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Hawke’s Bay region

by Kerryn Pollock

People have long been attracted to Hawke’s Bay’s warm, dry climate. In the 2020s visitors also come for the food, wine, and art deco architecture. It is a region of contrasts – mountains and plains, floods and droughts, rich and poor.


From the summit of Te Mata Peak in Havelock North there is a 360-degree outlook that shows the diversity of the Hawke’s Bay landscape. There are ranges, hills and plains, watched over by the ever-present Ruahine and Kaweka ranges to the west; the curve of Hawke Bay itself, tipped by Māhia Peninsula and the ranges surrounding Lake Waikaremoana in the north; and a hint of the eastern coast and hill country that stretches south to Cape Turnagain.

Māui’s fish hook

In Māori mythology, Cape Kidnappers is the hook of the jaw bone Māui used to haul up the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui – Māui’s fish) from under the sea. This is reflected in its Māori name, Te Matau-a-Māui, which means Māui’s fish hook. Its European name was bestowed by Lieutenant James Cook after local Māori seized a Tahitian boy from his ship when it was off the coast of the cape in 1769. The boy was returned but the name stuck.

The intensively farmed land of the Heretaunga plains, studded with orchards and vineyards, is in striking contrast to the open paddocks of the pastoral farms in the central and southern districts.

Much of the population is packed into the triangle of land between Te Mata Peak, Ahuriri in Napier and the western suburbs of Hastings. The close proximity of the two cities – Napier and Hastings – seems to express and explain their historic rivalry. Both have absorbed small townships and turned them into suburbs.

South of Hastings is heartland rural New Zealand. In contrast, the land north of Napier up to Wairoa is sparsely populated, isolated and rugged, but spectacular in parts. It is regularly dotted with marae which hint at its significant Māori population.

Prosperity from the land

Historically, Hawke’s Bay’s economy has relied on the land and its resources. In the early 2000s pastoral and horticultural farming and processing were still its most significant industries. Vineyards and wine making have a long history in the region and have grown in importance since the 1980s. Gourmet food and wine has become a key part of the region’s economy and identity.

Tourists are attracted to the climate, food, wine and art deco architecture – also a product of the land via a major earthquake in 1931, after which there was considerable rebuilding.


Early Māori settlements were established from Māhia Peninsula in the north to Pōrangahau on the south coast. Ngāti Kahungunu arrived during the 16th century and became the dominant iwi (tribe) in the region. 

Whalers and traders were the first Europeans to come to Hawke’s Bay after James Cook’s voyages. Traders and missionaries arrived in the 1840s. They were followed by the first pastoral runholders (sheep farmers) in 1849. Sheep, and later beef cattle, were farmed on large stations. Towns were founded throughout the region – Napier was the first in 1855, followed by many more from the 1860s and beyond.

Māori lost most of their land through sales and confiscations. Despite this, Hawke’s Bay still has a significant Māori population in the 21st century.

Hawke’s, Hawkes and Hawke

Hawke’s Bay – apostrophe or no apostrophe? James Cook, who came up with this name in 1769, first recorded it as ‘Hawke’s Bay’. A day later he used ‘Hawkes Bay’, and the official map of the voyage uses the latter form. In those days spelling and punctuation were often inconsistent. Despite the fact that apostrophes are discouraged in place names, Hawke’s Bay became the official name for the region because this form was used in early statutes and official documents. Even so, many people spell the name without an apostrophe.

Further complicating matters, the bay itself is called Hawke Bay, following conventional naming practice.

Social divisions

Hawke’s Bay society is laden with contrasts. The vineyard owners, gourmet food producers, traditional farming families and remnants of a Central Hawke’s Bay gentry contrast sharply with the bulk of the population, who earn, on average, less than the national median income. There is significant poverty in some communities, particularly in the Wairoa district.


Hawke’s Bay is a long tract of land, bound by mountain ranges to the west and north, coast to the east, and the similar landscape of Wairarapa to the south. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council covers the Wairoa, Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay districts, and Napier city. The area from Woodville, near the Manawatū Gorge, to Norsewood is now officially part of the Tararua district. However, it has strong historical links with the rest of the region and is commonly seen as southern Hawke’s Bay.

Landscape and climate

Hawke’s Bay is on the eastern side of the North Island’s central chain of mountains, and between East Coast in the north and Wairarapa in the south. Its varied landforms are an expression of the active tectonic forces under its surface.

Hills and ranges

The Ruahine Range, the southern portion of the region’s western boundary, is part of the North Island main ranges. Tall but narrow, it rises sharply from the south to its highest point (1,733 metres above sea level) at the Mangaweka dome. It is composed of greywacke and argillite rock. The Kaweka Range and other smaller ranges lie north of the Ruahine Range.

Tramping mission


Missionary William Colenso was a keen explorer and botanist. When he first heard about the Ruahine Range in 1843, he was determined to cross it and collect botanical specimens, despite Māori chiefs telling him that many had died on its snowy peaks. After pressing an unwilling guide into service in 1845, he got as far as the Te Atua-o-Mahuru summit near the Makaroro River (500 m up the eastern slope of the Ruahine Range, 5 km north of Waipawa), before turning back because his party had run out of food. In 1847 he crossed the range from the west side.


The hills and ranges in central and northern Hawke’s Bay are made of mudstone, limestone, sandstone and argillite. The mudstone hills, which predominate, erode easily. The land between Lake Tūtira and Wairoa is particularly vulnerable to slips. The limestone ranges and hills from Havelock North south are harder rock.


Running from northern Wairarapa into Hawke’s Bay is a belt of flat land made up of soft, sedimentary rocks deposited by rivers. It is hemmed in by mountain ranges and hills on either side. The plains are narrow in southern Hawke’s Bay but widen into the Ruataniwha and Heretaunga plains south of Napier.

Dinosaur lady


In 1975 amateur paleontologist Joan Wiffen became the first person to discover and verify dinosaur fossils in New Zealand. Until then it was believed that dinosaurs never existed in this country, but Wiffen’s work provided clear proof they had. She found the fossils in Mangahouanga Stream in northern Hawke’s Bay (north-west of Kotemāori), which has since proved to be a rich source of prehistoric remains.



The Hawke’s Bay coast can be divided into two sections – the crescent of Hawke Bay between Māhia Peninsula and Cape Kidnappers, and the long, mostly straight, coast between Cape Kidnappers and Cape Turnagain to the south. Both have tall cliffs interspersed with sandy and stony beaches.

Māhia Peninsula was lifted from the sea floor, and was once an island. The tombolo (sandspit) that created the peninsula formed between Māhia Beach and Ōpoutama in the last 10,000 years. A coastal plain made up of greywacke gravel runs between Māhia and Wairoa.


Hawke’s Bay is on the Australian tectonic plate near its intersection with the Pacific plate. The Mōhaka Fault (the northern part of the Wellington Fault) runs along the western ranges. These factors make Hawke’s Bay one of the most seismically active regions in the country.

Twenty earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 or greater were recorded in Hawke’s Bay between 1848 and 2001. The earthquake most destructive to life and property was the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake (magnitude 7.8), which hit when the region was already well built-up.


The Wairoa, Mōhaka and Esk rivers run down from the ranges in the north. The Tūtaekurī, Ngaruroro and Tukituki rivers flow through the central plains. All drain into the ocean on the east coast. The Manawatū River rises in southern Hawke’s Bay and runs through the Manawatū Gorge to reach the sea on the west coast.

