Story: Hawke’s Bay places

Page 2. Hastings

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One of Hawke’s Bay’s two cities, with a 2013 population of 51,288 (excluding Havelock North). Hastings is the urban hub of the region’s agricultural and horticultural industries. It houses the regional hospital and the head office of the region’s main newspaper, Hawke’s Bay Today, which was formed when the daily newspapers of Napier and Hastings merged in 1999.

Located on the Heretaunga plain, Hastings is mostly laid out in a grid pattern. The city centre is arranged around a large pedestrian square, which is bisected by an unused railway line. Public parks, gardens and sports grounds are dotted around the suburbs.

Hastings is surrounded by vineyards, orchards and small farms. Its best-known business is food-processing company Wattie’s, which started in 1934.


Hastings was founded later than other Hawke’s Bay towns. Runholder and entrepreneur Thomas Tanner and his partners illegally leased land on the Heretaunga plain from Māori in 1864 and were granted an official lease in 1867. Led by Tanner, the group – informally known as the Twelve Apostles – had purchased the entire block by 1870, despite opposition to selling from some Māori and from Europeans who feared monopolies. Tanner harassed unwilling owners into selling, but when a government commission investigated the purchase it did not uphold accusations of fraud.

Hastings was laid out in 1873 – a time when roads and bridges were under construction throughout the region, wool prices were improving and a railway line was planned for 1874. It was an ideal start. Over the next few years a stockyard, showground and racecourse were built, attracting visitors and new businesses.

At first the town was supported by pastoral stations in the rural districts. Related industries such as animal-rendering and wool-scouring plants opened, followed by the first freezing works at Tōmoana in 1884. Orchards, market gardens and vineyards on surrounding land came next. The agricultural and horticultural sectors remain crucial to Hastings’ prosperity.

The population of Hastings roughly equalled that of Napier by the 1930s, and the two have remained very close in numbers ever since.

Battle of Hastings?

The Hastings Blossom Festival of 1960 became notorious after fights broke out between festivalgoers, police and firefighters. The parade had been cancelled due to wet weather. This, combined with an influx of young people, overcrowding in hotels and overbearing crowd-control tactics by the authorities created conditions ripe for a fight. One newspaper described the incident as ‘a modern battle of Hastings’1 and it was even debated in Parliament. However, only a small number of people were actively fighting. Twelve youths were charged with minor offences and no serious injuries were reported.


In 2013 residents of Hastings’ urban zone earned less and were less well-qualified than the national average, although their earnings were comparable to the regional average. Residents living in south-east areas close to Havelock North and Waiohiki, and the coastal district around Haumoana, earned much more and were more qualified than national and regional averages.


Suburb west of Hastings, with a 2013 population of 9,372. After years of planning Flaxmere was built in the early 1970s to cater for the city’s expanding population. Community facilities, recreational grounds and a shopping centre were built, and commercial and industrial sites set aside in a careful exercise of town planning. In the 1980s the city council allowed sections in Flaxmere to be subdivided. Low-quality houses on small sections were packed into the suburb – this has been blamed for Flaxmere’s ensuing problems with serious crime, social deprivation and gang activity.

Winning wines

In 2008 a wine-tasting competition between Gimblett Gravels and French Bordeaux red wines was held. The Gimblett Gravels wines retailed for about $50 per bottle, while the French ones were about $1,000 each. Experts were served the wine in a blind tasting. Gimblett Gravels came out ahead – its wines were four of the top six picks.

Gimblett Gravels

In 2001 members of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association branded a stony-soiled area west of Hastings as Gimblett Gravels. Hard up against the deprived suburb of Flaxmere, the area contains some of the most prestigious vineyards and wineries in Hawke’s Bay. The first vineyard was planted there in the late 1970s, but it was not until the 1990s that it became popular with winemakers. The gravel soils and climatic conditions produce excellent red wines, and wineries have to meet stringent requirements to use the Gimblett Gravels brand on their wines.

  1. Quoted in Roger Openshaw, ‘Hooligans at Hastings: reactions to the Hastings blossom festival affray, September 1960.’ History of Education Review 18, no. 2 (1989), p. 35. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay places - Hastings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 July 2024)

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