Kōrero: Manawatū and Horowhenua places

Whārangi 9. Horowhenua

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


Large town 50 km south-west of Palmerston North and 95 km north of Wellington, with a 2013 urban population (including Waitārere and Hōkio), of 19,437. It lies in a tract south of the lower Manawatū River and north of the Ōhau. The Muaūpoko people continued to live there alongside hapū of Ngāti Raukawa. Communities clustered at that time on the coast and around lakes Horowhenua and Papaitonga (Waiwiri).


The Levin district was one of the last in the region to be opened to Pākehā settlement, but by the 1880s the Wellington–Manawatū railway had been built. The Muaūpoko tribe and their leader Keepa Te Rangihiwinui were prepared to sell land for a township, provided every tenth section was granted back to Muaūpoko individuals. A second requirement was a town square and a reserve by Lake Horowhenua, with Keepa as a trustee. But financial pressures on Keepa meant that the Crown was able to drop these conditions. The town, which was to be called Taitoko after Keepa’s father, was named Levin after a railway company director, W. H. Levin.


The railway changed the way of life in the district. The original settlements had sprung up along the coast, but now they followed the railway inland. Where once you went ‘back’ into the interior, you now went ‘out’ to the coast. A government scheme fostered farm ownership. The town grew steadily as farming developed and overshadowed the railway settlements of Koputāroa and Ōhau. It became a borough in 1906.

The Māori presence is evident in the Muaūpoko and Ngāti Raukawa meeting houses: at Kōputaroa , Muhunoa, Kuku, Kawiu, Hokio and Poroutawhao, where Te Rangihaeata is buried.

20th-century developments

Levin grew slowly in the 1920s and 1930s, but rapidly throughout the 1940s to 1960s. Industry made products as diverse as caravans, clothing and textiles, and wallpaper. A number of specialist state institutions were also located nearby. Levin was hard hit when tariff protection was lifted for many products from the 1980s, and most of the state institutions closed. The biggest private employer today is the Carter Holt Harvey packaging plant (formerly Printpac). The town is relatively close to Wellington and fast-growing Kāpiti, and attracts retired people. In 2013, 25.7% of the population was aged 65 and over, compared with a national average of 14.3%.

Living in Levin

Novelist Janet Frame described Levin in The Carpathians (1988): ‘The houses are arranged neatly east and west of the main highway, in streets named by the English settlers after rivers and towns they would never see again. … Puamahara, known as a “good” place to retire in, has more than the usual number of homes and hospitals for the aged where the flower gardens, the mountains, are there to gaze at, the distant sea to dream about’. 1

Lake Horowhenua

Lowland lake, also known as Waipunahau, just west of Levin. One writer recalled that in the 1920s Lake Papaitonga was ‘rightly regarded as the beauty spot of the Manawatū, but in the days I speak of [1860s] it was not even regarded as challenging [Lake] Horowhenua’s claim to pre-eminence.’ 2

The two principal Muaūpoko marae overlook the lake. In pre-European and early colonial times the Muaūpoko people lived by the lake because of its rich bird, plant and water life. But much of Horowhenua’s natural beauty was lost after 1885, as the surrounding land was cleared for farming.

Lake Papaitonga

Also known as Waiwiri, small lowland lake near Levin. It was the site of island fortifications, some constructed, others natural. One housed around 400 people, surrounded by storehouses on poles rising from the shallow waters. In the 1820s the lake was the site of conflict between the Muaūpoko tribe on the one hand and Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa on the other. Ornithologist Walter Lawry Buller lived there from 1897, and part of the land was made a scenic reserve around that time. The lake itself was added in 1991. Today the reserve is an important wetland bird refuge, and one of the few North Island tracts of virgin lowland forest.


Settlement and district east of the railway and State Highway 1, 12 km south of Levin and 83 km north of Wellington. It was the first railway station built on the Wellington–Manawatū railway line, completed in 1886. The streets are named after Māori members of Parliament. Horticulture is a long-established activity. Many outsiders, often from Wellington, have bought or built houses there and at Waikawa Beach, 6 km away on the coast.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Janet Frame, The Carpathians. Auckland: Century Hutchison, 1988, pp 12–13. › Back
  2. Rod A. McDonald and E. O’Donnell, Te Hekenga: early days in Horowhenua, being the reminiscences of Mr. Rod. McDonald. Palmerston North: G. H. Bennett, 1979, p. 25. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Manawatū and Horowhenua places - Horowhenua', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/manawatu-and-horowhenua-places/page-9 (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 24 Jul 2006, updated 22 Apr 2015