The chain of lagoons between Wairoa and Māhia Peninsula form the biggest wetland system on the east coast of the North Island. The largest estuaries in the region are at Ahuriri and Pōrangahau. Waikaremoana is the largest lake.


Hawke’s Bay has a generally dry, warm climate because it is sheltered on the west by the North Island’s main mountain ranges. The region has 2,100–2,200 hours of sunshine each year, and the Heretaunga plains have even more. Napier holds the record for the most sunshine hours in a year for a North Island centre – 2,588 in 1994. In summer the maximum daytime temperature is usually 19–24°C. In winter, the usual daily maximum is 10–15°C.

Rainfall is highly variable – summer can have droughts or heavy rains. The inland mountains and some coastal ranges receive the most rain (1,600–2,400 millimetres per year), followed by the inland hills and southern Hawke’s Bay (1,200–2,400 millimetres). The central plains receive 800–1,200 millimetres. The Heretaunga plains often receive less.

In winter Hawke’s Bay is subject to cold southerly winds.

Droughts and floods

Droughts and dry spells are common in lowland Hawke’s Bay. Most of the dry periods occur between October and March.

Floods are the most common form of natural hazard in the region. They occur when a depression moves over northern New Zealand and moist easterly air is forced to rise when it reaches the western ranges. This causes heavy rainfall, which flows down rivers and streams to the lowlands.

Plants and animals


Before humans arrived Hawke’s Bay was heavily forested. Beech trees and subalpine plants grew on the mountain ranges and foothills. Beech also grew on the southern coastal hills. Conifer–broadleaf forest and pockets of grassland covered the lower hills and plains. Smaller species like mānuka and kānuka grew close to the coast, and pīngao (native sedge) and spinifex colonised the beaches.

Māori burned some of the lowland forest, and much was destroyed by natural fires. By the time Europeans arrived most of this forest, except in southern Hawke’s Bay, had disappeared. Plants like ferns and tutu grew in its place. The Ruataniwha and Heretaunga plains were covered with native grasses. European settlers replaced these plants with exotic pasture grasses for farming. Forests in southern Hawke’s Bay, and on the hill country and ranges, were later burned and felled by farmers and sawmillers.

In 2007, 71.6% of the land in Hawke’s Bay was grassland, 14% exotic forest plantations, 6% mature or regenerating native bush and 2% horticultural land. Most of the very small amount of native forest in the region is found on the western mountain ranges and around Lake Waikaremoana.

Special pest

Pātangata in Central Hawke’s Bay is the only site in New Zealand known to have the exotic water pest plant yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea). It is found in Horseshoe Lake and a nearby farm dam. The plant has been controlled at these sites since 1986, with its coverage reduced to a few small spots. Left unchecked, it can choke ponds and slow-moving waterways.

Plant pests

A number of exotic plants have become pests in Hawke’s Bay, though none are considered to be out of control. Gorse, blackberry, Bathurst burr and ragwort are all found in the region. Old man’s beard is widespread south of State Highway 5, and drought-prone areas are susceptible to infestations of nodding and variegated thistle. Contorta pine was planted in the Kaweka Range in the 1960s to stop erosion, but it has spread freely and displaced native plants. On the coast marram grass has colonised sand dunes.

Birds and other wildlife

Native wildlife populations in Hawke’s Bay are mainly confined to bush-covered mountain ranges, waterways and coastal habitats.

Many species of native bird are found in the mountain ranges, including tūī, bellbird, kererū, grey warbler and fantail. Rare species include the blue duck, North Island brown kiwi, North Island kākā and New Zealand falcon. Te Urewera contains all North Island native birds other than the weka. The ranges are also home to native skinks, geckos, bats and large land snails.

Lakes, estuaries and rivers contain native waterfowl and fish. These places are still important food-gathering grounds for Māori. Pōrangahau estuary is the largest and least-disturbed estuarine environment on the east coast south of Bay of Plenty. It is an important winter home and feeding ground for migratory wading birds.

Cape Kidnappers hosts the largest mainland gannet colony in New Zealand.

The central plains of Hawke’s Bay are mainly occupied by introduced farm animals, but pockets of bush sustain native species. The Inglis Bush Scenic Reserve near Ongaonga has a population of long-tailed bats.

Un-rabbit-proof fence

The first ‘rabbit-proof’ fence in New Zealand was built by sheep farmers in Hawke’s Bay in the 1880s. Rabbits had already become a serious pest in Wairarapa, and they were heading north in search of new pastures. The fence stretched from Woodville to the coast at Herbertville through dense bush and across steep hills, including two mountain ranges. At first linesmen kept the fence in good repair and it was quite effective, but once it was neglected the rabbits crossed it with ease. No rabbit-proof fence has ever lived up to its name.

Animal pests

The major animal pests of Hawke’s Bay – as in the rest of New Zealand – are possums and rabbits. Both are so widespread that their management is focused on reducing numbers and minimising harm rather than attempting to eradicate them. Rabbits are less of a problem in the 2000s than in the past – the spread of the rabbit haemorrhagic virus into Hawke’s Bay in 1998 led to a significant drop in numbers.

Rooks are a serious bird pest in Hawke’s Bay. The population is greatest in the southern half of the region and eradication is attempted only in the north.

Māori settlement and occupation

Ngāti Kahungunu is the largest iwi (tribe) in Hawke’s Bay, and the third largest in New Zealand. Its people claim descent from both the earliest-known settlers of the region and the eponymous ancestor Kahungunu and his kin, who arrived later.

First migrants

Māori settled in Hawke’s Bay around 1250–1300 AD. Over time settlements were established on the coast from Māhia in the north down to Pōrangahau in the south, and along rivers and waterways inland. Heretaunga and Te Whanganui-a-Orotū (Napier’s inner harbour) were two important early settlement areas.

Later migrants

The people who became known as Ngāti Kahungunu arrived in the region during the 16th century. Kahungunu, whose grandfather captained the Takitimu waka (canoe) from Hawaiki to New Zealand, was in born in Ōrongotea (Kaitāia) and grew up in Tauranga. He later travelled down the east coast, making a series of marriage alliances with high-born women as he went. He finally settled at Nukutaurua (Māhia Peninsula), the home of his fourth wife, Rongomaiwahine.

Extreme sports


Kahungunu’s father Tamatea has been described as ‘New Zealand’s first extreme sports enthusiast’1 and the ‘Māori Marco Polo’2 because of the adventurous nature of his exploration of the country. He circumnavigated both islands in his waka and explored the land on foot. Some accounts say he met his death attempting to shoot the rapids at Huka Falls on the Waikato River near Taupō, while others say he died in the Aratiatia rapids.


Their descendants, who also lived at Tūranganui (Gisborne), populated Wairoa and spread south into Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa. These migrations make up the three strands of the tribe: Wairoa, Heretaunga and Wairarapa. Some descendants on the Māhia Peninsula identify as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine rather than Ngāti Kahungunu.

Rangitāne tribal ancestors arrived at Māhia Peninsula aboard the Kurahaupō waka about 1350. Rangitāne later settled in Heretaunga but, after Ngāti Kahungunu arrived, they migrated further south to Tāmaki-nui-a-Rua (around Dannevirke), where the Hawke’s Bay section of the tribe was centred in the 2000s.

