Te Awamutu is situated on the banks of the Mangapiko River, an east-bank tributary of the Waipa River, in the south-western Waikato district. The borough occupies flat to gently rolling land and, except on the northward, the immediate surrounding country is generally undulating. There is a small lake, Ngaroto, 5 miles north-west of the town. North and east of this lake are extensive swamp areas. Within about 9 miles to the west of the town the land rises to the slopes of Pirongia Mountain (3,156 ft); within 10–12 miles to the east Maungatautari Mountain (2,639 ft); and, about 7 miles south-west, to the isolated cone of Kake-puku (1,487 ft). The Hamilton-Te Kuiti section of highway and the North Island Main Trunk railway pass through Te Awamutu. By road Te Awamutu is 18 miles south of Hamilton (16 miles by rail), 31 miles north-east of Te Kuiti (26 miles by rail), and 32 miles west of Putaruru.
The main primary activities of the district are dairying and sheep raising. Cheese and casein are manufactured at Hairini (4 miles east). Near Kaipaki (about 12 miles north-east), in the Moana-tuatua area, experimental development work on peaty land is being carried on by the Department of Agriculture. Much of the native timber extracted near Ngaroma (35 miles south-east) is hauled to Te Awamutu. Te Awamutu serves as a market and distributing centre for a closely settled and extensive district. The industrial activities of the town include the manufacture of butter, milk powder, furniture and joinery, concrete products, agricultural chemicals, farm equipment, and clothing, general engineering, and sawmilling. There is a mental hospital near Tokanui (9 miles south-east), and near Waikeria (7 miles south-east) is a large borstal institution.
Te Awamutu was originally one of several Maori settlements in the Waipa basin. Probably the earliest notable European visitors were the Revs. A. N. Brown and J. Hamlin who arrived in 1834 during an exploration journey. They recommended the establishment of a mission station at Otawhao, Te Awamutu. The actual site was chosen in 1839 by the Rev. B. Y. Ashwell and, in July, he opened the station. Ashwell and his successor, the Rev. John Morgan (who built a new mission house), were immediately successful. Morgan was responsible for agricultural development in the district and the Rangiaowhia area became the granary of the Waikato and supplied the Auckland settlement. Early in 1864 the Waikato War had extended to the district. In February 1864 Charles Heaphy earned the first award of the V.C. to a colonial soldier near Waiari Pa, about 4 miles north-west of Te Awamatu. On 20 February troops captured Rangiaowhia and the major food supplies of the “King” Maoris came under the control of General Cameron's army. The King forces then concentrated at Hairini, but on 22 February they were overcome and routed by the troops. Towards the end of March the “kingites” were observed to be making an entrenched fortification at Orakau, about 3 miles south-east, and the British and colonial troops marched from their redoubts at Rangiaowhia, Te Awamutu, and Kihikihi to engage them. The Siege of Orakau followed. Te Awamutu and nearby posts were garrisoned by Imperial troops until the end of 1864. Later the military personnel of the regiments of Waikato Militia were granted town lots and suburban sections for permanent settlement. On 1 July 1880 the railway from Auckland reached Te Awamutu and settlement accelerated. On 27 September 1884 Te Awamutu became a town district, and on 1 April 1915 it was constituted a borough. The name is said to mean “the river cut short”. This is believed to signify that above this point the stream was blocked by snags or other obstructions and was unsuitable for canoe traffic.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,878; 1956 census, 4,614; 1961 census, 5,423.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.