.

In 1871, 250,000 acres (101,171 hectares) was purchased, and this was settled by assisted immigrants from Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1872. The Danes had no experience in felling forests, but all groups managed to clear the land and establish small farms. The townships of Norsewood, Dannevirke and Woodville were located on the new road and rail route through the bush.

Earthquake 1931

 Although the epicentre of the earthquake of 3 February, 1931 was to the north of Napier, Central Hawke's Bay was not spared. The main damage in Waipukurau was the bulging in the stage wall at the Municipal Theatre, the loss of the top part of the soldiers monument and damage to the clock on the Post Offfice. The Tavistock Hotel also sustained considerable damage. In Waipawa there was damage to the Limbrick Buildings, the bakery and tearooms, the Jewellers and the Gasworks. Mr S Burkin's Boot Repairer's shop was totally destroyed and Mr Burkin subsequently died from the injuries he received. Over 900 chimneys around the district were destroyed. Central Hawke's Bay played a pivotal role in the evacuation of earthquake refugees from Napier and Hastings. The hospital emerged relatively unscathed from the earthquake and bed were found for patients of the ruined Napier hospital and earthquake casualties. A base camp for refugees was established at the racecourse and within a fortnight more than 500 refugees were accommodated there.

You can read about the Earthquake in this 1931 article from the Waipawa Mail

(Information courtesy of: Abbot's-Ford: A History of Waipawa by Margaret A Gray. 1989. CHB Print, Waipukurau and Waipukurau: The History of a Country Town by Patrick Parsons. 1999. CHB Printers & Publishers, Waipukurau. A Waipukurau rotary Club's Millennium Project)

Hawke's Bay was administrated by Provincial Government until 1876 when it was replaced by the county system based on the English model. The Counties Act emerged from Parliament providing for 63 counties of which Waipawa was one.

The Waipawa County of 1876 covered over 200 square miles and extended from the Manawatu Gorge to Pukehou and from the Ruahine Mountains to the sea.

Within the County area were a number of Roads Boards responsible to the County.

During 1885 Patangata broke away from the County and in 1908 the County of Waipawa was divided into the Counties of Waipawa, Waipukurau, Patangata, Woodville and Dannevirke.  

Meanwhile in 1907 a proposal had been put through to Parliament empowering the Town Board to extend its boundaries so that a Borough Council could be formed. The Borough Bill was passed in early 1908 and in May that year the new Waipawa Borough Council was sworn in. in 1912 The Waipukurau Town Board was replaced also by a Borough Council.

In 1974 The Patangata County Council amalgamated with the Waipukurau County Council and in 1977 the Waipukurau County Council and the Waipukurau Borough Council amalgamated as the Waipukurau District Council. The Waipawa Councils followed suit in 1978.

In 1987 the Government empowered the Local Government Commission to force amalgamation of Local Government units throughout the country. In 1989 the Waipukurau District Council and the Waipawa District Council merged to form the Central Hawke's Bay District Council.

(Information courtesy of: Abbot's-Ford: A History of Waipawa by Margaret A Gray. 1989. CHB Print, Waipukurau and Waipukurau: The History of a Country Town by Patrick Parsons. 1999. CHB Printers & Publishers, Waipukurau. A Waipukurau rotary Club's Millennium Project)


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