Ngāti Kahungunu

Ngāti Kahungunu became the dominant tribal group in Hawke’s Bay through a combination of warfare and strategic marriage. However, existing hapū (sub-tribes) maintained distinct identities, and later Ngāti Kahungunu descendants claimed kinship links with them as well. In fact, the people did not think of themselves as belonging to a singular, united tribe called Ngāti Kahungunu until the late 18th century. Before this, Māori society in the region was based around hapū containing a chief and his immediate community. This changed because of struggles with other tribes over land, combined with the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, eventually creating unity through adversity.

Later conflict

Māori who acquired European weapons had a distinct advantage over those who did not. Despite modifying (fortified villages) for defence against muskets, Hawke’s Bay Māori were unable to protect their lands against armed invasions from the west and north during the 1820s. Most went to Māhia, leaving much of the central and southern region empty of inhabitants until the late 1830s, when they began to return.

Tribal populations declined sharply in the wake of the invasions. However, these troubles prompted Hawke’s Bay Māori to work together, which reinforced the idea of Ngāti Kahungunu as a tribal entity.

    • ‘Kōtiro Māori – Rongomaiwahine,’ New Zealand folksong, (last accessed 11 December 2008). Back
    • J. H. Mitchell, Takitimu. Christchurch: Kiwi Publishers, 1997, p. 59 (originally published 1944). Back

European contact

First contact

Lieutenant James Cook sailed the Endeavour into Hawke Bay (which he named after the British First Lord of the Admiralty) in October 1769. Captain and crew remained on board, but some Māori paid them a visit by waka (canoe). Others approached the ship but either refused to come aboard or threatened to attack. Some trading of goods occurred during this visit, and during Cook’s second visit in 1773.


Cook reported on the abundant natural resources of New Zealand, and it was not long before others made the long journey south to harvest them. The British government later encouraged whaling by offering financial incentives. Ship-based whaling off the Hawke’s Bay coast started first, and shore-based whaling stations were established in 1837 at Waikōkopu, near Wairoa, and on the Māhia Peninsula.

In addition to traditional harvesting of beached whales, Māori also took part in commercial whaling. Whalers often married Māori women, who acted as mediators between the whalers and Māori when necessary.

Hawke’s Bay became a whaling centre, but, as elsewhere in New Zealand, excessive hunting led to a sharp decline in the whale population. Larger operations ceased by the early 1860s.

Lawless times?


Hawke’s Bay was far away from the major towns and the seat of government, and was described in 1850 as ‘the Alsatia of the colony, whither all the disorderly and desperate characters resort to be out of the reach of the law’.1 (Alsatia was an area of London that had been a haven for those running away from the law). However, this statement probably says more about the prejudices of the Wellington-based newspaper – historians of Hawke’s Bay have not noted an excess of criminality amongst its earliest European residents.



By necessity, whalers were also traders. Other Pākehā came to the region specifically to trade with Māori. The first known is flax trader Barnet Burns, who arrived at the Māhia Peninsula in 1831. He established a trading station, but this was closed by his Sydney-based employer 11 months later. Northland-based trader J. S. Polack spent some time in Hawke’s Bay in 1836, but it is not known if he did much trading.

Merchant William Barnard Rhodes opened trading stations at Māhia and Clifton, near Hastings, in 1839, and installed agents to manage them. They obtained commodities like flax, pork and seasonal produce for the Australian market in return for goods desired by Māori. Scotsman Alexander Alexander arrived in 1846 and set up a number of trading posts. Unlike most, he stayed in the region, dying there in 1873.

Whalers and traders introduced Hawke’s Bay Māori to new ideas and practices such as farming for financial gain. However, because Pākehā were present in small numbers, Māori society was not much altered by this contact at this stage.

Fiery faith


Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries competed for Māori converts, and intense public debates were common. Father Jean Lampila, a Catholic missionary resident in Hawke’s Bay in the early 1850s, turned up the heat considerably by challenging his Anglican rivals in the district, William Colenso and James Hamlin, to walk through fire as a test of their religious beliefs. They refused, but Lampila continued to issue similar dares to missionaries in other districts. There is no record of anyone taking up the challenge.



William Williams of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) visited Māhia in 1834, and spent time in Hawke’s Bay in 1840 after he had established a mission station at Tūranganui (Gisborne). Mission stations were not established in Hawke’s Bay until 1844, when one was started by William and Elizabeth Colenso at Waitangi, near Clive, and another by James and Elizabeth Hamlin at Wairoa. However, the presence of CMS-educated ‘native teachers’ meant that the Christian faith had a modest toe-hold in the region before this.

The Catholic Church was not far behind. Bishop Pompallier visited Māhia in 1841 and Father Claude-André Baty landed in Wairoa later that year, travelling throughout the district. A permanent mission station was founded at Pākōwhai in 1851, and later transferred to nearby Meeanee.

    • New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, 3 April 1850, p. 2. Back

European settlement

Land purchases

By the late 1840s pastoral farmers in Wairarapa were pushing north in a quest for more land. The first flock of sheep in Hawke’s Bay arrived in Pourerere in 1849. Early pastoralists negotiated leases directly with Māori, which was illegal at the time, prompting the government to act so it could control all land transactions. Hawke’s Bay Māori wanted more Pākehā settlers, because they brought money and prestige, and offered the government land in exchange. In 1851 government agent Donald McLean purchased three blocks of land which totalled 254,547 hectares. More land was purchased later in the 1850s, a process which sometimes triggered conflict between Ngāti Kahungunu hapū (sub-tribes).


Hawke’s Bay saw little fighting during the New Zealand wars of the 1860s, compared to regions like Taranaki and Waikato. Land loss was not an issue for Hawke’s Bay Māori at this time, and there were no contentious European settlements in the region. However, opposition to land sales and surveying was brewing. Some chiefs were sympathetic to the Kīngitanga movement in Waikato, but few joined the conflict. Donald McLean used his influence to keep most on the government side.

Members of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) faith arrived in Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay in 1865. Battles took place at Ōmarunui and Pētane, with Pai Mārire fighters and their local supporters fighting kūpapa (neutral or ‘loyal’) Māori and colonial forces in 1866. These battles were seen as acts of rebellion and resulted in land confiscations around Mōhaka and Wairoa.

Māori resistance leader Te Kooti raided Mōhaka in 1869, killing 61 Māori and seven Europeans.

Repudiation movement

More Māori land throughout the region was purchased over the next few decades. Prices paid were generally low, and in many cases not all rightful owners were consulted before sales were made. Some deals were done in secret. These practices led to discontent and conflict amongst Māori, fewer sales, and attempts by some to stop sales altogether. This developed into the ultimately unsuccessful repudiation movement of the 1870s, which rejected all sales and leases.


Most of the Māori land purchased by the government was leased or sold to settlers who established stations to graze sheep and, in some cases, cattle. From 1862 settlers were able to buy land directly from Māori.

Many of these stations were thousands, and even tens of thousands, of acres (an acre is approximately 0.4 hectares) in size. Most were located in Central Hawke’s Bay and in the north towards Wairoa. Forest-covered southern Hawke’s Bay was largely unsettled by Europeans until the 1870s.

