Skip to main content
Logo: Te Ara - The Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Print all pages now.

Bay of Plenty places

by  Malcolm McKinnon

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, mountains, islands and other places of interest in the Bay of Plenty.

Inshore islands

Mayor Island (Tūhua)

Volcano lying offshore 28 km north-east of Waihī Beach and 35 km north of Tauranga Harbour entrance. The highest peak, Opuahau, is 355 m. The crater contains two lakes, Aroarotamahine (green) and Te Paritu (almost black).

The island was last permanently inhabited by Te Whānau-a-Tauwhao, a sub-tribe of Ngāi Te Rangi. It is now a wildlife refuge administered by the Mayor Island Board of Trustees. A small number of holiday houses are located in Opo Bay on the south coast of the island. Regular fishing excursions are made from Tauranga. The waters around the island are popular for deep-sea fishing and diving.


Mayor Island has erupted on average at least once every 3,000 years in the last 130,000 years. The last major eruption was around 5,000 BCE. The island is best known for the lava flows and domes which contain large deposits of obsidian (volcanic glass). Known to Māori as tūhua, it was valued for cutting and scraping. Pieces were dispersed throughout both main islands and to the Kermadecs. The lava flows are likely to be recent, because there is no ash cover from mainland eruptions or any soil development. They may be no more than 500 years old.

Mōtītī Island (Flat Island)

Island in the Bay of Plenty 20 km east of Mt Maunganui and 13 km north of Maketū. Although volcanic, it is not mountainous. It is currently farmed and also a refuge for tuatara (lizard-like reptiles).

Authority over the island has been contested by Ngāi Te Rangi and Te Arawa tribes. Few people now live there permanently, although some Patuwai people fish there in summer. It is also known as Flat Island, the name given to it by James Cook in 1769.

Moutohorā Island (Whale Island)

Island in the Bay of Plenty 9.55 km north-west from Whakatāne. The Māori name means ‘captured whale’ – the island has a whale-like profile from some angles. Moutohorā is a remnant volcanic cone, where there is still geothermal activity.

Māori occupied the island until the early 19th century. Ngāti Awa and Tūhoe people continued to visit for food gathering and other purposes. Sulfur was extracted in the late 19th century and stone was quarried in the early 20th century.


Since 1965 Moutohorā has been a wildlife refuge. All introduced species, except wasps, have been removed. Tuatara were released on the island in 1996 and numbers of tīeke (North Island saddleback) were transferred from Rēpanga (Cuvier Island) off the Coromandel Peninsula in 1999. North Island brown kiwi have been transferred gradually since 2001. This is an important seabird island, with New Zealand's largest colony of grey-faced petrels – 95,000 breeding pairs.

Whakaari (White Island)

Volcano in the Bay of Plenty, 51 km offshore north of Ōpōtiki and north-east from Whakatāne. Its Māori name means ‘to uplift or expose to view’. The island is visible from almost all parts of the Bay. It is New Zealand’s most active volcano, and erupted periodically between 1976 and 1982, and between 1986 and 1993. The island is important to both Ngāti Awa and Te Whakatōhea tribes. It is now a privately owned scenic reserve, and until an eruption killed 22 people in 2019, up to 10,000 tourists visited the island by boat or helicopter each year. There were large gannet colonies on the outer slopes.

Sulfur mining

There were a number of unsuccessful attempts at sulfur extraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1914 a landslide overwhelmed the workers’ camp and killed 10 men.

Claude Sarich, who worked as a sulfur miner on White Island in 1931–32, left a vivid description: ‘The worst hell on earth, a place where rocks exploded in the intense heat, where men had to wear wool instead of cotton because cotton just fell apart in just a couple of hours, where they had to clean their teeth at least three times a day because their teeth went black, and where the land shook violently and regularly sending rocks flying through the air’. A visiting English company manager commented, ‘You look remarkably well, Sarich. However, I prefer the mainland.’ 1

    • Claude Sarich, ‘The worst hell on earth.’ Whakatane & District Historical Society Historical Review 21, no. 1 (May 1973): 44–46. › Back

Waihī Beach to Bowentown

Waihī Beach

Coastal settlement in the western Bay of Plenty, 11 km east of Waihī town.

Originally planned as a settlement for convalescent or former gold miners, it is now a popular beach and surf resort, and a retirement destination. With nearby Bowentown, it forms a zone of settlement along the Bay of Plenty coast north of the Katikati entrance to Tauranga Harbour.

In 2013 the total population of the Waihī Beach area was 2,478. 87.5% claimed European ethnicity (compared to 78.4% for the region). 24.3% were aged 65 and over (compared to the regional average of 14.3%).

Waihī Beach is long-established, while much of the housing towards Bowentown is a more recent development.

Ngā Kurī a Whārei

Reef which sets the western boundary of a rāhui (prohibition). This prohibition identifies the bounds of both the Mataatua tribes and the Bay of Plenty coastline in the phrase, ‘Mai Ngā Kurī a Whārei ki Tihirau’ – from Ngā Kurī a Whārei to Tihirau (near Cape Runaway). It was imposed generations ago by Muriwai, sister of Toroa, the captain of Mataatua canoe, when her two children were drowned near Tauranga.

Ngā Kurī a Whārei means ‘the dogs of the ancestor Whārei’. The name is usually given to a reef west of the headland at the Katikati entrance to Tauranga Harbour, adjacent to Bowentown. It refers to the way the rocks jutting from the sea look like dogs (or their ears) when they are swimming.

