Hawera is situated on the eastern fringe of the Waimate Plain in South Taranaki and about 2 miles inland from the South Taranaki Bight. The surrounding country is level or gently undulating. The slopes of Mt. Egmont rise within 20 miles north-west and, on the north-east and east, within about 12 miles, the land becomes broken by the outlying hills of the Tarere Range. The New Plymouth – Wanganui sections of the railway and main highway pass through Hawera. By road Eltham is 13 miles north (12 miles by rail) and Patea is 17 miles south-east (18 miles by rail). New Plymouth is 46 miles north-west by road (48 miles by rail).
The main rural activities of the district are dairying and sheep farming. Dairy factories producing mainly cheese are located at Tawhiti (2 miles north-east), Whareroa (2 miles south-east), Tokaora (4 miles west), Mokoia (5 miles southeast), Te Ngutuotemanu (13 miles north-west), Okaiawa (9½ miles north-west), Manutahi (8½ miles south-east), Ohangai (8 miles east), Inaha (8 miles west), Kapuni (about 14 miles northwest), and Normanby (4½ miles north). At Kapuni lactose is manufactured and, in the vicinity, active oil exploration is in progress. The presence of natural gas has been proved. At Normanby there is a cheese factory, a clothing factory, and a sawmill. Hawera is the main trade and distributing centre of South Taranaki. Industrial activities include the manufacture of butter and cheese, lactose, bacon and ham, confectionery, stock foods, joinery and furniture, clothing, coal gas, concrete products, farm equipment and machinery, stainless-steel dairy equipment, motor bodies, and caravans. General engineering, sawmilling, timber treatment, the processing of by-products of boiling-down works, fellmongering, and seed cleaning are also carried on. A milk-treatment station, grain, seed, and produce stores, and stock saleyards are located in the town.
The Hawera district, containing much open country, was comparatively closely settled by Maoris in pre-European times. In 1865 General Sir Duncan Cameron's force entered the district from Manutahi and established redoubts near the Waingongoro River mouth. On 30 December 1865 Major-General Trevor Chute fought his way into the Hawera district from Wanganui and by early January 1866 had established a base on the Tawhiti Stream, near the present town. Chute attacked and captured the strong Otapawa Pa, about 5 miles north-east, on 14 January. On 17 January he began his notable march through dense forests inland from Normanby to New Plymouth. The same year some 50,000 acres of confiscated land south-east and east of the Waingongoro River were opened for military settlement. Townships sprang up at Ohawe Beach, Mokoia, and Kakaramea, and several settlers occupied sections at and near the future town of Hawera. The surveys continued during 1866–67, but work was hampered by continual sniping and ambushing tactics of the Maoris. A redoubt was built on the lower reaches of the Waihi Stream in September 1866 and this became the main military base in South Taranaki. The Hauhaus under Titokowaru, became increasingly violent and a redoubt was built at the ancient pa of Turu-turumokai, 1½ miles north-east of Hawera, in 1866. It was attacked by Hauhaus on 12 July and the commander and several other defenders were killed. Attacks were made on Titokowaru's stronghold of Te Ngutuotemanu on 21 August and 9 September by McDonnell, but without success. The Hauhaus regained control of much of South Taranaki and settlers were withdrawn to Patea. Colonel G. S. Whitmore succeeded McDonnell in command, but it was not until March 1869 that the front was advanced to the Hawera district. A blockhouse was erected in 1870 at Hawera, but was never used for defensive purposes. The township of Hawera grew around the blockhouse in the early 1870s. The railway from New Plymouth reached Hawera on 20 October 1881 and was opened to Foxton on 23 March 1885. In 1882 Hawera was constituted a borough. It is said that the name was formerly Te Hawera and various meanings have been given: “The burnt place”, “the breath of fire”, and “burning plains”, are three of them. The circumstances of the name-giving are obscure because of several differing accounts.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 5,342; 1956 census, 5,620; 1961 census, 7,537. B.N.D. and E.S.D.