Unwelcome wanderers


Fences were rare on the early pastoral stations, and many settlers could not or would not stop their sheep wandering onto other stations and Māori land without permission. Māori sometimes refused to return offending sheep until their owner paid money for the grass they had eaten. When John Harding’s sheep strayed onto George Cooper’s farm in 1863, Cooper’s brief note conveyed his annoyance: ‘I beg to give you notice that I have two of your rams … and that unless you remove them within 48 hours from the receipt of this notice I shall castrate the same.’1


Large-scale pastoralists soon dominated the region’s farming economy, and smaller operators found it difficult to buy decent land. Even small blocks of land offered for sale were often snapped up by station owners. The ambitious but cash-poor had to work on stations and try to save enough money out of wages to buy their own property. Between 1892 and 1935 the government purchased parts of 56 stations, totalling 107,154 hectares, under the Land for Settlements acts to subdivide into small farms.

Town founding

Early Hawke’s Bay towns grew up after the settlement of the country blocks by pastoral runholders (farmers). Napier (1855), Havelock North (1860) and Wairoa (1865) were founded by the government, while Waipawa (1860), Waipukurau (1860s) and Hastings (1873) grew from subdivisions created by pastoralists and land speculators.

Settling the Seventy Mile Bush

The heavily forested inland area in southern Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, known as the Seventy Mile Bush, was not comprehensively settled by Europeans until the 1870s. Before this only a few pastoral stations had been established in forest clearings around present-day Dannevirke (the first in 1861). In 1870 this was one of the largest areas of land in the region still owned by Māori.

When Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel implemented an immigration and public-works scheme designed to boost economic growth in the 1870s, the Seventy Mile Bush was identified as a good place to settle new immigrants. This coincided with the plans of local politicians like John Davies Ormond and Donald McLean, who wanted to open up the forest lands for settlement and enable overland access into Hawke’s Bay from the south.

In 1871, 250,000 acres (101,171 hectares) was purchased, and this land was settled by assisted immigrants from Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1872. The Danes had no experience in felling forests, but all the groups managed to clear the land and establish small farms. The townships of Norsewood, Dannevirke and Woodville were located on the new road and rail route through the bush.

    • Quoted in Patrick Parsons, Waipukurau: the history of a country town. Waipukurau: Waipukurau Rotary Club, 1999, p. 62. Back

Pastoral farming

Early farming

Pastoral farming – sheep and, later, beef cattle – has been a key part of the Hawke’s Bay economy, past and present. Pastoral runholders like John Davies Ormond and Henry Russell were some of the earliest European settlers. They established vast stations which formed the backbone of the regional economy for many years. The first sheep, a flock of 3,000 merinos, were driven into the region in 1849.

Funny-looking horse

Cattle were first brought into Hawke’s Bay to supply households with milk and other dairy products, rather than for meat. In 1844 missionary William Colenso arrived in the region with two heifers, two cows and a bull. Their arrival was of great interest to Māori, who had never seen these animals before, and debated whether they were cows or horses. Life was tough for these animals – most of Colenso’s cattle died early, and his horse, which he acquired in 1846, starved to death while he was away from home.

At first, sheep were mainly farmed for their wool. When refrigeration reached the region in 1884 sheep could be profitably farmed for meat, and difficult hill country became productive. Freezing works opened through the region and became major employers. Hastings and smaller towns that served the rural hinterland grew on the coat-tails of the farming economy.

From the 1950s better pasture plants, the elimination of many sheep diseases, and new technology – particularly aerial fertiliser topdressing – resulted in higher productivity. World prices for New Zealand farm products were high enough to support investment and spending. Hawke’s Bay shared in the good times.

Down times

The sector has seen its share of down times. Pastoral farming was not profitable during the economic depressions of the 1870s and 1880s, and the 1930s. The post-Second World War boom was over by the early 1970s, and the removal of agricultural subsidies and trade tariffs by the Labour government in the 1980s hit hard, as the region was so reliant on the agricultural sector. The closure of the Whakatū and Tōmoana freezing works in 1986 and 1994 respectively resulted in the loss of thousands of permanent and seasonal jobs.

Droughts have often been a problem for agriculture in the region.

Central Hawke’s Bay accent

Members of Central Hawke’s Bay’s pastoral elite evolved a distinctive accent reminiscent of the English upper class. Few of the original runholders came from privileged backgrounds, so the accent must have been adopted over time by second and third generations secure in their status as the region’s leading families. It was not much heard anymore by the early 2000s.

The pastoral elite

In the 19th century owners of pastoral stations, particularly those located in Central Hawke’s Bay and the Heretaunga plains, developed into a local version of the English landed gentry – a social phenomenon also found in Wairarapa and Canterbury. Land ownership on a large scale gave them power locally and nationally. Once pastoral stations (large farms) were established, the wealth generated resulted in a privileged lifestyle. Grand homesteads, the first built in the 1870s, were its most obvious expression.

Some station owners founded townships on their land, such as H. H. Bridge (who founded Ongaonga in 1872) and Sydney Johnston (Takapau in 1876), and acted like lords of the manor. Balls, house parties and hunt meets were regular events on the social calendar well into the 20th century. Stations passed down from father to son over generations.

Shifting social conventions, and the removal of subsidies and other forms of agricultural support in the 1980s, changed this world. Farming alone could no longer maintain a privileged lifestyle. Children were less inclined to continue farming, and changes to matrimonial property laws often meant that properties were subdivided or sold if a couple divorced. Some homesteads, such as Wallingford and Oruawharo (both near Waipukurau) have been converted into luxury lodges or events centres.

Agricultural employment in the 2010s

In the 2010s sheep and beef farming employed the second-largest group of people (behind horticultural farming) in the agricultural sector. Agriculture and the manufacturing sector were the biggest employers in the region. Meat processing employed the largest group of people in the manufacturing sector.

Dairy farming was a relatively small industry and employer in the region as a whole. Dairy factories had been significant in the Wairoa, Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay districts in the past, and in the 2000s dairying was still important around Dannevirke and Woodville.

Some farmers have diversified into exotic forestry. Most plantation owners in the region are large overseas companies or farmers with small farm forests.


Hawke’s Bay is the largest apple-, peach- and squash-growing region in New Zealand. In 2007 it had 4,930 hectares of wine grapes, making it the second largest wine-growing region, behind Marlborough. It is best known for its red wines and chardonnay.

Food and wine production is concentrated on the Heretaunga plains and river valleys, and in the Ruataniwha district, near Waipawa in Central Hawke’s Bay, where water resources and climatic conditions are ideal for this type of intensive farming. Grapes are also grown along the coast between the Esk River and Te Awanga.

Briny bordeaux

In the early 1850s the first French Catholic missionaries sent to the region initially set up their mission in Gisborne by mistake. When they realised their error, they moved south to Ahuriri, leaving behind a half-built house and fledgling grapevines. A couple of years later a fellow Catholic missionary found the vine loaded with grapes. He made wine and sent a cask by sea to his colleagues in Ahuriri. However, when the cask was tapped it was full of seawater – the sailors had obviously put it to less holy uses than the winemaker intended.

Early horticulture

In the early 19th century Māori grew peaches around kāinga (villages) from stones they had been given by traders and other early Europeans. Missionaries like William Colenso planted and distributed fruit trees and vegetable plants in the region. Food plants were mainly grown for home use or small-scale trading until the 1890s, when commercial growing began in earnest.

French Catholic missionaries introduced grapes to Hawke’s Bay in 1851, so they could make sacramental wine. They later established a successful vineyard and wine-making business that lived on as the Mission Estate winery near Napier, owned by the Society of Mary. Other early commercial wineries still in business in the 2000s included Te Mata Estate in Havelock North (founded in 1892) and Vidal Estate near Hastings (founded in 1905).

