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About Central Hawke's Bay
~ He kōrero mō Tamatea


Early History

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 Endeavor 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 Kahunganu 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 (Enclyclopedia 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).

European Settlement

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.

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