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Manawatū and Horowhenua places

by  Malcolm McKinnon

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, coastal areas, and other places of interest in Manawatū and Horowhenua.

Between Rangitīkei and Ruahine

Kimbolton and environs

Kimbolton is the largest centre in the former Kiwitea county. This occupied the north-west part of Manawatū, between the Rangitīkei and Ōroua rivers. In 2013 this district had a population of 1,443.

The Beaconsfield ballot

Beaconsfield's historian, Dorothy Pilkington, writes of an auction for township sections held on 30 November 1877. Prospective buyers were lubricated by a champagne lunch, after which lots covering about 7 acres (3 hectares) were sold, for up to £18 per acre for a corner section. But the town never developed. A high cliff by the Kiwitea stream was an unwelcome feature of the planned main street. Most town sections eventually became part of farms.

It is mostly rolling country. The fertile flat land on the Cheltenham–Kimbolton highway is called Ram Alley because of the number of pedigree sheep raised there. In earlier times the district was thickly forested, and only occasionally visited by Māori. The Crown purchased the land in 1866 and 1877. Beaconsfield was opened for settlement in 1876, Rewa and Waituna West from 1880, and Kimbolton (initially called Birmingham), Ōtamakapua and Rangiwāhia from 1886.

Across the Ōroua River, the Āpiti flats were also settled in 1886, but a bridge over the deeply incised river was only completed in 1896. Since the pioneering days the districts have generally thrived on pastoral farming. But from the 1980s the relatively small population dwindled, as people had easier access to town (Feilding) and local businesses, post offices and the school closed.

No wine in the wetlands

Retiring Massey University wine microbiologist Gordon Pilone reckons that Manawatū is too wet for grapes. He has planted kahikatea trees and developed a wetland on his Pohangina property. In his spare time he dabbles in another hobby – a grass-topping business for lifestyle blocks.


Valley and adjacent hill country north-east of Palmerston North, with a 2013 district population of 1,095. It lies between the southern Ruahine Range and the ridge separating the Pohangina and Ōroua catchments. Māori trapped eels and birds there, but probably did not permanently settle except near Ashhurst, where the Pohangina and Manawatū rivers join.

European settlement began in the late 1870s and moved up the valley as sawmillers advanced in front of farmers. The population reached a peak in 1906, when sawmilling was at its height and before roads made it easier to reach larger centres. A remnant of the tōtara forest that once covered the river flats and terraces lies north of Pohangina township. The character and beauty of the valley have lured a number of ‘lifestylers’ in recent years.



20 km north-west of Palmerston North, Feilding had a 2013 urban area population of 14,826. The town was laid out in 1874, the first township on the Manchester block developed by the London-based Emigrant and Colonist’s Aid Corporation. It was sited in a natural clearing and named after Colonel William Feilding. A director of the corporation, he had come to New Zealand and bought the land. Streets were named after other corporation personnel or New Zealand political figures.

Feilding’s population reached 4,500 by 1921. It had the most important saleyards in the lower North Island: 42,000 sheep were yarded there as early as 1902.

The establishment of Feilding Agricultural High School (1921) and New Zealand’s first Young Farmers’ Club (1927) marked the importance of farming in the community. But the 1920s to 1940s were uncertain years both for dairying and hill-country sheep farming. The town thrived again after the Second World War, and at one point the freezing works employed 2,500 people – about half the labour force.

Recent times

The freezing works have declined, but the town provides other rural-related employment. The twice-weekly stock sales are a feature of Feilding life. Many rural businesses once sited on Rangitīkei Street in Palmerston North now have their offices in Feilding. Conversely, many Feilding residents work in Palmerston North.

Two historic meeting houses, Manaiahu and Kauwhata, are at Aorangi and Te Arakura, a few kilometres south of Feilding. Both belong to Ngāti Kauwhata and have close links to Ngāti Raukawa.

The Manfeild car racing track attracts crowds on race days, while the town has many farm retirees from ‘up country’. Its centre has a deserved reputation for being one of the most well-tended and attractive in the lower North Island. The reserve at Mt Lees, with gardens and bush tracks developed over 70 years, is a popular spot.

