Ngaruawahia is situated at the junction of the Waikato and Waipa Rivers in the central Waikato basin. To the west of the town the land is hilly, rising to the Hakarimata (Whawhapunga) Range. Elsewhere the district consists of alluvial plain. The North Island Main Trunk railway and the main Auckland-Hamilton highway pass through the town. Hamilton, the nearest city, is 12 miles south-east by rail or road; Auckland is 70 miles north-west by road.
Ngaruawahia is a servicing and distributing centre for a predominantly dairy farming district. Sheep raising is practised in the hilly country to the west, and lambs are fattened on the flats. Pig raising, associated with dairy farming, and poultry farming, are also important. There are several dairy factories in the district producing butter, cheese, and casein. At Horotiu (3½ miles south-east) there is a large meat-freezing works, a sausage-casing works, a pumice-sand plant, and joinery and sawmilling establishments. The most important industries of Ngaruawahia include the manufacture of farm machinery and field tiles; the making of knitwear; general engineering, and sawmilling.
Because of its situation at the junction of two important canoe waterways, Ngaruawahia was an important Maori settlement in early times. Intensive exploration of the Waikato district by pioneer missionaries commenced in 1830–31 and most of these passed through Ngaruawahia. Earlier, several Europeans had visited the area and some had settled. Captain John Rodolphus Kent, a trader, established permanent headquarters at Ngaruawahia in 1831, having been wrecked at Kawhia Harbour in 1828. In 1858 Te Wherowhero was invested at Ngaruawahia as Maori King with the title Potatau I. During the Waikato War the village was fortified with extensive earthworks to repel the advance of the force commanded by General Sir Duncan Cameron. Under Tawhiao the village was abandoned when it was realised that it could not be defended against armoured gunboats. The village was occupied by British and Colonial troops on 8 December 1863 and became General Cameron's headquarters until after the Waikato War. The town was surveyed in 1864 and in October the sale of sections commenced. This action was illegal as the land still belonged to the Maoris, but the purchase of the site was soon negotiated satisfactorily by the Rev. Henry Hanson Turton on behalf of the Government. The town expanded under the name of Newcastle and was planned to become the chief centre of the Waikato. In 1867 a military road from Auckland was completed and in 1877 the railway from Auckland reached the town. River transport consequently declined in importance. For many years coal was mined at Glen Massey (6 miles west). The branch railway linking the collieries with Ngaruawahia was closed in 1958, when mining declined. In 1867 Ngaruawahia, then called Newcastle, was made a highway district; in 1871 it became a town district; and in 1920 it was constituted a borough. The name Ngaruawahia means “Break open the food pits”.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,124; 1956 census, 2,703; 1961 census, 3,275.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.