Motueka is situated on the small Motueka Plain near the Motueka River which enters Tasman Bay about 3 miles north of the town. To the west of the valley the land rises steeply to the Arthur and Pikiruna Ranges, and to the south the flat is broken by the gently rolling Moutere Hills. The Nelson-Collingwood road passes through the town. Motueka is 34 miles north-west of Nelson, 26 miles north-west of Richmond, and 35 miles south-east of Takaka. Port Motueka, 2 miles south-east of Motueka, on a tidal lagoon of some 2,500 acres, provides sheltered berthage for coastal vessels serving the borough and district.
The rural activities of the district include sheep and cattle raising, tobacco and hop growing, fruit-growing, and market gardening. The bulk of New Zealand's tobacco and hops is grown within a 10-mile radius of Motueka. There is a hop research station at Riwaka (3½ miles north), and at Umukuri (4 miles north-west) there is a tobacco research station. At Riwaka tobacco is manufactured from locally grown leaf, and fruit is processed and canned. There is also an agricultural limeworks nearby. At Port Motueka there are cool stores and tobacco kilns, fish is processed and packed, and boat-building is carried on. Motueka is primarily a servicing centre for the district. Industries in the town include tobacco processing and manufacture; fruit packing, processing, and canning; general engineering; the manufacture of orchard and farm equipment, small machines, and appliances; the making of knitwear; timber production and joinery; and the making of concrete products.
The name of the locality is said to have been Motu weka (motu: a small wood or “bush island”; weka: woodhen). Vestiges of old village sites and other evidence of former Maori settlement have been found about Port Motueka. The first known European visitor to the coast near Motueka was d'Urville, of the French corvette Astrolabe. He explored and described much of the Tasman Bay shore line. The three ships carrying the New Zealand Company's Nelson expedition, led by Captain Arthur Wakefield, anchored at Astrolabe Roads, north of Kaiteriteri Beach (about 10 miles due north of Motueka) in October 1841. Kaiteriteri was selected as a site for the first settlement but was later abandoned in favour of “Nelson Haven”. The exceptional fertility of the soil and the suitability of the surrounding land for small farm settlement were the main reasons for the establishment of the second town of the Nelson settlement at Motueka in 1842. It was created a borough in 1900.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,464; 1956 census, 2,824; 1961 census, 3,310.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.