Halcombe to Ashhurst

Ōroua area

The area from Halcombe to Ashhurst forms a rectangle of land, on a north-west–south-east axis between the Rangitīkei River and the Ruahine Range. The terrain varies between hill country to the east and plains to the west.

It comprises the former Ōroua county (1901–1989), originally the Manchester block. The block was bought in 1871 by the British-based Emigrant and Colonist’s Aid Corporation, headed by the Duke of Manchester. Settlers arrived from 1874, and three townships – Feilding, Halcombe and Ashhurst – were laid out on the block. All were named after individuals active in the corporation. 13 km north-east of Feilding, Cheltenham was a point of entry to blocks further up country.


Township 13 km north-west of Feilding, with a 2013 population of 534. Halcombe was established in 1876, and has thrived as a rural centre. Nearby Stanway is named for the family of Edith Halcombe. The recently established Ngāti Manomano marae, Taumata-o-te-rā, is in the township, and the Tokorangi and Te Hīri marae are both near it. All three have links to Ngāti Raukawa.


The ancient Greeks thought the dense expanse of stars in the heavens was like milk, so named it galactos (meaning milk). English has ‘the Milky Way’ and the word ‘galaxy’. The Nathans, who owned a Manawatū dairy factory, came up with the name ‘Glaxo’ for a new powdered milk.


Township laid out along the Whanganui–Woodville railway line. It was the site of a milk-powder factory built in 1904 by the Nathans, a Wellington business family, but was destroyed by fire two years later. The factory was rebuilt, but within a few months a gelignite explosion destroyed the boiler. A rival dairy factory owner, John Gillies, was arrested for the explosions and may also have been responsible for the fire. Local feeling was on his side, and a jury acquitted him. The Nathans later branded their Bunnythorpe product as Glaxo, and for decades it was the principal milk-powder product sold in the United Kingdom.


Outlying suburb 14 km north-east of Palmerston North, with a 2013 population of 2,778. Ashhurst is near the eastern end of the Manawatū Gorge. As a Manchester block settlement, it was laid out at a small clearing in the bush, known as Ōtangaki, in 1877. It was first called Raukawa, then Ashurst. This was corrected in 1889 to Ashhurst when it was realised this was the spelling of Henry George Ashhurst, the director of the Emigrant and Colonist’s Aid Corporation after whom it was named. In 1989 it was amalgamated into Palmerston North City.

Ōhakea to Longburn


The airfield at Ōhakea, established in 1939, has become one of the principal airfields for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Laid out on flat land 30 km north-west of Palmerston North, on the left (south or east) bank of the Rangitīkei River, it is well sited for air exercises. In 1995, overspending on renovations to the base commander’s house caused a political storm. In 2015 more than 1.000 personnel worked at the base.

VIP visits

Ōhakea airfield has witnessed some historic moments. Lyndon B. Johnson arrived in October 1966 – the first visit by a US president to New Zealand. Australian Foreign Minister Bill Hayden landed for a meeting with Prime Minister David Lange at dawn on 1 May 1987, over fears of Libyan intervention in the South Pacific.


Township 24 km north-west of Palmerston North on the Manawatū plain, with a 2013 population of 534. Sanson is a long-established rural service centre, and thrives from its location at a junction of state highways 1 and 3. It dates from the Crown’s sale of the Sandon block in the late 1860s. The block was designated a township to put it out of reach of soldiers, who could exchange vouchers for rural but not urban land. The Sandon block was settled from the Hutt Valley, and given the slightly different name of Sanson (after Henry Sanson, the secretary of the Hutt Small Farm Association). This caused much confusion over the years.

The township of Sanson was the terminus of a tramway which ran from a junction with the railway line at Hīmatangi from 1883 until 1945. With several craft and antique shops, it is a popular stop for people travelling on the state highways.

Mt Stewart

135-m hill (also known as Whakaari) and trigonometrical station on State Highway 3, 19 km north-west of Palmerston North and 6 km south-east of Sanson. It was named after early surveyor John Tiffin Stewart, who chose the site for the station. A roadside memorial lookout was built in 1940 to commemorate the centenary of the British colonisation of New Zealand.