Commercial food crops

The first successful food crop business was started by James Nelson Williams, who planted a large orchard at Frimley, near Hastings, in 1892 and opened a canning factory in 1904. In 1910 there were 546 hectares of orchards around Hastings, with hundreds of hectares being converted to orcharding each year. Most were planted in peaches, apples and pears.

The orchard boom encouraged other new businesses, such as nurseries and coolstores. Overseas exports began in the early 20th century, but were interrupted by the First World War. A strong domestic market kept the industry going until large-scale exporting began in the interwar period.

Let there be light

In 1928, after arguing with his neighbours over pruning methods, Italian immigrant and apple grower Vincenzo (Victor) Cacciopoli took to his trees on a moonlit night. He removed the middle of each tree, leaving only 4–5 leader branches on each and letting in lots of light, which was the method used on the family orchard in Italy (in New Zealand up to 20 leaders were kept after pruning). Cacciopoli’s first harvest was poor and his neighbours felt vindicated, but subsequent crops were record-breakers. His orchard became a tourist attraction and his pruning method common.

The region’s most successful and enduring horticultural business is Wattie’s, a food processing company started in Hastings by James Wattie in 1934. The company began by pulping and canning fruit and vegetables, before diversifying into products like jams, sauces, soups, frozen produce, baby food, pet food and pre-prepared meals. It became a major employer and provided income for local growers.

Wine industry development

The area planted with grapes tripled between 1945 and the late 1960s, and wine production increased rapidly. By this time most of the vineyards were owned by large wine-making companies, and their average size was large compared to other grape-growing regions.

During the 1960s and 1970s the local industry was characterised by bulk growing of white grapes with an emphasis on quantity. In the early 1980s small-scale ‘boutique’ vineyards began to appear. While large corporate growers were still present, most wine-growers in the 2000s were small and aimed to produce top-quality wine.

Employment in horticulture

Rapid development often led to a shortage of horticultural workers, even in the early years when children could be employed. Labour shortages forced Wattie’s to become highly mechanised.

After the Second World War 60% of Wattie’s employees were Māori, and women were increasingly hired for seasonal work. The seasonal character of the industry meant that work was plentiful for parts of the year, but scarce in others. In the 1970s employment in the Hastings district was growing at one of the fastest rates in the country, but Hastings also had the highest unemployment rate because of the seasonal nature of the work.

In the 2010s horticultural farming (particularly fruitgrowing) provided the most jobs in the agricultural sector, while fruit and vegetable processing employed the second-largest number in the manufacturing sector. Though the wine industry was a relatively small employer, Hawke’s Bay was renowned for its wine and food, which attracted both migrants and visitors.

Government, education and health

Provincial government, 1853–1876

When New Zealand became self-governing in 1853, Hawke’s Bay became part of the newly created Wellington province. At first it shared two seats on the Provincial Council and one in the General Assembly (Parliament) with Wairarapa. Relatively little money was spent by the Provincial Council in the sparsely populated region, and discontented settlers lobbied for separation from Wellington, which occurred in 1858.

The Hawke’s Bay Provincial Council was dominated by pastoral farmers and characterised by infighting and factional rivalry during its 18-year history. Conflict often arose because of personal grievances and competition to purchase Māori land, rather than differences over government business.

During this period, road boards responsible for building and maintaining roads were also established.

Land wars

The second chair of the Hawke’s Bay County Council, shopkeeper Frederick Sutton, was notorious for the way he obtained Māori land. He gave Māori extensive credit on goods at his store, underwritten by a mortgage on their land. If they couldn’t pay, he took the land. This strategy didn’t always work. In 1874 he tried to acquire the last remaining Māori share in a block of land by moving his house onto it. Owner Karaitiana Takamoana and his followers retaliated by dismantling the house and throwing the pieces across the road onto Sutton’s property. The courts found in Takamoana‘s favour.

Local government

The provincial system was abolished in 1876, and county councils took over local governance in rural areas. Initially, three county councils were set up in the region: Wairoa, Hawke’s Bay and Waipawa. More were created in the south as the population grew. Borough, town and, later, city councils were also created. Napier became the first borough in 1874. River boards (and, later, the Hawke’s Bay Catchment Board) were responsible for flood control.

This structure remained much the same until local government was comprehensively reformed throughout the country in 1989. Four new territorial authorities – Napier City Council, Hastings District Council, Central Hawke’s Bay District Council and Wairoa District Council – and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council were created, replacing numerous small authorities and the catchment board.

Southern Hawke’s Bay came under the Tararua District Council and the Manawatū–Wanganui Regional Council (also known as Horizons Regional Council).

Parliamentary representation

For most of the 20th century and into the 21st, Napier voters returned Liberal and then Labour party candidates in general elections. Central and southern electorates favoured the National Party and its conservative predecessors. Voting patterns in the Hastings electorate (now part of Tukituki) are more varied – voters have regularly alternated between Labour and National. In the 2017 general election, Labour retained Napier while National held onto Tukituki.

The Māori electorates – Eastern Māori and, from 1996, Ikaroa–Rāwhiti and Waiariki – traditionally favoured Liberal and – after the defeat of Sir Apirana Ngata in 1943 – Labour candidates. The Labour Party won both seats in 2017.

Notable Hawke’s Bay politicians include Keith Holyoake (National), the member of Parliament for the Pahīatua electorate, which covered southern Hawke’s Bay, who was prime minister in 1957 and 1960–1972; Duncan MacIntyre (National), MP for Hastings 1960–1972 and deputy prime minister 1981–1984 (when he was MP for East Cape); and Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Māori Party 2004–2013, who grew up in Takapau.


Church missionaries set up schools for Māori and Pākehā in the early days of European settlement. Children were also taught at home by parents or tutors, and some were sent out of the region or overseas for schooling.

The first public school opened in Napier in 1855 and others followed as the population grew. Public secondary schools opened later in the 19th century.

Private schools have long been a feature of the region. The most well-known and prestigious are Woodford House and Iona College for girls (both later integrated into the state system), and Hereworth School for boys, all in Havelock North. They were founded to educate the children of wealthy runholders.

Hawke’s Bay also has Māori primary and secondary schools. The first, Te Aute College for boys, opened in 1854. Hukarere Girls’ College opened in 1875.

In 2015 the region had 136 primary and secondary schools, and 21 (mainly small) tertiary institutions. The main provider of tertiary education is the Eastern Institute of Technology in Taradale, Napier.

Health services

In the early days government provided little in the way of health services. People in need of care relied on independent doctors, and family and community support. The first public hospital opened in Napier in 1860, and this served the entire region until a second was opened in Waipukurau in 1879. Other hospitals followed, including Wairoa (1888), Dannevirke (1906) and Hastings (1928).

In the 1990s the government wanted to rationalise health services, and some hospitals, including Napier and Dannevirke, closed.

In the 2010s the region was covered by the Hawke’s Bay and MidCentral district health boards. The main hospital was located in Hastings, with district and community health centres in Wairoa, Napier, Waipukurau and Dannevirke. Organisations such as Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga in Hastings provided health and other social services to Māori.

Transport and infrastructure

Tracks and rivers

Māori used tracks and waterways to get around. One important track from Ahuriri followed the Esk River and connecting streams to the inland mountain ranges and beyond to Taupō. War parties from the interior of the North Island also used this track.