The name comes from Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland of Māori. It was also formerly given to locations at Cape Colville, at the top of the Coromandel Peninsula, and to Great Mercury Island (Ahuahu).


Township 14 km south-east of Waihī Beach. The 2013 population was 672. The community is favoured by retired people (31.3% of the population is 65 and over). Some kilometres away is the Athenree homestead, built by Katikati settlers Hugh and Adela Stewart in 1879, and named after Athenry in County Tyrone, Ireland.


Settlement at the northern entrance to Tauranga Harbour. Bowentown is a small community with a high proportion of over-65s in the population.

It was probably named after George Ferguson Bowen, governor of New Zealand 1868–73, who visited the area in April 1872.

The 128-ha Bowentown Domain on the headland has several important sites, including Te Ho (east) and Te Kura a Maia (south). Present-day Ōtāwhiwhi pā is on the harbour shore.



Town near the shores of Tauranga Harbour, 35 km north-west of Tauranga. In 2013 the population was 4,056. It is a favoured retirement location, with 34.4% aged 65 and over, compared to the regional figure of 18.5%.


Katikati is part of a special Protestant settlement established by George Vesey Stewart in the 1870s. Settlers included tenant farmers and immigrants with capital from the north of Ireland, in particular County Tyrone, where Stewart had tenants.

Stewart first envisaged a town at Te Kauri (Kauri Point) for settlers who did not want to farm, such as retiring military or civil officers of India. This did not develop until lifestylers arrived in the 1970s. In the early 1960s there were important archaeological investigations of an old Māori settlement at Te Kauri.

The present town, originally named Waterford or Uretara, with a hotel and store, was laid out in 1879 on the south bank of the Uretara River. Reputedly the name Waterford was changed to Katikati because Stewart did not want to pay extra on telegrams from Britain by adding the words ‘New Zealand’ (the original Waterford being in Ireland).

Later development

Business with Waihī gold miners, and subsequently dairying, sustained farms and the township. Katikati is also the centre of an important kiwifruit district. The town itself is known for its open-air art, notably murals and a haiku pathway.

Tauranga hinterland and harbour

Kaimai Range

Mountain range separating western Bay of Plenty from Waikato. It stretches from the highest point, Mt Te Aroha (952 m) in the north, to the Mamaku Range west of Rotorua.

The range is divided by valleys and still mostly forest-covered. It is crossed by tracks but by only one road, State Highway 29. The 8.9-km Kaimai Tunnel bisects the range, connecting Waikato with the Bay of Plenty and Port of Tauranga.

The lower reaches provided refuge for Māori forced from their settlements during times of war, the last being the New Zealand wars and consequent land confiscations of the 1860s. Milling of kauri trees in the range took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since 1975 part of the range has been incorporated in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park, which marks the southern limit of kauri and the northern limit of red and silver beech. The fauna includes rare species such as North Island brown kiwi, kōkako, kākā, Hochstetter's frog, striped skinks, and long- and short-tailed bats.

On 3 July 1963 a National Airways Corporation DC3 crashed on the range as it was descending towards Tauranga Airport, killing all 23 people on board. This remains the worst air disaster on New Zealand soil.

Tauranga Harbour (Tauranga Moana)

Tidal stretch of water between Matakana Island and the North Island mainland. It joins the Pacific Ocean through the northern Katikati and the southern Tauranga entrances.

The harbour encompasses some 200 sq km and has a tidal range of up to 1.98 m. Approximately 290 million tonnes of water flow through the entrances at each tidal change. The harbour was formed when sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. The waters are shallow, with large areas of mangroves exposed at low tide. Waders, royal spoonbills and kōtuku (white herons) feed here.

A sight for sore eyes

This is a description of Tauranga Harbour from 1938:

‘As the weary traveller drives up from the barren recesses of the Waihī Gorge on to the ridge by the Athenree homestead, he comes suddenly upon a scene of surpassing beauty. Directly in front of him the blue waters of Tauranga Harbour sparkle in the sunshine. On the left lie the twin domes of the Katikati Heads, and the open sea stretching to the wooded peaks of Mayor Island and beyond’. 1

Wairoa River

Major river of the Bay of Plenty. With its tributaries it drains the country north of Tauranga and enters the Tauranga Harbour near Te Puna. State Highway 29 from Waikato follows part of its course, and Ruahīhī power station is on the river adjacent to the road.

The Omanawa and Mangapapa rivers are important tributaries. There were hydroelectric power stations on the Omanawa River in the 1920s, and the Lloyd Mandeno and Lower Mangapapa power stations are located on the Mangapapa River.

Matakana Island

Large island, mostly sandy, stretching between the two Tauranga Harbour entrances. In 1924 Māori of Ngāi Te Rangi were growing crops and running dairy herds. Pines were planted during the 1920s and 1930s, and many stands have been harvested and replanted. The peninsula facing the mainland, and neighbouring Rangiwaea Island, are still farmed, mostly by Māori, although the population is dwindling: in 2006 it was 222.


Farming locality on the southern shoreline of Tauranga Harbour, 18 km north-west of Tauranga. Ōmokoroa Beach, 10 km north, is a boating resort and retirement area. A ferry service to Matakana Island runs from the wharf there.

The 2013 population was 2,547. It has been growing substantially since the 1960s. 34.3% are aged 65 and over (the regional average is 18.5%), and 93.3% have European ethnicity (compared with 78.4% for the region overall).

