Story: Hawke’s Bay places

Page 7. Waipawa

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Oldest inland town in Hawke’s Bay, with a 2013 population of 1,965. Waipawa is the home of the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and, like other towns in the district, is an important service centre for surrounding farms. The east side of the main street is devoid of buildings apart from the regional museum – all the colonial-era shops along it were demolished in 1986 when the council built a new (and ultimately failed) shopping mall on the west side.


Waipawa was founded on the banks of the Waipawa River by runholder Frederick Abbott in 1860. The town, originally named Abbottsford, was located next to a ford in the river. Settlers preferred its Māori name, Waipawa. Te Tapairu was established near the town in 1872.

Death of a township

A town called Hadley was planned near Waipawa in the 19th century. An early plan showed space for a mechanics’ institute and other public buildings, and a river port with ships at anchor. This ambitious plan was not realised and the town site is now occupied by Waipawa’s cemetery, which itself used to be known as Hadley.

Unlike Waipukurau, Waipawa was soon surrounded by many smaller farms that supported its growth. However, from the early 20th century its population lagged behind Waipukurau. The closure of the longstanding branch of the Williams & Kettle stock agents in 1987 was symbolic of the economic difficulties experienced by rural service centres like Waipawa in the later 20th century.


In 2006 Waipawa residents earned less than the national median income, and fewer had post-school qualifications than the national average.


Small township off State Highway 2 north of Waipawa, with a 2013 population of 537. Ōtāne was founded in 1874 on part of runholder Henry Tiffen’s 5140-hectare Homewood estate, which had been subdivided into smaller farms. A township called Kaikora emerged during the 1850s and 1860s near present-day Ōtāne, but this declined after Ōtāne became established.

A Māori pā was located at nearby Pātangata. The European settlement became the centre of Pātangata County (operational from 1885 to 1977).

Te Aute

Settlement north of Ōtāne on State Highway 2. Samuel Williams established a mission station and Māori school (the forerunner to Te Aute College) there in 1854. The school closed in 1859 due to financial difficulties but re-opened in 1872. Te Aute College has produced a number of distinguished graduates, most notably politician Apirana Ngata.

Nearby Pukehou church was consecrated in 1859 and is the oldest church in the region. The bed of Lake Poukawa contains New Zealand’s largest set of remains of extinct anatids (waterbirds like swans, ducks and geese). A battle between Ngāti Tūwharetoa and local hapū of Ngāti Kahungunu was fought on Lake Roto-a-Tara in the 1820s.


Small township on State Highway 50. Unlike most settlements in the district, Tikokino (or Hampden, as it was first called) was founded by the government, in 1860. It became a sawmilling centre and businesses served the surrounding farms once the trees were all felled and burned.

In the early 2000s most of the district’s employed residents worked at the meat-processing plant in nearby Takapau, or in pastoral farming, horticulture or related support services.

Green towns

Ongaonga, named after the nearby Ongaonga Stream, shares its name with the Māori term for the native stinging nettle Urtica ferox, a tall woody plant with fine poisonous hairs on the leaves and stems. A newspaper article from 1892 described it as ‘a more ferocious affair’ than the English nettle, as early settlers would have discovered.1 Nearby Te Aute is named after the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera), which was introduced to New Zealand from Polynesia by Māori and grew profusely around the district.


Small township off State Highway 50. Ongaonga was founded in 1872 by runholder H. H. Bridge. Like other runholders who founded towns, Bridge was paternalistic – he built a school and church and provided land for a recreation ground. Large pastoral runs in the district were subdivided into smaller farms between 1899 and 1905, which provided more business for the township and maintained its prosperity.

In the 2000s Ongaonga was best known for its collection of colonial buildings, some of which were relocated there from the surrounding district to form an open-air museum.

  1. North Otago Times, 15 February 1892, p. 4. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay places - Waipawa', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

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