Hastings is situated on the Heretaunga Plains, a part of the Hawke's Bay Plain. To the west rises the Wakarara Range, the foothills of the Ruahine Range, while in the east the land rises to the hills of the east coast. The residential suburbs are Akina, Frimley, Mahora, Parkvale, Raureka, and Stortford Lodge; Mayfair is partly zoned for industry. The Wellington-Gisborne east coast railway line passes through Hastings. By road the city is 13 miles south of Napier via Clive (12 miles by rail), 52 miles north-east of Waipukurau, and 98 miles north-east of Palmerston North. Napier is the nearest port. Beacons Airport, 17 miles north, is the passenger airport for Napier and Hastings. Bridge Pa aerodrome, 6 miles from the city, is used for aerial topdressing and some charter services.
Sheep and dairy farms are common and there are some stud horse-breeding farms in the district, but the most important rural activities are fruitgrowing and market gardening on irrigated land. Apples and pears are the main fruits, together with peaches and plums, cherries, and raspberries. Much of the lowland built by the Tutaekuri, Ngaruroro, and Tukituki Rivers is used for the intensive growing of cabbages, tomatoes, beans, peas, asparagus, and other vegetables, the bulk of which goes to factories in Hastings for canning or quick freezing or making into soups, sauces, and pickles. This part of Hawke's Bay has almost one-eighth of New Zealand's orchard and market-gardening acreage. Grapes are grown and wine is produced at Taradale, 8 miles north-west. Hastings is the centre for this rich agricultural district and is chiefly concerned with processing farm products. Secondary industries include freezing works at Whakatu and Tomoana, just outside the city, a dairy factory, a brewery, and wine factory, aerated-water factories, sawmilling, and bacon and ham processing. Fertilisers, tallow, stock foods, netting and pipe products, mattresses and chairs, and motor mowers are also manufactured. Quick freezing and canning of fruit and vegetables are large industries. Extensive stock saleyards, fruit-marketing depots, and cool stores are maintained. The Highland Games at Easter and the Hastings Blossom Festival in early September attract many visitors. The festival is so popular that special passenger trains run for the occasion.
The first settlement in Hastings took place in 1864, when Thomas Tanner leased about 17,000 acres of the Heretaunga Plains from the Maoris. Some years later a syndicate was formed to purchase this area and the Heretaunga Block was secured by 12 people who are often referred to as the “Twelve Apostles”. The purchase price was stated to have been about 30s. an acre, and payment was made by £16,000 in cash, with the balance liquidating debts which had been incurred by the Maoris. In 1873 Francis Hicks (one of the syndicate) presented the Government with a section of land for the site of a railway station and decided to lay out 100 acres near this site for a township to be called Hastings. 144 sections were offered, the average price per acre being £56. At that stage much of the area was still duck-shooting swamp. The original settlers of the Heretaunga Plains decided that Havelock North was to be the future city and it was only with the advent of the railway in 1874 that Hastings was chosen as the town site. Further impetus to growth was given in 1880 with the establishment at Tomoana of a boiling-down works, which eventually became the freezing works. The swamps were drained, population increased, and places of business sprang up. Fruitgrowing became an important industry and hops were also cultivated. Vineyards were established at Te Mata. By 1884 the town had a population of 617 and was constituted a town district. It was incorporated as a borough on 20 October 1886 and was the largest borough in New Zealand until April 1908, when a large portion was included in the Hawke's Bay county. Hastings was proclaimed a city on 8 September 1956.
Several disastrous fires occurred in the town; one in February 1893 destroyed much of the business section along Heretaunga Street and much damage was done by another fire in May 1907. About 11 a.m. on 3 February 1931 the Hawke's Bay earthquake practically razed every building in the town. Eighty-eight people died and damage was estimated at over £1,000,000. From the ruins, specially designed buildings arose.
Hastings was named after Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India. At the time the station site was transferred to the Government, the area was shown in the deed as being within the town of Hicksville, but this name never became current.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 23,797; 1956 census, 27,787; 1961 census, 32,490.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.