Township 19 km north-west of Palmerston North with a 2013 population of 594. Rongotea is a long-established service centre for surrounding farming districts. It dates from the Crown’s sale of the Carnarvon block in the late 1860s, with the Sandon block next to it. The name of Rongotea, at the centre of the Carnarvon block, was changed from Campbelltown (after one of its founders, Robert Campbell) in 1887. Rongotea was at the centre of an 1870s and 1880s religious revival led by converts of preacher Gordon Forlong. A large number of churches were subsequently built in the town.

Kairanga area

District consisting of once-forested areas north and west of Palmerston North. Māori settlements lay near the Manawatū River and the first Europeans came to such places, notably Bishop Ditlev Monrad and his family near Kārere. The original Māori settlement of Kairanga was at present-day Linton military camp across the river. The Pākehā settlements of Kairanga, Kārere and Tiakitahuna (Jackeytown) started life as forest clearings but within a generation were farmland.

Te Rangimarie marae at Rangiotū dates from 1858. An alternative name is Te Maungarongo o Ngā Iwi o Rangitīkei o Manawatū. It is a home for Te Rangitepaia and Hineaute hapū of the Rangitāne tribe.


Locality just west of Palmerston North city limits, with a 2013 population of 648. The settlement was a forest clearing before farming began. A cooperative butter factory opened at Longburn in 1884 and a meat freezing works in 1890. In the 1980s the country’s meat and dairy industries were restructured, and the freezing works closed in 1987. Most residents now work in Palmerston North.

Palmerston North

The largest centre of Manawatū, Palmerston North city is 140 km north-east of Wellington and 546 km south of Auckland, with a 2013 population of 77,259.


Until 1866 it was a clearing, known as Papaioea, in the forest that stretched from the main ranges almost to the west coast. In 1846 trader Charles Hartly was led through stands of tall trees to open country covered by mānuka, flax and fern, and noted ‘the crumbling remains of the stockade of the old Papaioea pa which had been built by the Rangitāne.’ 1

A struggling township

The land was sold to the Crown in 1864 and in 1866 a township, designed by J. T. Stewart, was laid out in the clearing. It included a large central square, and in 1878 Rangitāne and Ngāti Raukawa asked, unsuccessfully, that it be named Te Marae o Hine.

The township stagnated until the revival of immigration and public works in 1871. The first settlers were Scandinavians. They, and later others, worked at first on road-making. Links to the Rangitīkei and through the gorge reduced the isolation.

In 1873 the town was renamed Palmerston North, to avoid confusion with Palmerston in Otago. By 1875 there were newspapers, a doctor and a post office.

For many years Palmerston North relied on public works and sawmilling. But by 1886 its future was assured. The west coast railway from Wellington was built, and pastoral farming was underway.

A thriving centre

In 1911 Palmerston North had a population of 10,000. By 1927 this had reached 20,000 and it became a city. The saleyards were closed in 1926, and signs of city status included modern buildings, parks and suburbs. Bigger hospitals, schools, churches, offices and department stores appeared.

Shoppers’ delights

Tearooms, with live background music, became a social focal point from 1915, and seasonal fashion parades were a feature from 1926. Generations of children were entranced by the Christmas 'magic cave' at Collinson and Cunninghame’s department store, where mechanical characters and animals moved among rainbow-lit scenery.

The community

Sportspeople, musicians, artists and actors, journalists, racehorse trainers – a wide variety of people contributed to city life and culture. Prominent were promoters and local politicians such as Jimmy Nash and Matthew Oram. Also significant were Constance Abraham, a community leader; Charlotte Warburton, active with the Girl Guides and the National Party; music teacher Evelyn Rawlins; and Cath Vautier, active in sporting and community organisations. Apart from Abraham, they were from a first generation of native Palmerstonians.

Surviving the 1930s depression

The 1930s economic depression did less harm than in nearby Whanganui, because Palmerston North’s farming economy was more varied. Stock and station agents and farm equipment dealers continued to trade on Rangitīkei Street. From 1936 the transport network included Union Airways.

The city today

Modern-day Palmerston North dates from 1963, when the railway through the Square was moved to the outskirts. Massey University (including the teachers’ college), the military camp at Linton, and Palmerston North hospital reduced the dependence on farming.