Extra baggage

Missionaries and their families did a lot of walking on Māori tracks. Elizabeth Colenso, wife of William, travelled more than 200 kilometres overland from the mission station at Waitangi, near Clive, to Tūranga (Gisborne) about six weeks before the birth of her second child in 1845. She was carried in a litter part of the way, but difficult country meant that she often had to walk. In his diary William wrote ‘I shuddered sometimes to see the places Mrs. Colenso had to climb up and down – more than doubly hazardous in the present wet winter season.’ 1

Rivers running down to the coast that were navigable by waka (canoe), such as the Tukituki, were used like highways. The sea was another important thoroughfare.

Early European settlers also relied on the Tukituki River to transport goods like wool. They used Māori tracks, some of which were expanded into bullock tracks and roads.


Early on, Napier and its port became the commercial centre of the region, so roads connecting it with outlying towns were a priority. The Napier–Waipukurau road was started in the late 1850s and was useable by 1860. A bridle track (suitable for horses but not wheeled vehicles) was formed between Napier and Wairoa in the 1860s, and a wider dray road in the late 1890s.

Car culture

Bernard Chambers, winemaker and owner of Te Mata Peak, brought the first car (an Oldsmobile) into Hawke’s Bay in 1902. By 1927 there were 7,000 cars in the region, about one for every 10 people; by 1966 there were 2.7 for every 10 people. On the day of the 2006 census, 65% of employed people in Hawke’s Bay travelled to work by private or company vehicle. Only 7% biked or walked or jogged, and just 0.36% took a bus.

A military road was built inland to Taupō between 1869 and 1872. Other roads were built over the Kaweka Range to the Rangitīkei district (ironically known as ‘Gentle Annie’) and in southern Hawke’s Bay from the 1860s and 1870s. A number of roads had been built throughout the Heretaunga plains by the turn of the 20th century, and routes to other regions were completed by the 1930s.

Small rural populations made financing and maintaining roads difficult. The many streams and rivers in the region meant expensive bridges, and roads in the hills and mountain ranges required extensive earthworks.

There are four state highways in Hawke’s Bay:

  • State Highway 2 (Woodville to Mōrere)
  • State Highway 5 (the Hawke's Bay section runs from Eskdale to Tarawera)
  • State Highway 38 (the Hawke's Bay section runs from Wairoa to Lake Waikaremoana)
  • State Highway 50 (Takapau to Napier via Ongaonga and Tikokino).

The region has many unsealed roads, particularly along the coast south of Cape Kidnappers and in the western mountain ranges. In 2009 the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council maintained 406 kilometres of unsealed road – nearly half its entire network.

Shipping and ports

Coastal shipping was an early form of transport used by whalers and flax traders.

Napier has always been the region’s main port. The inner harbour at Ahuriri was used until a breakwater was built on the outer coast in the 1890s. The 1931 earthquake lifted the seabed and Ahuriri could no longer be used by larger ships.

In the 2010s the major types of export cargo handled by the port of Napier were wood products, foodstuffs, wool and animal by-products. Major imports were oil products, cement, fertiliser and consumer goods imported for sale by local businesses.

Smaller ports were located at Wairoa and Waikōkopu, near Māhia. Coastal vessels also visited smaller bays to collect cargo such as wool. Farmers relied on this service until road and rail networks improved in the early decades of the 20th century. None of these ports or bays are now used for commercial transport.


A railway line between Napier and Hastings opened in 1874. The line reached Waipukurau in 1876, Dannevirke in 1884, Woodville in 1887, and Palmerston North via the Manawatū Gorge in 1891. A branch line connecting Woodville to Masterton opened in 1897.

The line north proceeded more slowly. The Napier–Wairoa line was opened in 1937 and the line to Gisborne was completed in 1943.

The Bay Express passenger service from Gisborne to Wellington via Hawke’s Bay was cancelled in 2001. In the 2010s the region’s railway lines generally carried freight traffic, though passenger trains on special tours sometimes passed through.

Power generation

Hydroelectric power stations were built on waterways flowing from Lake Waikaremoana between 1926 and 1948 as part of a larger North Island power scheme. The area’s high rainfall made it an obvious choice, but it was a difficult location – tunnelling through a slip near the lake took four years and conditions were described as the most difficult in the country.


Napier and Hastings competed for the region’s main airport in the 1950s. The first airport had been built in Napier in 1932, on land raised by the 1931 earthquake. By the 1950s, when improvements were needed, Hastings was growing faster and its politicians argued that a new airport should be built at nearby Bridge Pā. A government committee decided in Napier’s favour because it already had an established airport.

Hawke’s Bay Airport at Napier hosted 23,500 aircraft movements and 750,000 passengers in the 2018/19 fiscal year. Aerodromes catering for smaller operators and pilot training are in Dannevirke, Pōrangahau, Bridge Pā, Waipukurau and Wairoa.

    • Quoted in A. H. Reed, The story of Hawke’s Bay. Wellington: A. H. & A. W Reed, 1958, p. 73. Back

Arts, culture and built heritage

Institutions and groups

In the 19th century the Hawke’s Bay Philosophical Institute, local athenaeums (libraries) and mechanics’ institutes provided cultural and learning opportunities. Some towns later had amateur operatic and theatrical societies. Small-town and rural people had to make their own cultural fun. Groups such as the Taradale Community Players (started in 1957) were founded throughout the 20th century.

Organised women


The first New Zealand branch of the Women’s Institute, an organisation that promoted women’s activities outside the home and in the community, was set up in Rissington (north-west of Napier), in 1921 by Bessie Spencer and her sister Amy Hutchinson. By 1925 there were six institutes in Hawke’s Bay and together they formed the first provincial federation. In 2018 there were 245 local institutes and 38 district federations nationwide.


The region’s major cultural institution is the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery (now MTG Hawke’s Bay) in Napier, which opened in 1936 on the site of the old athenaeum.

Māori heritage

There are 75 Ngāti Kahungunu and 11 Rangitāne marae in Hawke’s Bay. Waipapa a Iwi marae in Mōhaka is distinguished by its historic round meeting house, Rongomaiwahine. The Tākitimu meeting house in Wairoa was unveiled in 1938 as a memorial to Sir James Carroll, a distinguished Ngāti Kahungunu politician.

Ōtātara in Taradale, which dates from the 16th century, is one of the most important pā sites in New Zealand. Ngāti Paarau hapū of Waiohiki are kaitiaki (guardians) of the site.

Unusual treasures


The Hawke’s Bay region is well populated with conventional museums, but these are joined by some more unusual establishments, including the Silky Oak Chocolate Museum near Napier, the Beatles Museum in Hastings and the Woodville Reed Organ Museum. The Woodville Pioneer Museum is reputed to have the largest teapot collection in New Zealand – approximately 800.


Early European heritage

Grand houses were built for the owners of large pastoral stations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many survived into the 2000s. A house built in 1875, associated with the Williams missionary family, is near Te Aute College in Central Hawke’s Bay. Part of missionary William Colenso’s house survives in Napier. Huts built from the 1870s to the 1940s are found in the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges.

Art deco

Art deco architecture is the most celebrated part of Hawke’s Bay’s built heritage. Napier, and to a lesser extent the wider region, has constructed its branding around this architectural style, which was current from the 1920s to the Second World War. The Art Deco Festival in February is a popular annual event.

Earthquake opportunity


After the 1931 earthquake many architectural graduates from Auckland University College were employed to draft plans for the new buildings and design the decorative motifs that are a central feature of art deco buildings. New Zealand was in the midst of an economic depression at the time, and this work meant they could avoid joining the ranks of the unemployed alongside graduates in other disciplines.


