Character of Early Settlement
The European settlement of Hawke's Bay reveals many similarities to the settlement of the Wairarapa because, like that region, Hawke's Bay was originally covered partly in dense bush in the south, and partly in scrub and fern and short-tussock grassland in the central and northern parts. Consequently, as in the Wairarapa, the open country was soon exploited by large sheep graziers, especially after 1850, some of the graziers in fact coming from the Wairarapa; whereas the development of the bush lands (the Seventy Mile Bush) was not commenced until the 1870s and only accomplished during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Koch's map of 1874 clearly displays the contrasting development of the two regions. The railway line is shown extending from Napier as far south as the bush line a little beyond Takapau. To the east and west of the line across the Ruataniwha Plains and out to the coast at Blackhead lie the properties of the large graziers. Koch has drawn in the boundaries and named the owners, so that the map reads like a list of Hawke's Bay notables: Bell, Carlyon, McLean, Ormond, Russell, Tiffen, and Williams; in contrast, only three names of property owners appear in the bush country, all located in the vicinity of the Dannevirke clearing. For the most part the bush area stretching from the Ruahines in the west across the region towards Akitio in the east is unoccupied and grossly divided into survey blocks designated only by numbers.
The approximate position of the original bush line is still apparent to the observant traveller. Highway 2, which crosses the level surface of the Takapau Plains to the west of Waipukurau, turns south-westerly as it draws near to the Ruahine Range. The change of direction is accompanied by a change in grade, for the road is forced to climb up and down the valley sides of the Manawatu tributaries which flow across the general direction taken by the highway. The number of indigenous tree types along these valley slopes is conspicuous and the break in country corresponds closely to the original bush line.
Hawke's Bay, however, was more favoured than the Wairarapa in possessing its own port at Napier, which acted both as the provincial capital and as the main economic centre of the whole region. It was not until the 1890s that a rail link was established with the Manawatu and the Wairarapa. Previous to that period the region had been largely isolated from the rest of the North Island by the difficult and poorly developed hill country to the north, by the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges to the west (the road journey between Napier and Taupo has remained an exciting one even until the present decade) and by the Seventy Mile Bush to the south. Despite its isolation, Hawke's Bay was a prosperous region, its prosperity and the advantages of an early start being illustrated by the fact that by 1878 Napier, with 5,415 persons, was the seventh largest city in the Dominion. By 1896, with a population of 9,231, Napier was ranked fifth.