A rugby museum opened in 1969, and professional theatre dates from 1974. In the 1990s café culture transformed many city streets. Families in the low-income suburb of Highbury started a whānau resource centre, tackling youth problems and developing outreach programmes. The city has three marae: Te Kūpenga o te Matauranga (Massey University), St Michaels (Highbury) and Rangitāne (Awapuni).

The Square

The character of Palmerston North’s central Square has caused heated discussion in the community. One online newspaper offers an ‘interactive square clock tower designer’ and a quiz – ‘Palmy’s Square or minefield?’, where contestants must identify whether 10 photographs are of the Square, or a First World War battlefield! 2

Innovation thrives in the city. Ezibuy, a nationwide mail-order company, has headquarters there. Smaller enterprises include Obo (the country’s leading maker of protective sportswear), Integration Technologies and R&D Solutionz (electronic products). With Massey University and related agriculture and research institutes, as well as defence establishments, the city also has substantial biotech and defence employment.

    • G. C. Petersen, The pioneering days of Palmerston North. Levin: G. C. Petersen, 1952, pp. 23–24. › Back
    • Is it Palmy's Square, or old World War One battlefield? (last accessed 30 June 2006). › Back

Manawatū River and Gorge

Manawatū River

The Manawatū River, 160 km long, rises on the eastern (Hawke’s Bay) slopes of the Ruahine Range. Downstream 50 km it enters the region through the Manawatū Gorge. The name Manawatū is attributed to the explorer Haunui-a-Nanaia, from a place where he took breath and tripped: manawa (heart), tatu (stumble).

Below the gorge the river passed through forested country to just beyond Ōpiki. Here it joined with the Ōroua, its major western tributary. Then it wended towards the sea, past the Makerua and Taonui swamps, and stands of tawa and kahikatea, and along the southern side of the great Moutoa swamp, forming an estuary in the dune-land.

Māori settlements were located along the river’s lower reaches. The swamps, and lakes and streams along the coast, provided eels, the sea provided kahawai, snapper and sharks. Thousands of kererū (pigeons) fed in the forest, and taro (an edible starchy plant) grew on coastal flats.

Forest clearing west of the ranges began in earnest in the 1870s. Since 1880 the Manawatū River system has flooded many times. The largest floods were in 1880, 1897, 1902, 1907, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1992 and 2004.

Taming the river

Early European settlers began substantial swamp drainage. So did investors in flax, which could be harvested successfully from newly drained land. When the flax industry bottomed out, the land was drained further and turned over to farming in Makerua, and later in Moutoa and Whirokino. In 1942 a new channel, from Whirokino to the ocean, turned the big bend at Foxton into a bywater.

Make a lake

Palmerston North is the only New Zealand city without a stretch of water large enough for regattas and other competitions. A local campaign, Project Lake Manawatū, advocates the creation of a watersports and recreational lake alongside the Manawatū River.

Stopbanks in Ōpiki and Makerua in the early 1920s created greater problems for other areas. This continued until 1962, when the Moutoa channel and sluice gates were built. Up to 2,450 cubic metres per second of water could be diverted, leaving the existing river channel to cope with 1,274 cubic metres per second – a total bigger than any recorded water flow of the river to date. Between 1961 and 2014 the sluice gates were opened 41 times.

The Lower Manawatū Scheme is one of the largest and most complex systems of flood protection measures in New Zealand, with 250 kilometres of stopbanking protecting 320 square kilometres of pastoral, horticultural and urban land. About 20% of Palmerston North relies on the stopbanks to prevent flooding from the Manawatū River. 

The February 2004 flood was larger than all floods since 1902, and presented a major challenge to the flood protection scheme. A number of stopbank failures led to 25% of the protected area being flooded. After 2004 two major upgrade projects commenced.

Manawatū Gorge

6-km gorge known also as Te Āpiti (the narrowing). It is the most dramatic feature of the region. It was also known as Te Aurere-a-te-tonga, and a great red rock as Te Ahu-o-Tūranga.

The Rangitāne people say that the gorge was formed when the giant tōtara tree Ōkatia forced its way through the Ruahine and Tararua ranges. The geological explanation is equally dramatic: the river kept to its course as the land uplifted to form the ranges.