    • Arthur James Gray, An Ulster plantation: the story of the Kati Kati settlement. Dunedin: Reed, 1938, p. 3. › Back


Tauranga city

Largest urban centre and city in Bay of Plenty, 216 km south-east of Auckland, 107 km east of Hamilton and 86 km north of Rotorua.

19th-century settlement

Tauranga dates from the establishment of a Church Missionary Society mission at Te Papa, as it was then known, in the 1830s. During the wars of the 1860s the government established two redoubts (fortifications) there. The original mission complex, The Elms, still stands, and the outline of the Monmouth redoubt is still visible.

With the promotion of colonisation in the 1870s, the settlement was made a borough in 1882. In the later 19th century its population declined.

20th century

From the 1910s, as dairying developed in neighbouring districts, the population grew, reaching 4,712 in 1945.

In 1950 Mt Maunganui was made a port for timber from the Volcanic Plateau. The 1978 Kaimai Tunnel improved connections between Tauranga and the Waikato region. Growth was further fostered by horticulture – in particular kiwifruit growing – in surrounding districts and by the lifestyle appeal of the town.

Recent growth

In 1976 Tauranga was one of a number of medium-sized urban areas, with a population of 48,000 – smaller than Napier or Invercargill. In 1996 Tauranga’s population was 82,092, and by 2013 it had reached 114,789, making it New Zealand's sixth-largest city.

The completion of a harbour bridge in 1988 brought Tauranga and ‘the Mount’ closer (they amalgamated in 1989) and has promoted growth in both parts of the enlarged city.

The city appeals to older people. In 2013, 19.3% of the population were 65 or over (compared to 14.3% nationally). But for every 100 arrivals into the western Bay there are 50 who leave, many in their teens and twenties. The city hosts only five major head offices – Port of Tauranga, Zespri International, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd, Brother International and Trustpower. The phrase ‘ten-dollar Tauranga’ reflects the relatively low hourly wage rates and lack of professional employment.

Gate Pā

Site of an important battle. After British and colonial forces landed at Te Papa in 1864, Tauranga Māori built a strong on the Pukehinahina ridge. British forces shelled the pā on 29 April but were repulsed with heavy losses, despite an overwhelming advantage in numbers (over 1,600 against about 200). Māori forces departed during the night, but two months later were overcome at a partly finished pā at Te Ranga, a short distance inland.

Mt Maunganui

Mt Maunganui

Beach settlement, part of Tauranga city, on the sandy expanse between Tauranga Harbour and the Pacific Ocean. It was named after the mountain (252 m) at the harbour entrance.

In 2013 the population of Mt Maunganui (including Papamoa) was 33,357.

The mountain

According to legend the mountain once lay inland. Spurned by the beautiful mountain Pūwhenua, it begged the fairy-like creatures of the forest to drag it into the ocean. As they neared the water’s edge dawn broke, and the fairies fled, leaving the mountain caught forever in the light of day. Thereafter it was known as Mauao (Mau –‘caught’, ao – ‘light of day’). Later it was renamed Maunganui in memory of a similar mountain in Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland of the Māori.


The magnificent stretch of beach attracted the first settlers in the early 1900s. The Mt Maunganui Surf Club was formed in 1914 and incorporated in 1930. Some houses clustered at the foot of the mountain, while at Moturiki, where the port now is, were railway workshops and associated housing for the construction of the East Coast main trunk line.

Tragedy in Tauranga Harbour

In December 1950 the passenger launch Ranui, on a holiday trip to Mayor Island, was struck by a single, massive wave. The boat capsized and was smashed to pieces on North Rock in Tauranga Harbour. Of the 23 passengers, only one survived. There is a memorial to those who died, on the walking track at the base of the mountain.


The 1950 decision to establish a deep-water port contributed to the growth of Mt Maunganui. It also became popular among holidaymakers from throughout the upper North Island. Throngs gather at the resort around New Year, in the summer holiday season. New Year’s Eve at ‘the Mount’ has been a byword for drunken revelry and mass arrests.

The opening of the Tauranga Harbour bridge in 1988 was a prelude to the incorporation of ‘the Mount’ into Tauranga in 1989, along with the ocean-front suburbs of Ōmanu and Papamoa.

Te Puke to Maketū

Te Puke

Western Bay of Plenty town 21 km south-east of Mt Maunganui on State Highway 2. George Vesey Stewart established the settlement, and the first British settlers arrived in 1881.

A school was opened in 1883, but it was through dairying in the early 20th century that the town flourished. A second boost came in the 1970s with kiwifruit production. The district has remained the most substantial producer of kiwifruit in the country. The 2013 population was 7,494.

The Bay’s green heart

New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry began in Te Puke, which is now dubbed the kiwifruit capital of the world. A highlight of the year is a festival in which the Kiwifruit Queen is crowned.

Kaituna River

River that drains Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti. Starting at the outlet of Rotoiti at Ōkere Arm, it flows to the sea at the Maketū estuary. In the 20th century its course was regulated for flood control.

Between Rotoiti and Te Tumu it passes through a steep gorge, popular for white-water rafting. It then meanders through the alluvial terraces of the mid-Kaituna River and the peat and sand deposits of the lower Kaituna basin. The Mangorewa River is a major tributary.

It is particularly significant to the Te Arawa tribe, as it mostly flows through their lands. The Ngāti Pikiao people of Te Arawa took a successful claim regarding the water quality to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1978.


