Taken from the Central Hawke's Bay Settlers Museum website
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 Settlers 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.
Central Hawke’s Bay District covers an area of 333,450 hectares with a population of 12,948. 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).
There are two main towns in Central Hawke’s Bay - Waipukurau and Waipawa - with a number of smaller townships including Otane, Takapau, Tikokino, Porangahau 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.