A sublime sight

An early settler described first seeing the Manawatū River: ‘The valley in which it flows is narrow, and the steep hillsides on either side are thickly clad with forest . . . A blue haze, like that of the Blue Mountains, shrouds all the distance. The trees are hoary with mosses, hidden and smothered with creepers … the wall of rock on the left rises sheer from the road. Beneath whirls and foams the river in its rocky bed.’ 1

The mountain ridges here are well below their maximum altitude of over 1,700 m in the Ruahine Range and over 1,500 m in the Tararua Range. Even the summits are in pasture. The course of the river itself through the gorge, at under 100 m above sea level, is in places 200 m below the surrounding heights. On cold mornings the gorge is blanketed in fog.

The gorge was a challenge to the colonists. They completed a road in 1871, a bridge in 1875, and a railway in 1891.

The road through the gorge is still perilous, and was closed for 75 days after the massive flooding in February 2004. But it is a vital part of the region’s road and rail network.

    • G. C. Petersen, The pioneering days of Palmerston North, Levin: G. C. Petersen, 1952, p. 68. › Back

Beneath the Tararua Range


Locality and railway station on the Wellington–Manawatū rail line, 11 km south-west of Palmerston North. Linton was named after Palmerston North early settler and mayor James Linton, but no township developed. In 1945 Linton military camp was built 3.5 kilometres to the north-east. This became the country’s largest in 1985 when the permanent force at Singapore was relocated there. More units have transferred from Auckland and Waiōuru. An adjacent prison, first for youths and later for adults, opened in 1971. In 2013 the military camp had a population of 1,347.


Township 21 km south-west of Palmerston North, with a 2013 population of 552. Tokomaru started as a station on the Wellington–Manawatū railway line in 1886. It lies in a farming district extending north to Linton and west to Ōpiki, between the Manawatū River and the Tararua Range. The steam engine museum, a private collection, has drawn visitors since 1970.

Hard work at Ōpiki

In the 1940s and 1950s several Māori families lived in camps at Ōpiki, working for vegetable growers. May Te Peeti recalled that ‘children worked alongside their parents, digging up potatoes, carrots, and parsnips with four-pronged forks and shearing knives … Steel from the old winding gramophones was the best for making special knives to weed rows and rows of onions a mile long’. 1


Former flax-growing area on State Highway 56, on the south (left) bank of the Manawatū River. Converted into farms in the 1920s, it was mostly pasture except for some potato and onion cropping. A distinctive suspension toll bridge across the river operated from 1918 to 1969.


Township 30 km south-west of Palmerston North and 17 km north-east of Levin, with a 2013 population of 1,239. Known as Te Maire, the town planned on the site by the New Zealand Company in the 1840s was never built. The first settlers to Shannon, named after a director of the Wellington and Manawatū Railway company, arrived after land sales in 1887. Flax milling, the development of farmland, and dam building at Mangahao kept the town buoyant until the 1920s.

Many Māori casual workers were re-housed in Shannon from rural shacks in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2013, 42.8% of the population identified with Māori ethnicity (compared with 14.9% nationally). Manufacturing businesses, set up in the 1960s, were reduced to only one by 1987. In 2013 the Richmond fellmongery, the town’s largest employer, closed. Owlcatraz, an educational park, is a tourist attraction.

Mangahao power station and dams

Located 10 km into the Tararua Range from Shannon. Water from the east-flowing Mangahao River is channelled through pipelines on the steep slope above the station. The drop is more than five times that at Niagara Falls in North America, ending at the west-flowing Mangaore Stream.

The risk of sudden floods complicated construction in the 1920s. The river’s normal flow could quickly become a massive 510 cubic metres per second, sweeping away equipment and levelling earthworks. The tunnelling was also dangerous, and seven people died. Prime Minister Bill Massey opened the dam on 3 November 1924. At that time Mangahao was the country’s largest power station, but it is now one of the smallest. Today it has a capacity of 38 MW, compared with 360 MW for the Tongariro power scheme, for example. Mangahao is run by Todd Energy and King Country Energy. Annual national kayak and canoe championships are held on the Mangaore Stream.