Headland and town 15 km north-east of Te Puke. Maketū is one of the most historic coastal landmarks in the Bay of Plenty. Little Waihī, virtually an extension of Maketū, lies to the east. Other nearby settlements include Te Tumu, Pongakawa and Pukehina.

In 2013 the population was 1,047. 63.0% identified themselves as Māori and 44.4% as European. The centre of the Māori community is on the flat land adjacent to the coast, while many retired Pākehā live in the streets above.


The Te Arawa canoe made landfall at Maketū, and a small cairn built in 1940 commemorates the event. The Ngāi Te Rangi and Te Arawa tribes contested authority over the area in the early 19th century. Te Arawa supported trader Phillip Tapsell, who lived there in the 1830s. From fortified positions Te Arawa and British forces repelled war parties from the East Coast seeking to join Waikato supporters of the Māori King movement in 1864.

Because it was isolated between swamps along the Kaituna and Pongakawa rivers, there was little European settlement at Maketū until much of the swampland was drained early in the 20th century.


The headland divides the Maketū and Waihī estuaries. These important wetlands are being restored after degradation caused by flood diversion and drainage works. They support a diverse range of shorebirds and gulls including the Pacific reef egret, variable oystercatcher, New Zealand dotterel, banded dotterel, wrybill, Caspian tern and blackfronted tern. The mudflats and sand flats are important wintering areas for migratory shorebirds from the northern hemisphere, including some rare visitors. Vegetation includes rare and threatened fern species.

Rangitāiki River

Rangitāiki River

The principal Bay of Plenty river. Its headwaters rise in the Ahimanawa Range, south of State Highway 5 between Taupō and Napier. From there the river finds its way across the volcanic Kāingaroa Plateau, drawing in tributaries, notably the Wheao and the Whirinaki which rise in ranges to the east. The Rangitāiki descends the plateau at Matahina, flowing through what was a large swamp.

Its waters once dispersed into the Awaiti and Orini distributaries, into which the Tarawera and Whakatāne rivers also flowed. Now it reaches the sea 12 km west of Whakatāne.

The Tarawera River rises on the slopes of Tarawera volcano and hugged the western edge of the swamp before reaching the sea east of Matatā. The Whakatāne River rises in the Huiarau Range and followed the eastern edge of the swamp past Tāneatua to the sea at Whakatāne.


Attempts to drain the swamp were made from the 1890s. The first sod for the diversion of the river into a channel through the sand barrier at Thornton was turned on 16 March 1911. From 19 May 1914, the river coursed for the first time through the new channel. The swamp was then drained and converted into farmland. The Rangitāiki Plains became some of the most productive dairy country in the Bay of Plenty. The river was dammed for electricity purposes at Matahina, producing a lake upstream. The Wheao River is dammed above Murupara.


In 2004 severe floods swamped some 17,000 hectares of farmland in the eastern Bay of Plenty after heavy rain. Water had to be released into the Rangitāiki River from the Matahina dam to prevent the dam from bursting. The river overflowed above Edgecumbe, and both that town and nearby Te Teko were flooded.


Power station, pine forest and locality on the Rangitāiki River. It lies at the neck of a gorge that cuts into the ignimbrite sheet of the Volcanic Plateau.

The dam

Construction on a hydroelectric dam began in 1959. The power station was commissioned in 1967. Te Mahoe village, still in existence, was built for dam construction workers. The dam was in a geologically unsound location – between 1967 and 1987 it shifted downstream almost 1 metre and moved another 150 mm after the 1987 Edgecumbe earthquake (magnitude 6.3). The dam was later strengthened. There were extensive consultations with the Ngāti Awa tribe, who were prominent in the completion ceremony in August 1998.

Towns of the Rangitāiki Plains


Coastal settlement at the western edge of the Rangitāiki Plains. The location is 23 km north-west of Whakatāne and 65 km south-east of Tauranga on State Highway 2. The highway west of the town traverses a land platform marking a northern limit to the Volcanic Plateau. This platform is bounded by Kōhī-o-awa Beach on the seaward side and pōhutukawa-clad cliffs on the landward side. It is also known as Te Kaokaoroa (the long rib).

In 2013 the population was 645.

Initially a Māori settlement, Matatā was a centre of trading activity and shipbuilding in the 1840s and 1850s. It was the site of a battle – usually called Kaokaoroa – where combined Te Arawa and British forces challenged war parties from the East Coast journeying to support Waikato tribes in 1864.

A township, briefly named Richmond, was surveyed in 1868, a native school was opened in 1872, and a Catholic mission was established in 1886.

As well as the long-established commerce, there were local flax mills. But the drainage of the Rangitāiki Plains brought many changes – flax cultivation ended, the Tarawera River was diverted in 1917 and Matatā lost its port.


Principal town of the Rangitāiki Plains, 19 km west of Whakatāne. First known as Rangitāiki or Riverslea, it developed near the site of a rail bridge completed in 1920.

Its position at an important transport hub was enhanced when the Rangitāiki Plains Dairy Company opened a factory there in 1923. In 1924 the town was named Edgecumbe after the nearby mountain (originally known as Pūtauaki). The 2013 population was 1,638. 62.8% claimed European ethnicity and 43.4% Māori.

1987 earthquake

Edgecumbe was the nearest centre to the magnitude 6.3 earthquake of 1987. There was no loss of human life, but at the Bay Milk Products factory pipes and silos collapsed, spilling millions of litres of milk and two milk tankers were thrown on their sides. Displayed at the front of the factory, now owned and operated by Fonterra, is a massive girder deformed at the time of the earthquake.

