Waipukurau is situated close to the south bank of the Tukituki River on The Takapau (Ruataniwha) Plain. The town occupies alluvial flats and the surrounding country is gently undulating. The main Napier-Woodville highway and the railway pass through the town. By road Waipukurau is 52 miles north-east of Woodville (51 miles by rail), 33 miles south-west of Hastings (31 miles by rail), and 46 miles south-west of Napier (44 miles by rail). Waipawa is 5 miles north-east by road or rail.
The main farming activity of the district is sheep raising. Sawmilling is carried on near Takapau (13 miles south-west). Lime is quarried at Hatuma (4 miles south-west), at Maharakeke (5 miles south-west) and near Porangahau (30 miles south-east). Bentonite is quarried at Porangahau. Waipukurau is the commercial and market centre for the southern part of the Takapau Plain and surrounding hill country. Town industrial activities include the manufacture of joinery and furniture and cement products; sawmilling; and general engineering. There is a large stock saleyards at the town.
Waipukurau in pre-colonisation times lay close to an ancient Maori trail between Manawatu Gorge and Hawke's Bay. A Maori settlement occupied the approximate site of the present town. Bishop G. A. Selwyn and Chief Justice Sir William Martin passed through the district in November 1842 en route to Ahuriri (now Napier). European settlement in the district commenced when the first sheep were brought in from the Wairarapa for Captain J. H. Northwood by F. J. Tiffen and E. Davis. They arrived at Pourerere (about 27 miles south-east) on 30 January 1849. Sir Donald McLean and a large party arrived at Waipukurau Maori village on 11 December 1850 with the object of negotiating Crown purchases of land in Hawke's Bay. The sale of a part of the Waipukurau Block by Te Hapuku and others was made on 4 November 1851. A later purchase brought the area of the block to 279,000 acres. H. R. Russell, who took up a considerable area of land within the Waipukurau Block, decided in the late 1850s to establish a private township on the site of Waipukurau to a plan of his own devising. In 1860 the town of Waipukurau was laid out and provision made for future amenities. Communication with Napier was improved during the late 1850s and, in 1867, a regular coach service began. During April 1874 the Napier-Wellington road via Manawatu Gorge had been completed and, soon afterwards, a regular coach service was being maintained throughout. Railway construction began at Napier in 1872. By September 1886 the line reached Waipukurau. In March 1887 the gap between Woodville and Palmerston North was closed and through communication with Wellington was achieved. In 1897 the line to Wellington via the Wairarapa was opened. Waipukurau was constituted a borough in 1912. The name means literally “waters of the pukurau” (a kind of fungus). Apparently pukurau grew abundantly beside the Tukituki or some nearby lesser stream.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,525; 1956 census, 2,886; 1961 census, 3,250.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.