Town located on the road and rail junction between Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Manawatū, with a 2013 population of 1,401. The timber-milling town of Woodville grew up in the 1870s, when it was known as ‘The Junction’. Its location made it seem an ideal site for a new town and it profited from an influx of road workers during this period. Dairy farms in its hinterland supported the township. The rail line from Napier reached Woodville in the 1880s, and the line from Palmerston North arrived in the 1890s. However, by this time Dannevirke was the most important town in the district and Woodville failed to capitalise on its strategic location.
Population growth was modest but steady for much of the 20th century, but the population fell during the 1990s and 2000s. Though its traditional rural hinterland remained important, in the 2000s Woodville branded itself as the windfarm capital of New Zealand, trading on the nearby Tararua wind farm. Many residents work in Palmerston North.
Largest town in southern Hawke’s Bay, with a 2013 population of 5,043. Dannevirke is 101 km south-west of Hastings and 55 km north-east of Palmerston North. It is the main service centre for the rural hinterland of the district, and the headquarters for the Tararua District Council. Its Scandinavian heritage is demonstrated in the use of Viking iconography in the town. Its name commemorates a famous fortified wall in Denmark.
The town was founded by Scandinavian immigrants, who were brought to New Zealand by the government in 1872 to fell the forest that covered much of southern Hawke’s Bay and then farm the cleared land. Ten acres (4 hectares) was set aside for the town, and each settler family got a 40-acre (16-hectare) block. Because the land around Dannevirke was not opened for settlement for a while after the town was founded, there was no farmed hinterland to support the town and it stagnated for a decade. The arrival of the railway in 1884 kick-started growth and Dannevirke pulled ahead of other small towns in the district. Surrounding land was settled and dairy farms established, which also boosted the town.
The farming settlement of Kōpua, near Norsewood, is distinguished by the presence of a Cistercian monastery. This was founded in 1954 on land donated by local farming couple Tom and Rosalie Prescott. The monastery is home to a small community of monks and is funded by its dairy and beef farming. A retreat centre is available for use by members of the public.
Dannevirke flourished well into the 20th century on the back of farming prosperity. Like other rural centres, the town was affected by the removal of government services and farming subsidies in the 1980s and 1990s. This was reflected in a fall in population from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. In the 2000s meat-processing plants and textile factories closed or reduced staff numbers.
In the early 2000s Dannevirke still retained important manufacturing businesses such as engineers Metalform and energy equipment suppliers RCR Energy Systems (formerly Easteel).
In 2013 Dannevirke residents earned less and had fewer formal qualifications than national averages. The town had a significant older population – 21.2% were 65 and over, compared to 14.3% nationally, as farmers from the district often retired to the town.
Fire was used by European settlers to clear bush for farming. It was an effective tool, but sometimes difficult to control. The lower half of Norsewood was almost completely destroyed in 1888 when a series of small fires were fanned by high winds and became one huge blaze. The fire fed on the felled trees that surrounded the town and soon moved onto the buildings – it even burned the wooden crosses marking graves in the cemetery. No lives were lost, but about 170 people were left homeless.
Small town north of Dannevirke. Norsewood is divided into upper and lower Norsewood by State Highway 2. Like Dannevirke, the town was founded by Scandinavian immigrants. A museum complex dominates the main street and some local businesses have a Scandinavian theme.
Norsewood is known for the Norsewear apparel factory, which opened in 1969. Following the sale of the Norsewear brand in 2007, the factory was purchased by the Kiwi Sock Company Ltd, which re-employed some of the Norsewear staff and continued making socks and other apparel for domestic and international markets. In 2023, a New Zealand-based family bought the Kiwi Sock Company Ltd, including the Norsewear brand. They renamed the business Norsewear NZ Ltd, and continued manufacturing Norsewear products from the Norsewood factory.
Eastern Ruahine Forest Park
A Department of Conservation park on the east side of the Ruahine Range. The park was gazetted as a conservation, recreation and watershed protection area in 1976.