Te Teko

Township located 8 km south-west of Edgecumbe on State Highway 30. Te Teko’s 19th-century history is linked to the ancestor Te Rangitūkehu Hātua, of the Te Pahipoto section of Ngāti Awa. He provided strong leadership during the wars of the 1860s and their turbulent aftermath. A school was opened in 1881.

The 2013 population was 489. Te Teko is one of the poorer Bay of Plenty townships. 25.8% of the population are under 15 (compared with 21.1% for the region), and 85.2% have Māori ethnicity. The unemployment rate in 2013 was 31.9% (compared with 8.6% for the region).

Kawerau district


Town at the foot of Mt Edgecumbe (Pūtauaki), 100 km south-east of Tauranga and 58 km east of Rotorua. The settlement developed from 1953, when the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company established a mill to process timber from maturing stands of radiata pine (Pinus radiata) in the state-owned Kāingaroa Forest. The site was chosen because of the availability of geothermal steam as a power source.

Kawerau was laid out with curved streets and many parks, and an impressive range of amenities for its size. Its streets were named after Pākehā governors, governors-general and parliamentarians – a feature at odds with today's predominantly Māori population.

The mill and related businesses have been the largest employers. The decline of the timber industry since the 1980s has seen the population decrease from a peak of 8,593 in 1981 to 6,363 in 2013. The unemployment rate in 2013 was 24.9% (compared with 8.6% for the Bay of Plenty as a whole). 25.8% of Kawerau’s population were under 15. 54.6% identified themselves as Māori and 45.8% as European. There is some in-migration from retired people seeking affordable and well-built houses in a pleasant environment.

Mt Edgecumbe (Pūtauaki)

821-m volcano, which forms part of the ‘line of fire’ from Mt Tongariro, through Tauhara and Tarawera mountains to Whakaari (White Island).

The mountain was named Edgecumbe by Lieutenant James Cook, probably after George, the second baron Edgecumbe, who had become an admiral in 1761. On 2 November 1769 Cook observed that ‘seemingly at no great distance from the sea is a high round mountain which I have named Mount Edgcomb … it stands in the middle of a large plane [sic] which makes it the more conspicuous’. 1

In fact the mountain is on the edge of both the Rangitāiki Plains and the Volcanic Plateau, not far from the Tarawera River where it passes Kawerau. Known to Māori as Pūtauaki, it is of particular significance to the tribes of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau. It is also an important ancestral mountain for Ngāti Apa of the Rangitīkei region in the south-west of the North Island. There is no recent eruption history.

    • James Cook, Journal, 2 November 1769, (last accessed 11 October 2005). › Back

The middle Rangitāiki


Township on the Rangitāiki River on part of its course across the Kāingaroa Plateau, 55 km east of Rotorua. A short distance east of Murupara the plateau ends abruptly against the foothills of the Ikawhenua Range, which dominates the eastern sky. In 2013 the population was 1,656.

The town was established in the 1950s as a centre for logging the Kāingaroa state forest. Roads and rail connect it to Kawerau, 70 km north, where the logs are processed into pulp and paper. It was constituted a town district in 1954 and a borough in 1962, but was amalgamated into Whakatāne district in 1989. Job numbers fell sharply after the Forest Service was corporatised in the late 1980s.

In 2013 Murupara’s 27.2% unemployment rate was almost four times the New Zealand figure (7.1%). Although 31.2% of the population was aged under 15, the total population was declining (from a peak of 3,000 in the 1970s). 90.8% claimed Maori ethnicity. Ngāti Manawa, the local iwi (tribe), are kin to Ngāti Whare and Ngāi Tū.

We are the people

The traditional saying of Ngāti Manawa is:

Kō Tawhiuau te maunga, kō Rangitāiki te awa
Kō Ngāti Manawa te iwi, kō Tangiharuru te tangata.

Tawhiuau is the mountain, Rangitāiki is the river
Ngāti Manawa are the people, Tāngiharuru is the man.


District named after HMS Galatea, in which the Duke of Edinburgh, a son of Queen Victoria, visited New Zealand during an empire tour in 1869. The name was originally applied to the armed constabulary redoubt established during the hunt for Māori leader Te Kooti. Skirmishes took place on 18–19 March 1869 at nearby Tauaroa. Today Galatea is part of a farming district on the Kāingaroa Plateau that stretches from Murupara to Waiōahau. It has a strong Ngāi Tūhoe identity.

The damming of the Rangitāiki River at Aniwhenua in the late 1970s created a 255-ha lake and a waterfall which appears at the regular opening of the floodgates. The lake has a camping site and is popular for fishing and duck shooting. Kopuriki, midway between Waiōahau and Galatea, has a store. A small winery operates in the foothills of Tawhiau, east of Galatea.


Westernmost range of the main divide in the Bay of Plenty region. Forming a watershed between the Rangitāiki and Whakatāne rivers, it is divided by valleys, and has altitudes of 300 to 1,300 m. The full name, Te Ikawhenua o Tamatea (land of Tamatea’s fish), links the range to Tamatea of the Tākitimu canoe. The still forested valleys and summits have important associations for hapū of Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Whare and Ngāi Tūhoe. Tawhiuau, the mountain of Ngāti Manawa, reaches 1,017 m.

Whirinaki area

Whirinaki Forest

55,000-ha forest 100 km south-east of Rotorua, abutting the Kāingaroa exotic forest plantations. It forms part of the main dividing range, and includes the river of the same name. The area is the home principally of Ngāti Whare, a sub-tribe of Ngāi Tūhoe, and includes the settlements of Te Whāiti and Minginui.


