Story: Northland places

Page 2. Kaitāia and district

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Northernmost town in New Zealand, with a 2013 population of 4,887. Kaitāia is the commercial and service centre for a rural area farming mostly sheep, cattle and dairy cattle. Local industry is mainly the processing of dairy products and timber, sawmilling, and general engineering and building.

Explorers and missionaries

The Far North Regional Museum holds an enormous anchor lost off the coast in December 1769 by the French explorer, Jean François Marie de Surville.

The Ngāti Kahu and Ngāti Kurī iwi had dwelt with Te Rarawa in the district for some decades at the time Te Rarawa leader Nōpera Pana-kareao invited missionaries into the area. The land made available for purchase once contained six . At the mission station, established in 1833 by Joseph Matthews and William Puckey, 61 chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi on 28 April 1840. Two early churches were replaced in 1887 by St Saviour’s Church. In its cemetery are the graves of Nōpera and the two missionaries.

Early settlement

In the early post-treaty years, Māori assisted with building, planting and road-making, and grew wheat and food crops. They took their produce to Auckland markets in their vessel, the Fairy. A few Europeans arrived in the 1850s, and European settlement expanded rapidly between 1870 and 1900 as kauri-gum diggers, including many from Dalmatia (now Croatia), set up. The Yugoslavian Social Club is a legacy of the district’s gum-digging days, as are the many Dalmatian surnames, some held by descendants of Māori–Dalmatian unions. Milling of native forest and flax made Kaitāia the Far North’s commercial centre by 1900.

20th-century development

In the 1920s promotion of settlement began in earnest. ‘Go north, young man’, was the cry of Allen Bell, who laid out the town and established a newspaper, the present Northland Age. But the town remained isolated. Kaitāia was long dependent on the small river port of Awanui, 7 km north, from where scows took kauri and gum down the Awanui River and out through Rangaunu Harbour. A proposed rail link got no closer than Ōkaihau, 73 km south-east. The growth of farming and forestry, together with better highways and an air service from 1947, improved links with other settlements and regions.

Economy today

Kaitāia’s economy has been supported by the planting and harvesting of exotic forest on the Aupōuri Peninsula. Recent ventures include vineyards and fruit growing, and arts and crafts businesses. But in 2013 the unemployment rate was more than twice that of the country as a whole. The median annual income was $19,500 (compared with $28,500 nationally). In the 2000s the population (of which over 50% identified as Māori) remained static at just over 5,000, before dropping below that in 2013.


Township at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, 14 km south-west of Kaitāia. Situated on Ahipara Bay, Ahipara is 18 km north-west of Ahipara Hill, a former gum-digging area and now the site of a historic reserve. The Māori population of Ahipara in the 1950s was described (under the name Kōtare) by anthropologist Joan Metge in A new Māori migration: rural and urban relations in northern New Zealand (1964).

Herekino Harbour

Inlet 26 km south-west of Kaitāia. It is sometimes called the Herekino River as it is an estuary for many streams, rather than a harbour. The township of Herekino is at its head. The Herekino forest contains fern birds and one of the few stands of large kauri in the north.

Whāngāpē Harbour

Inlet 42 km south-west of Kaitāia via Herekino. In the 19th and early 20th centuries several trading and passenger vessels, including the Leonidas, the Lionel, the Geelong and the River Hunter, were wrecked at its treacherous entrance.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland places - Kaitāia and district', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015