Whangarei is situated on the inner reaches of Whangarei Harbour on the banks of the Hatea (or Whangarei) River and is bordered by hills on the east and west. The suburbs are Jamestown, Whau Valley, Mairtown, Kensington, Riverside, Woodhill, Horahora, Okara, and Morningside. The railway line from Auckland to Kaikohe passes through Whangarei. By road it is 108 miles north of Auckland (130 miles by rail), 39 miles north-east of Dargaville, and 54 miles south-east of Kaikohe. Port Whangarei, 2 ½ miles distant, is the ninth busiest port in New Zealand and handled 378,594 tons of shipping cargo in 1962. A new wharf has been completed and land is being reclaimed. Imports include bulk petrol, coal, and manures. Cement, butter, and fertilisers are exported to other ports in New Zealand. The airport is at Onerahi, 6 miles south.
Rural activities in the district include citrus fruitgrowing, dairying, and sheep and cattle farming. The district was long famous for kauri timber and kauri gum, but this has been worked out. There are three sawmills in the city and the State has a plantation at Glenbervie, 5 miles north. Coal deposits are at Hikurangi (11 miles north) and Kamo (4 miles north). Off the entrance to Whangarei Harbour are deep-sea fishing grounds. Whangarei is the regional centre for the Northland Peninsula and is a distributing and transport centre for smaller towns in the region. Its secondary industries include sawmilling, a dairy factory, an aerated-water factory, brewing, clothing and textile industries, brick works, fertiliser works, and a new glass factory. At Portland (6 miles south) cement is produced, while at Marsden Point (18 miles south-east) a large oil refinery has been established.
Whangarei's first European resident was William Carruth, who left Scotland for New South Wales in 1835 and sailed from Sydney for the Bay of Islands in March 1839. There he hired a 6-ton trading boat, together with its Pakeha-Maori owner and a small crew, sailed down the coast on a voyage of discovery, put in at Whangaruru and Tutukaka, rounded the Whangarei Heads, and landed at the mouth of the Hatea River. The Whangarei Maoris (living in a pa on the rise where the Presbyterian Church now stands) were gratified at the prospect of acquiring a Pakeha of their own and sold Carruth a block of land. For some months he was Whangarei's solitary white man, but in 1840 he was joined by two of his brothers, who were accompanied by a married couple they had brought from Scotland, together with a recruit from Wellington. Henry Walton was probably the next European to settle in the neighbourhood. He married a chieftainess, a relative of the great chief Tirarau, whose dowry comprised a considerable area of land. For about a quarter of a century Walton controlled a flourishing farm and was a large employer of labour. One of his enterprises was the making of a road from Maungatapere to Whangarei in order to obtain water carriage for his produce. The second family to settle within the area was the household of Gilbert Mair. He moved to Whangarei in 1842 after living nearly 20 years at the Bay of Islands. His block of land, situated to the east of the Carruth property, is known as Mairtown.
Two or three uneasy years followed Mair's arrival, for there were rumblings of discontent among the northern Maoris. Following the attack on Kororareka in 1845, it was reported that a taua was about to come down from the Bay to plunder and maybe kill. The settlers fled to Auckland. Eventually the Government invited them to present claims for their losses, but they did not receive any compensation. During the next few years they began to drift back, but for 10 years or so Whangarei and its surroundings made slow progress. A few new settlers arrived and farms were improved. Maoris and settlers from outlying places came into Whangarei with packhorses or bullock drays loaded with potatoes, kumeras, pigs, flax, timber, and kauri gum, to be loaded into cutters for the growing Auckland trade. One of the first sawmills in New Zealand, worked by water power, was erected at Ngunguru in 1840. In the early 1850s kauri gum, obtained from the many gumfields in the neighbourhood, came to be an important factor in the prosperity of the settlement. The Nova Scotian settlement of the earlier fifties added considerably to the population of the district, for though its main centre was Waipu there were outlying settlements as near to Whangarei as the Heads in one direction and Kaurihohore in another. In the sixties Robert Howie established a shipbuilding yard on the shores of Whangarei Harbour and turned out several fast-sailing coasters. Sir George Grey turned the first sod of the Whangarei to Kamo railway in 1879.
For many years the town's progress was retarded by the primitive means of road transport and inadequate steamer facilities. The Northland Main Trunk railway from Auckland to the Bay of Islands was completed in 1923. Whangarei became a borough in November 1896. “Whangarei” has several meanings. “Whanga” means “laying in wait” and “rei” means “charge”. It appears that the name was derived from the northern tribes laying in wait for the invading southern tribes. Another common interpretation is “waiting in anticipation”, or “steady – charge”, a command given in battle.
Whangarei reached city status in 1964.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 15,431; 1956 census, 18,369; 1961 census, 21,790. S.B.