In 1978–79 there was bitter conflict over Whirinaki. Conservation activists opposed the logging of the native timber in the forest, while the Forest Service and locals working in Minginui sawmill supported it.

All logging of native forests ended in 1985. Since then Whirinaki has become the Whirinaki Forest Park (administered by the Department of Conservation). Ngāti Whare exercise kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over the park.

Whirinaki is now a centre for eco-tourism, where visitors can see the magnificent stands of podocarps, in particular tōtara, rimu, kahikatea, mataī and miro. It is also an important area for many forest birds that have disappeared from other places.

Hidden beauty

In 1907 the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield travelled through the Urewera district with friends. She wrote of her journey between Tarapounamu and Umuroa in the Ruatāhuna Valley:

‘From this saddle we look across river upon river of green bush then burnt bush russet colour – blue distance – and a wide cloud flecked sky … at the head of the great valley the blazing sun uplifts itself … it is all so gigantic and tragic – and even in the bright sunlight it is so passionately secret.’ 1

Te Whāiti

Settlement 84 km south-east of Rotorua on State Highway 38, which links Rotorua and Wairoa. It is the largest settlement in the Whirinaki area.

The longer name is Te Whāitinui a Toi (the big canyon of Toi), referring to the ancestral explorer Toitehuatahi. Umurakau, one of the settlement’s two marae, is on an old site. The first European to visit was William Colenso of the Church Missionary Society in 1842. From 1847 to 1853 fellow missionary James Preece was based at the nearby Ahikereru pā.

The ethnographer Elsdon Best, who ran a store at Te Whāiti from the early 1890s, wrote extensively about Te Urewera.


Settlement about 8 km south-west of Te Whāiti in the Whirinaki Forest. It was established in the 1930s to provide housing for workers in the Whirinaki native timber sawmills. The three mills were amalgamated in 1975 and closed some years later.

  1. Ian A. Gordon, ed. Katherine Mansfield, The Urewera notebook. Oxford; Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 55. › Back

Inland Urewera

Te Urewera

The land of the Tūhoe people, occupying most of the Huiarau, Kahikatea and Ikawhenua ranges and adjacent rugged country in the main dividing range. In 2013 the total population (including Rūātoki) was 2,133.

Te Urewera was penetrated by government forces in 1869–72 in the quest for the resistance leader Te Kooti (who eventually took refuge in the King Country).

For a number of years the district, which was rugged and inaccessible and had only a small Māori population, was left alone. The Urewera District Native Reserve Act 1896 made provision for ‘the Ownership and Local Government of the Native Lands in the Urewera District’. But it also facilitated extensive land sales to the government.

A national park

Crown-acquired lands had proved unrewarding for either farming or mining, and those lands, consolidated by 1925, formed the basis of Te Urewera National Park, which was established in 1954. It was enlarged in 1957, 1962, 1975 and 1979 to a total land area of 212,673 ha. In 2014 administration of the area passed from the Department of Conservation to the Te Urewera Board, made up of Tūhoe and Crown representatives, as part of a Waitangi Tribunal settlement in which Te Urewera was granted legal personhood.

Rich in bird life, it holds the largest remaining population of kōkako, as well as kiwi, kākā, yellow-crowned parakeets and blue ducks. The area is popular with hunters and trampers. Besides Ruatāhuna and Maungapōhatu, present-day Tūhoe settlements and meeting houses are found particularly along the course of the Tauranga River (Waimana in its lower reaches).


Principal Tūhoe settlement in the heart of Urewera, on State Highway 38, 116 km south of Rotorua.

The settlement is famous for its association with the spiritual leaders Te Kooti and Rua Kēnana. The meeting house Te Whai-a-te-Motu (the pursuit through the island) was built there in 1888 by the Tūhoe people to honour the leadership of Te Kooti. A dray road from Rotorua reached Ruatāhuna in 1901. This brought the first vehicle from the outside world. The Presbyterian Church established a mission in 1917, and Sister Annie Henry and her assistants taught Tūhoe children and adults at a school for several decades.


Mountain (1,366 m) and locality in the heart of Te Urewera. It is situated on the upper reaches of the Waiakare, a tributary of the Whakatāne River, and 125 km south-east of Rotorua.

Rua Kēnana

The settlement was built at the base of the mountain by the prophet Rua Kēnana from 1907, with support from both Tūhoe and Te Whakatōhea, as a ‘city of God’. The government was uncomfortable with Rua’s claim to exercise independent authority.

On the grounds of a breach of the liquor laws an armed expedition was sent in 1916, in the course of which two Tūhoe were killed. Rua was tried, found guilty of resisting arrest and imprisoned. From his release in 1918 until his death in 1937 Rua remained an important figure among Tūhoe, engaged in largely unsuccessful efforts to provide for their economic security.

Presbyterian missionary John Laughton moved to Maungapōhatu in 1918, and established a close relationship with Rua despite their religious differences. The two men collaborated on the establishment of a school that year.

Urewera lowland settlements


Settlement 13 km south of Whakatāne, at the junction of the Whakatāne and Waimana rivers. In 2013 the population was 786.

The government bought and subdivided land in the district in the 1880s. The township, known then as Ōpouriao North, was laid out in 1896. It was supposed it might eclipse Whakatāne – the Whakatāne Agricultural and Pastoral Association was first established at Ōpouriao North in 1907. The town was renamed Tāneatua in 1920. In 1928 it became and remained the railhead for the Bay of Plenty sector of the East Coast main trunk line.

