In 2013, 151,692 people lived in Northland. With 49,161 residents, Whāngārei was by far the largest centre. More typical of the north is a pattern of many small settlements. The largest towns were Kerikeri (6,504) Kaitāia (4,887), Dargaville (4,251) and Kaikohe (3,915). Paihia, Moerewa, Kawakawa and Taipā–Mangōnui each had between 1,200 and 1,700 people.
Since the 1980s the permanent population has increased slowly but steadily, mainly on the east coast. But Northland is the most rural region in the country, with little more than half the population in urban areas.
While there are very few Pacific, Asian or other non-European residents, there is a very significant Māori population.
Much of the region’s special character comes from its Māori people. In 2013 they made up 32.4% of the total population (more than double the national average, and second only to the East Coast). Concentrated mainly in the Far North and Whāngārei districts, Māori dominate some towns such as Kaikohe. There is constant movement in and out of the region, mainly between Northland and Auckland. The people of Ngāpuhi form the region’s (and the country’s) largest iwi. Around 40% of them live in Auckland.
Lost in the city
Whina Cooper, a Māori leader from Northland, moved to Auckland in the 1950s. She was dismayed by the difficulties her people experienced when cut off from tribal support, and she appealed to the Catholic Bishop James Liston for an urban marae. As a result of her lobbying, Te Ūnga Waka marae opened in Auckland in 1966.
In 2013, 26.2% of Northland Māori were able to have an everyday conversation in the Māori language. This rate of language retention is exceeded only by East Coast Māori. In the 1980s northern Māori began a concerted effort to preserve the language by establishing kōhanga reo – language nests for preschoolers.
Northland’s age structure differs from other regions. There is a higher than usual proportion aged 65 years and over – many of them retired people who have moved to the balmy north. In 2013, 21.6% of Northland’s population was under 15 years (a proportion second only to the East Coast). This is partly a reflection of the proportion of Māori, who have higher birth rates than most other ethnic groups in New Zealand. A relatively small proportion of the population is aged between 20 and 30, as many young people go to other regions in search of work.
A mobile population
Northland has a substantial fluctuating population. At weekends, city dwellers increase the resident population, mainly on the east coast, an estimated threefold. Summer numbers surge well beyond that. Visitors are attracted by the warmth, easy lifestyle, and variety of recreational options.