Story: Hawke’s Bay places

Page 11. Māhia

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Māhia Peninsula

Large peninsula (21 kms long by 15 kms at widest point) at the northern end of Hawke Bay, with a 2013 population of 723. Māhia Peninsula (then called Nukutaurua) was an important area of Māori settlement in pre-colonial times. The ancestral canoes Kurahaupō and Tākitimu landed on the peninsula. Māhia Peninsula people claim descent from the 16th-century union of Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu. In the 1820s the peninsula became a refuge when Hawke’s Bay was invaded by armed tribes from the west and north.

It still has a significant Māori population – in 2013, 60% of residents identified as Māori. Onenui station, on the southern end of the peninsula, is owned by Māori.

Ruawharo’s rock

When the Tākitimu landed on Māhia Peninsula the tohunga (priest) Ruawharo decided to settle there. He built a above Ōraka Beach and deposited sand from his homeland Hawaiki on a rock to encourage whales to beach there. The rock became one of the most sacred mauri (talismans) in the North Island. The meeting house at Ōpoutama is named after Ruawharo.

The first European settlers were whalers and traders. Early runholders James Watt and George Walker had a 20,000-acre (8,094-hectare) station on the peninsula, which they leased from Māori. The government purchased most of the peninsula in 1864 and thereafter the land was farmed. In the 2000s sheep and beef cattle remained important sources of business and employment. Māhia Peninsula and its beaches have become desirable holiday spots.

In 2016 the Rocket Lab Launch Complex – New Zealand’s first commercial spaceport – opened on Ahuriri Point, the southern tip of the peninsula.

Māhia and Māhia Beach

Main settlements on Māhia Peninsula. Māhia Beach is on the west side of the isthmus connecting the peninsula to the mainland. Town sections were laid out in 1874 but the township did not grow as envisaged. The grid pattern of most streets reflects the plan.

Māhia is on the east side of the isthmus. The settlement is strung along the coastal road that runs south down the peninsula. Both settlements have a community of permanent residents as well as a number of baches (holiday homes).

Portland Island

Narrow, 3-kilometre long rectangular island off the southern tip of Māhia Peninsula. Portland Island (or Waikawa) was home to an important whare wānanga (Māori house of learning) called Ngāheru-mai-tawhiti. Whaling stations were established there in the 1840s, followed by pastoral farms in later decades.

A lighthouse built on the southern end of the island in 1876 was manned by three keepers who lived on the island, some with families. The lighthouse was automated in 1984 and the old building relocated to the main street of Wairoa, where it sits on the banks of the river. In the 2000s sheep are run on the island by the owners of Onenui station, but it is now uninhabited.


Small settlement on State Highway 2 north-west of Māhia Peninsula, with a 2013 population of 258. Nūhaka has a general store, fire station and two marae. In 2013, 75.6% of residents identified as Māori.


Site of natural mineral springs on State Highway 2 north of Māhia Peninsula. Mōrere contains a hot springs complex, tea room and camp site. The springs were a traditional bathing spot for the Ngāti Rākaipaaka hapū. In the 1880s most of the surrounding native bush was cleared for farming, except immediately around the springs, which became a thermal reserve in 1895. A bathhouse and hotel were built at this time. The reserve is administered by the Department of Conservation and the hot springs are leased to a private operator.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay places - Māhia', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 13 Aug 2009, updated 30 Nov 2015