In more recent years, with Whakatāne more easily reached and farm production static rather than growing, the population has declined. Tāneatua’s unemployment rate stood at 20.2% in 2013 (8.6% for the region). But with average monthly rentals in the towns at around two-thirds of the national average, the less well-off could make their income go further.

In reference to the tribe that occupies the Urewera region, Tāneatua is known as ‘the gateway to Tūhoe’. Anamata, a Tūhoe education provider, is located in the town – and just beyond there is an asparagus packing plant.

Rūātoki North

Tūhoe settlement on the Whakatāne River where it emerges from the mountain ranges into farmland, 10 km south of Tāneatua.

Farming in Rūātoki benefited from the land development programmes of Apirana Ngata in the 1920s and 1930s. There are a number of meeting houses, among them Rongokarae. The Rūātoki school, Te Wharekura o Rūātoki, teaches mainly in Māori language. In 2003 the school was overall winner of the national primary schools kapa haka (traditional performing arts) competition.


Farming locality along with nearby Nukuhou North. The town is 14 km south-east of Tāneatua. In 2013 the population was 576.

From the late 1860s much of the land was leased or purchased from the Māori owners and farmed by Europeans. From 1885 it was known as the Waimana estate. The estate was subdivided in 1907, and many present-day local families are the descendants of settlers from that time.

Waimana also has a strong Māori presence: Tataiahape was the site of Waitangi Tribunal hearings into the Tūhoe claim in November 2003. The township of Waimana has, with improved roads, lost business to Whakatāne, but it still has a few stores, and a craft outlet stocked with local wares.



Principal centre and largest town of the eastern Bay. It lies at the junction of State Highways 2 and 30, 92 km north-east of Rotorua and 100 km south-east of Tauranga. In 2013 the population was 17,310.


The town developed gradually. In 1875 it had two stores, two hotels, a flax mill and a schoolhouse. Expansion dates back to the draining of the neighbouring Rangitāiki Plains in the early 20th century, which brought surrounding farmland into production. Whakatane Borough Council was formed in 1917, and its first mayor was George Brabant (Ngāti Maniapoto), who may have been New Zealand’s first Māori mayor. The borough had a European population of 1,707 in 1921. By 1956 the combined Māori and Pākehā population had reached 5,445.


A paper mill was established in 1939 (known from 1947 as the Whakatāne Board Mills). This was the major employer until the 1980s. Today two of the largest employers are the Bay of Plenty regional council and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi, a Ngāti Awa-sponsored centre of higher learning. Both have headquarters in Whakatāne. A Ngāi Tūhoe training institute, Anamata, also has a campus in the town.

In recent years, people have moved to Whakatāne for lifestyle reasons. This has prompted building and retail growth.


In 2004 Whakatāne and surrounding areas were extensively flooded after prolonged and intense rain. The Whakatāne River spilled into the central business district and the Awatapu area.

Kōhī Point

Site of a national walkway and one of the most dramatic locations in the Bay of Plenty, overlooking the outlet of the Whakatāne River. From various points on the headland the whole of the Bay of Plenty can be seen, from Mayor Island to the west, Whakaari (White Island) to the north, the coast past Ōpōtiki to the east and inland to the summits of Pūtauaki and Tarawera.

Described by historian James Cowan as the most historic mile of coastline in New Zealand, and often referred to in local waiata (songs), the headland is associated with the Mataatua canoe. The prominence a kilometre back is Kaputerangi, one of the oldest known sites in New Zealand, associated with the ancestor Toitehuatahi.

Ōhiwa Harbour and environs

Ōhiwa Harbour

Harbour 10 km west of the mouth of the Waioeka River. It is the second largest tidal estuary on the Bay of Plenty after Tauranga Harbour. Also known historically as Te Moana-a-Tairongo, it abuts the lands of both Ngāti Awa and Te Whakatōhea tribes.

The harbour has for centuries been a rich source of seafood for the people of Ngāti Awa, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tūhoe, and is referred to as ‘the food basket of the peoples’.

An ancient waiata

A signboard at Ōhiwa displays this song:

E noho ana ki te koko ki Ōhiwa
Whakarongo rua aku taringa ki te tai o tua o Kanewa
E aki ana mai ki uta ra
Ki te whānau a Tairongo.

As I sit on the beach at Ōhiwa
I listen to the waves beating over the sandbar at Kanewa
Against the foreshore
The home of my ancestor Tairongo.


The harbour and sand spits at its entrance have significant ecological value. The area is ranked as an outstanding site of special wildlife interest. It is a breeding and wintering habitat for birds, especially international and internal migratory species. The most notable is the kūaka (godwit), but there are others, including lesser knots and turnstones.

Reserves around the harbour are important nesting sites for the New Zealand dotterel, variable oystercatcher and banded dotterel. In addition the harbour is an important spawning area for marine fish species, and supports valuable shellfish fisheries.

The small settlement of Ōhiwa on the eastern shore was once a port but is now mostly a holiday and retirement settlement.


Settlement on a safe beach 6 km east of Whakatāne. It became a popular resort for holidaymakers in the mid-20th century. More recently it has become home to a permanent population and has expanded east along the coast towards the Ōhiwa Harbour entrance. In 2013 the population was 2,847.