    • Quoted in From fibre to food: Opiki, the district and its development, 1928–2003. Palmerston North: Ōpiki 75th Jubilee Committee, 2003, p. 5. › Back

Foxton and the coast


Town 39 km south-west of Palmerston North and 20 km north of Levin, with a 2013 population of 2,643 (and 1,641 at adjacent Foxton Beach).

It began as the Māori settlement of Te Awahou, on the Manawatū River estuary. After the 1855 earthquake Pākehā settlers abandoned Paiaka, upriver, and moved to Foxton. The settlement was also a base for Presbyterian James Duncan’s missionary work. The 1866–67 New Zealand Almanac recorded five storekeepers, three bootmakers, two carpenters, a hotel keeper, a ferryman, a road overseer, four surveyors, nine farmers and four labourers in the town of Manawatū, named after the river.

The settlement was renamed Foxton in honour of Premier William Fox. It thrived on the flax boom of 1869–70 and then as the gateway to the newly opened upper Manawatū. The first pile of Foxton wharf was driven in February 1873, and the Manawatu Herald began publication in 1878. A new courthouse and post office brought the official stamp of approval.

Economic ups and downs

Foxton lost ground to Palmerston North. ‘If a spark of jealousy does ever brighten up their contented dullness’, wrote one correspondent in 1873, ‘it is caused by the aspiring little inland township of Palmerston some twenty-five miles distant.’ 1 In 1886 Palmerston North gained the extra advantage of the Wellington–Manawatū railway link.

Flax booms in 1888–89, and from 1898 to 1919, brought much activity. Still, by 1935 only three of the town’s 11 flax mills were left. Ships last called at the port in 1941, and the railway closed in 1959. The river was redirected by the Whirokino cut in 1942. After the Second World War a carpet factory opened, and more recently chicken processing has provided many jobs. It is also feasible to work in Palmerston North (30 minutes away) and Levin (15 minutes). The town has many museums, cafés and other attractions for travellers on State Highway 1. In 2017, the $8.6 million Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom complex combining Dutch and Māori culture opened. Two marae of the Ngāti Raukawa tribe, Motuiti and Paranui, are just north of the town.

Manawatū and Horowhenua coasts

Interrupted only by river outlets, the region’s sweep of beach was the major communication route north and south until the Wellington–Manawatū railway was completed in 1886. In colonial times ferries operated on the main rivers, or travellers moved upstream to where horses and coaches could cross.

Behind the beach are enormous stretches of sand dunes, which quickly spread inland when the native plant cover was removed. In the 20th century, plantations of pine and marram grass have stabilised the dunes. But the coastline continues to advance. In the 1970s, the shipwreck of the Hydrabad (1878) at Waitārere was below the high-water line. Today the tide seldom reaches it, and it is mostly buried in the sand.

Himatangi murders

On Paranui Road between Himatangi and Rangiotu, a farmhouse burnt to the ground on the night of 6 September 1929. Police found the charred bones of seven occupants, and later it was established that all eight people living in the house had died. ‘What was left of their bodies’, the Manawatu Times reported, ‘could have been packed in a portmanteau’. No arrests were ever made in the case, and in Manawatū ‘they still talk about the Himatangi tragedy’, wrote Monte Holcroft in 1972. 2

Beach settlements

Tangimoana, Hīmatangi Beach, Foxton Beach, Hōkio and Waikawa are all coastal settlements at river or stream outlets (another settlement, Waitārere, is an exception). Tāngimoana is also the site of a government intelligence-gathering installation (a second is at Waihopai in Marlborough). The settlements are generally free of the upscale development of resorts such as Taupō and Queenstown. Mostly used by Manawatū and Horowhenua locals, the houses have the informal and often exuberant architecture that is the hallmark of the New Zealand bach or beach house.

    • G. C. Petersen, The pioneering days of Palmerston North. Levin: G. C. Petersen, 1952, p. 40. › Back
    • M. H. Holcroft, Line of the road: a history of Manawatu County, 1876–1976 . Dunedin: McIndoe for the Manawatu County Council, 1977, p. 136–144. › Back



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.

    • Janet Frame, The Carpathians. Auckland: Century Hutchison, 1988, pp 12–13. › Back
    • 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

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

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How to cite this page: Malcolm McKinnon, 'Manawatū and Horowhenua places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 24 o Hūrae 2006, updated 22 o Āpereira 2015