Most of these buildings were constructed after the destructive 1931 earthquake, though some pre-date this event. Napier is known as the art deco capital, but this and other styles of the era can also be seen in Hastings, Havelock North and Wairoa.


Painter Gottfried Lindauer lived and worked in Napier (1885–89) and Woodville (1889–1926). He is best known for his portraits of Māori, including Ngāti Kahungunu men and women. Photographer Samuel Carnell took many photographs of iwi members, leaving an invaluable visual record of Ngāti Kahungunu in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Painter Rita Angus was born in Hastings in 1908. She left to attend Canterbury College of Art, but during return visits she painted the region’s landscape and buildings, including the ruins of the 1931 earthquake.

Other notable artists associated with Hawke’s Bay are Sandy Adsett, Jenny Campbell, Dick Frizzell, Roland Hipkins, Allan Maddox, Bruce and Estell Martin, Para Matchitt and Martin Poppelwell.


In 1921 Herbert Guthrie-Smith published Tutira: the story of a New Zealand sheep station, an internationally acclaimed natural and cultural history of his sheep station at Tūtira.

Other writers connected to the region include Barbara Anderson, Alan Duff, Lauris Edmond, Maurice Gee, Noel Hilliard, Louis Johnson, Sue McCauley, Peter Wells and Mere Whaanga.


James Chapman-Taylor designed a number of buildings (mainly houses) in Hawke’s Bay in the 1910s and early 1920s. His most unusual commission was a combined house and temple, called Whare Ra (1915), for a spiritualist group connected to the Havelock Work, an arts and literary society based in Havelock North.

Louis Hay designed many of the buildings constructed after the 1931 earthquake, including the well-known National Tobacco Company building in Ahuriri, Napier.

John Scott – best known for Futuna Chapel in Karori, Wellington – spent most of his life in Hawke’s Bay. Most of his buildings in the region are private houses, though he also designed the Our Lady of Lourdes church in the centre of Havelock North. A public commission of national importance was the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre (1975–76) for the former Urewera National Park.

Sport, leisure and tourism


Rugby was one of the earliest organised sports in Hawke’s Bay. A club was formed in Napier in 1875, and it is likely that the game was played in other districts before this. Club members played against themselves by forming two teams, until matches with Gisborne started in 1878. The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union (formed in 1884) was the first union outside the four main centres (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin). By then clubs had also started in Wairoa and at Te Aute College.

The Hawke’s Bay team became known as the Magpies after their black and white jerseys. It was the top provincial side in the 1920s and held the Ranfurly Shield in 1922–27 and 1966–69. By 2015 it had fielded 49 players in national All Blacks teams.

The region’s best-known sporting heroes have been rugby players like George Nēpia, Maurice and Cyril Brownlie, and Kel Tremain.

McLean Park in Napier hosts international cricket and (occasionally) rugby matches.

When time stood still

When horticultural magnate James Wattie entered his horse Even Stevens in the Melbourne Cup race in 1962, a sound system was installed in the Wattie’s factory in Hastings, so workers could listen to the race. Once it started work ceased, and the hotels in Hastings stopped serving beer. Even Stevens won, and when Wattie arrived back in town he booked out a hotel and shouted his entire staff a celebratory drink.

Horse sports

Horse racing was another popular early sport. Most 19th-century settlements had annual race meetings, often during the Christmas–New Year period. The first formal meeting in Hawke’s Bay was held at Clive in 1856. Horse breeding and training became popular with runholders. Stud farms devoted to breeding racehorses sprang up around Hastings, which was still a popular place for this activity in the 2010s.

The major racecourse in the region is the Hawke’s Bay Racing Centre in Hastings. Smaller courses are in Wairoa, Waipukurau and Woodville.

Other equestrian sports played in the region are polo (Hastings and Wanstead), rodeo (Hastings, Mōhaka and Wairoa) and cross-country hunting. The first pony club in New Zealand was formed in Hastings in 1940, and the city has hosted the Horse of the Year show since 1999.

Tramping, walking and cycling

The inland mountain ranges are popular tramping (hiking) spots. The Department of Conservation manages more than 40 tracks within the regional conservancy, which is centred on the Ruahine and Kaweka forest parks and Te Urewera. Tracks also follow the coastline. Endurance events take advantage of this environment and are held around the peaks of Havelock North, in Esk Valley, and between Lake Waikaremoana and Wairoa.

Walking and cycling tracks are located in urban centres and some rural areas. A walking track created on Te Mata Peak in 2017 was closed after objections that it compromised the special character of the area

In 2002 Rotary clubs began building walking and cycling paths in the Napier and Hastings area. Heritage trails suitable for walkers are found from Mōrere in the north to Woodville in the south.

Water sports

Many of the region’s rivers are used for adventure sports such as kayaking and rafting, and more sedate pursuits like fishing. Popular swimming beaches are located on Māhia Peninsula, at Westshore in Napier, and along the coast between Haumoana and Herbertville. Power-boat racing takes place off the Napier coast. Splash Planet in Hastings is New Zealand’s largest water theme park.


Hawke’s Bay’s climate attracted the first tourists in the late 19th century. Many came for their health, believing the warm, dry climate would help those suffering from debilitating illnesses such as tuberculosis. Napier also attracted travellers en route to the ‘hot lakes’ at Rotorua.

Race to the top

In the 19th century the road up to the mountain resort of Kurīpāpango was served by two coach companies. Competition for passengers evolved into a race to get to the top from Napier – a hair-raising journey for passengers, but entertaining for those who lived along the route. Some reportedly kept their binoculars on the roadside window sill so they could follow the action.

Despite its isolation, accommodation was available at Lake Waikaremoana from the 1870s. The government ran a tourist lodge there from 1909 until 1972. Kurīpāpango in the Kaweka Range became popular as a summertime mountain retreat, and a hotel was opened there in about 1881.

Napier and Hastings promoted themselves as tourist destinations from the early 20th century, and development groups such as the Napier Thirty Thousand Club, Hastings Progress League and Greater Hastings organised events and published booklets designed to attract visitors. The region was a popular spot with domestic holidaymakers throughout the 20th century and into the 2000s. In the 1980s the region began to draw tourists interested in food, wine and art deco architecture.

20th-century developments

Town rivalry

Napier was Hawke’s Bay’s leading town throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. It was the region’s administrative centre and housed its most vital piece of infrastructure – the main port. However, the value of goods exported from the port fell from the 1890s, and, until the early 20th century, so did Napier’s population. The town was built on a sandy spit of land surrounded by water, which also hindered expansion and growth, despite some land reclamation.

By contrast, the nearby town of Hastings grew steadily into the 20th century. It was supported by profitable industries such as meat processing and horticulture, and surrounded by flat land suitable for urban expansion.

The growth of Hastings, and its close proximity to Napier, created a sense of rivalry between the two towns. By the 1920s Hastings was the main shopping centre of the region. Though both were subject to fluctuating economic fortunes during this decade, Hastings seemed to be prospering ahead of Napier. The 1931 earthquake changed this.

1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on 3 February 1931 was the most significant event in the region’s modern history. For people who lived through it, it became a boundary marker – life was divided into before and after the ‘quake’.

Its effect was complex. At least 256 people died, and most of central Napier and parts of other towns (mainly Hastings) were destroyed. However, the earthquake raised over 2,000 hectares of land around the Ahuriri Lagoon in Napier, providing vital room for the previously water-bound town to grow. The construction of new industry, housing and an airport on reclaimed land prevented Hastings from overtaking its rival.