Town in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Situated 60 km south-east of Whakatāne at the junction of State Highways 2 and 35, it lies in the centre of the traditional tribal area of Te Whakatōhea.

In 2013 the population was 3,879, with 63.7% claiming Māori ethnicity, and 48.8% claiming European ethnicity.


A Church Missionary Society (Anglican) station was established in 1840. The settlement was also the site of a significant incident in the New Zealand wars: the missionary Carl Völkner was executed there by Māori on 2 March 1865. The reason given was that while under their protection, he had been acting as a government agent. In the aftermath, much Te Whakatōhea land was confiscated.

Military settlers were allocated land in the district and Ōpōtiki became the centre of government in eastern Bay of Plenty. It became a town district in 1882 and a borough in 1908. The population grew along with farming, from 627 (Europeans only) in 1901 to 1,437 (Māori and Europeans) in 1936.


Whakatāne soon drew ahead of Ōpōtiki to become the eastern bay’s principal centre. Ōpōtiki also suffered in the 1980s with the drive for more economic efficiency. A shirt factory and a clothing factory at nearby Waimana both closed, and public works employed fewer people. The population declined by 3.7% between 1996 and 2001.

In recent years horticulture, especially kiwifruit, has become a new source of income. An offshore mussel farm has provided employment and boosted the town’s economy.

Ōpōtiki–Cape Runaway coast


Coastal settlement 23 km north-east of Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35.

It is a centre for the Ngāi Tai people. They have connections to the Tainui tribes through Tōrere, the daughter of Hoturoa, commander of the Tainui canoe. Their lands, however, lie between those of two Mataatua tribes, Te Whakatōhea and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. A finely decorated church is a feature of the settlement.

Te Kaha

Coastal settlement 70 km north-east of Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35, and principal settlement for the Te Whānau-ā-Apanui people. An office of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui is located in the township. In 2013 the population was 387.

Through much of the 19th and into the 20th century Te Kaha was a centre for whaling. In more recent times there has been farming, and the settlement is also a holiday destination.


Farming locality on Papatea Bay, just north of the mouth of the Raukōkore River and 97 km north-east of Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35.

On the promontory facing each other are Anglican and Catholic churches. The entrance to the latter was once marked by a huge whalebone arch, a relic of old whaling days. The arch is now in the Whakatāne Museum.


Coastal settlement 118 km from Ōpōtiki on State Highway 35.

Whangaparāoa is one of the most historic sites in the Bay of Plenty. It is where the twin canoes, Te Arawa and Tainui, made landfall on Te Ika-a-Māui (the North Island), before heading to other shores. (Some accounts suggest this was after first landing further north.)

The voyagers saw what they thought were kura (red feathers) on shore – almost certainly the summer-flowering pōhutukawa. This suggests that the landfall occurred in November or December. Navigation research indicates that this is the most favourable time for sailing from tropical latitudes.


Prominence rising above Whangaparāoa. The landmark sets the eastern boundary of the rāhui (prohibition) imposed generations ago by Muriwai, sister of Toroa, the captain of the Mataatua canoe, when two of her children drowned.

Cape Runaway

Easternmost promontory of the Bay of Plenty. In 2013 the population for the Cape Runaway district was 1,146.

It was named Cape Runaway by James Cook after an incident on 31 October 1769:

At 9 Five Canoes came off to us, in one of which was were upwards of 40 Men all Arm'd with Pikes &Ca ... I order'd a grape shot to be fired a little wide of them. This made them pull off a little ... I order'd a round shot to be fired over their heads which frightend them to that degree that I believe they did not think them selves safe untill they got a shore, this occasion'd our calling the point of land off which this Happen'd Cape Runaway. 1
    • James Cook, Journal, 31 October 1769, (last accessed 11 October 2005). › Back

Raukūmara Range

Raukūmara Range

The most north-easterly of the ranges of the main dividing range of the North Island. The western slopes of Raukūmara, facing the Bay of Plenty, are still forest-covered, heavily divided by valleys, and marked by the courses of the Waioeka, Raukōkore and Mōtū rivers and their tributaries. These are among the few North Island rivers where blue ducks are still found.

The highest point on the range, Hikurangi (1,754 m), lies on an eastern spur, close to country cleared in the early 1900s. The range divided the lands of Ngāti Porou on the East Coast, from those of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui in the Bay of Plenty. An extensive conservation area provides opportunities for wilderness tramping.

Waioeka River

The Waioeka, correctly Wai o weka, rises in the main dividing range in the vicinity of the Kahikatea Range, a northern outlier of the Huiarau Range. For about half of its length it is followed by State Highway 2 to Ōpōtiki, where it reaches the sea through a substantial estuary. The upper reaches are a favoured location for kayaking and white-water rafting.

Mōtū River

The Mōtū River has central significance for the people of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. Its headwaters are beyond Matawai in the East Coast, and the river passes through a major gorge in the Raukūmara Range.

The river falls 487 m along its 110-km run. Its entire course is protected from development, but it is used for white-water rafting, jet-boating and kayaking. It reaches the sea at near Whitianga, a Te Whānau-ā-Apanui settlement (not the township of Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula). In 1900, 16 children and 2 adults from Maraenui drowned while crossing near the mouth.

Raukōkore River

North-easternmost of the major Bay of Plenty rivers. The Raukōkore and its tributaries drain the northern parts of the Raukūmara Range back up to the main divide. It flows into the sea to the south of Raukōkore settlement.

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Malcolm McKinnon, 'Bay of Plenty places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 5 December 2005, updated 1 July 2015