The twin cities

Napier achieved city status (20,000 people) in 1950, followed closely by Hastings in 1956. Both had housing shortages after the Second World War and new suburbs, which included state (public) housing, were built.

In the 1960s and 1970s the two cities competed to secure a polytechnic (Napier won when it was built in nearby Taradale) and disagreed over local government reform, which Napier managed to control in its favour. Though Hastings was the regional centre of the agricultural and horticultural industries, and the favoured location of head offices by this period, Napier had more government department offices and retained a political edge.

In 1999 a merger of the two cities was mooted. This was supported by 67.1% of Hastings district voters but only 25.3% of Napier voters. Napier residents were reluctant to take on Hastings, with its large rural hinterland.

At times, the cities worked together on certain initiatives, most notably Hawke’s Bay Incorporated, the regional economic development agency.


Snapshot of a region


Almost three-quarters of the population live in a very small part of the region – in two urban centres in unusually close proximity. In 2013, 80.5% of the population lived in Napier city and the Hastings district, mostly in urban areas. The rural districts were sparsely populated in comparison: Central Hawke’s Bay contained 7.9% of the population, southern Hawke’s Bay 6.7% and the Wairoa district 4.9%.


In 2013 the median yearly income of Hawke’s Bay people aged 15 and over was lower than the national median of $28,500. The central and Hastings districts had the highest median income ($26,700 and $26,500 respectively), followed by southern Hawke's Bay ($26,100), Napier city ($26,000) and Wairoa district ($22,000).

Slightly more of the regional population earned $20,000 or less per year (39.4%) than the national average (38.2%). Less than half (12.1%) the national average (26.7%) earned more than $50,000.

Ethnic identity

Though the majority (78.1%) of the population identified as European in 2013 (higher than the national figure of 74%), 24.2% identified as Māori, compared to 14.9% of New Zealanders as a whole. The Wairoa district had the third-highest percentage (62.9%) of Māori residents in the country.

Other ethnic communities were small and well below their proportion in the country. Pacific Islanders were 4.2% of the Hawke’s Bay population (New Zealand 7.4%) and Asians 3.5% (11.8%). 

Divided region

Census data showed a clear division between northern Hawke’s Bay (the Wairoa district) and the rest of the region. The population of the north is falling, unlike most of the region. In 2013 the north had the lowest proportion of people with post-school qualifications, and the highest without any formal qualifications. Income was lowest and unemployment highest. 54.8% of northern households had access to the internet, compared to nearly three-quarters of households in Napier and the Hastings district.

The north’s poor performance is due to its relative isolation, reliance on industries prone to economic restructuring such as meat processing, and a related lack of diverse employment opportunities.

Social challenges

While Hawke’s Bay has cultivated an image as ‘the bountiful bay’ – based on its agricultural and horticultural prosperity and status as a fine-food, wine and architecture destination – deep-seated social problems hinted at by census statistics exist alongside the good stories. 1

Areas of extreme social and economic deprivation are found throughout the region – mainly in the Wairoa district but also in suburban Napier (Maraenui) and Hastings (Flaxmere), the rural towns of Waipukurau and Woodville, and the coastal settlement of Pōrangahau. A 2008 study indicated that the health of the Hawke’s Bay population was very poor in many respects (mainly disease mortality rates) compared to New Zealand as a whole.

Gangs (mainly the Mongrel Mob and Black Power) have a presence in Napier, Hastings and Wairoa. Youth gangs are prevalent in Flaxmere, though most are low-key and not associated with violence or other criminal activity.

Breeding ground

The Mongrel Mob is reputed to have been founded in Hastings in the late 1960s after a group of mainly Pākehā youth facing criminal charges were described by the presiding judge as a ‘pack of mongrels’.2 The judge’s words provided the inspiration for a gang name and philosophy that would spread throughout New Zealand. As Māori moved into urban areas, some became involved in crime and gangs – and the Mongrel Mob changed from a Pākehā gang to a Māori one.

Tribal authorities

Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated was set up in 1988. It is the major Māori tribal authority for Hawke’s Bay and in the 2000s offered educational, health, social and cultural programmes, environmental advocacy and economic development initiatives. A holding company, which managed the iwi’s fisheries assets and other investments, was established in 2005.

The incorporation’s rohe (area) was divided into five taiwhenua (districts) in Hawke’s Bay and one in Wairarapa, with offices in the main centres of each district. Satellite groups for iwi members who live outside the region were found throughout the country. Non-Kahungunu Māori in the region could access the incorporation’s services.

Rangitāne o Tamaki nui a Rua incorporation also covered southern Hawke’s Bay, providing mainly social and health services.

    • Lauren Quaintance, ‘The bountiful bay: let the good times roll.’ North and South 181 (April 2001). Back
    • Tuhoe ‘Bruno’ Isaac, True red. Pukekohe: True Red, 2007, p. 2. Back

Facts and figures

Land area

  • Hawke’s Bay: 14,641 sq km
  • New Zealand: 268,690 sq km

Climate (Napier)

(National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research data, 1981–2010)

  • Mean temperature, January: 19.5°C
  • Mean temperature, July: 9.4°C
  • Mean annual rainfall: 784 mm
  • Mean annual sunshine: 2,258 hours

Total population, 2006 and 2013

  • Hawke’s Bay: 159,063 (2006); 162,096 (2013)
  • New Zealand: 4,027,947 (2006); 4,242,051 (2013)

Ethnic affiliation, 2013

(Multiple responses allowed)


  • Hawke’s Bay: 78.1%
  • New Zealand: 74.0%


  • Hawke’s Bay: 24.2%
  • New Zealand: 14.9%

Pacific Island

  • Hawke’s Bay: 4.2%
  • New Zealand: 7.4%

Asian (including Indian)

  • Hawke’s Bay: 3.5%
  • New Zealand: 11.8%

Middle Eastern, Latin American, African

  • Hawke’s Bay: 0.4%
  • New Zealand: 1.2%

Principal tribes and sub-tribes

Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine

Population of major urban areas, 2013

  • Hastings (including Havelock North):  73,245
  • Napier: 57,240

Age distribution, 2013

Under 15

  • Hawke’s Bay: 21.7%
  • New Zealand: 20.4%


  • Hawke’s Bay: 61.4%
  • New Zealand: 65.3%

65 and over

  • Hawke’s Bay: 16.9%
  • New Zealand: 14.3%

Employment by industry, 2013

(Figures are for workers aged 15 and over, in selected industries in which the region’s employment pattern is most distinctive)

Agriculture, forestry and fishing

  • Hawke’s Bay: 17.6%
  • New Zealand: 5.8% 


  • Hawke’s Bay: 13.8%
  • New Zealand: 9.8%

Professional services

  • Hawke’s Bay: 4.2%
  • New Zealand: 7.8%

Unemployment, 2013

  • Hawke’s Bay: 7%
  • New Zealand: 7.1%

Livestock numbers, 2012


  • Hawke’s Bay: 3,262,468
  • New Zealand: 31,262,715

Dairy cattle

  • Hawke’s Bay: 93,047
  • New Zealand: 6,445,681

Beef cattle

  • Hawke’s Bay: 471,010
  • New Zealand: 3,734,412

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Kerryn Pollock, 'Hawke’s Bay region', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Kerryn Pollock, i tāngia i te 13 o Ākuhata 2009, updated 1 o Hūrae 2015