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Kiwi towns

What’s so great about Waipukurau and Waipawa: what to see

  • 3 minutes

Hawkes Bay, North Island

Central Hawkes Bay towns offer quiet corners, hidden gems and chance to get away from it all

Waipukurau and Waipawa there are plenty of things to do. Only 6km apart linked by a ribbon of State Highway two. Waipukurau and Waipawa are places where the story of human occupation is over 800 years old. As a thriving agribusiness centre the layers have to be peeled off to discover the narrative of the area. Visitor experiences range from nature trails on the Tukituki trail to gliding above in the silence of wide open spaces. A reflective space is the Forest of Memories is a very special place for people to enjoy an arboretum celebrating the lives of locals.

Waipawa heritage Theatre-building-Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Waipawa heritage Theatre building, Hawkes Bay

What to do, highlights

  • A vibrant community flourishing on agribusiness
  • Central Hawkes Bay (CHB) Settlers Museum with its extensive collection of nineteenth century stories, military memorabilia as well as Maori artefacts from heritage sites throughout the district.
  • Local wine trail visiting three outstanding wineries
  • Forest of Memories located at the base of Pukeora Hill is an arboretum (established 1993) where every tree is a memory. It is a reflective place where visitors become absorbed reading memory stories.


  • Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen, KCMG (1911–2005), Premier of Queensland 1968–1987, lived in Waipukurau as a very young child.
  • Errol Brathwaite was born in Waipukurau in 1924. Profile author in the 1950’s.
  • One of the first sheep shearing competitions in New Zealand took place at Waipukurau in January 1868. Its purpose was to improve the quality of shearing,
  • John Atcherly Cardinal Dew, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington born in Waipawa in 1948 attending school in Waipukurau.


  • Cecil Holmes, in the late 1940s, was outed for his communist activity as an NZ Public Service Association delegate in government filmmakers the National Film Unit. After leaving New Zealand in 1949, he became a well known film director in Australia. Born in Waipukurau on 23 June 1921,
  • John Davis Wilder Ormond, as Chairman of the NZ Meat Board, while negotiating bulk-meat contract arrangements with the British government, stated ‘it’s time we twisted the lion’s tail.’  The implication was the United Kingdom was not valuing New Zealand’s wartime efforts.  The British press were highly critical of the statement.

Where to take the best selfie

  • Lindsay Bush Scenic Reserve mature trees up to 500 years old, filtered light layers of green colour
  • Taumata Hill sign with the official name one of the world’s longest names for a place. It is a detour on gravel roads approximately 1 hour (one way).  Definitely not for the faint hearted


  • Spring Fling when private gardens and places are open to the public
  • Spring Fling Duck Day when plastic yellow ducks are in ascendency a great kids day out


  • Lindsay Tunnel’s dark spaces is a spooky experience for all age groups.
  • Spring Duck Day Festival
  • Aerodrome with its gliders and hot air balloons
  • Swing bridge over Tukituki River on the Takapau (Ruataniwha) Plain
  • Dedicated mountain bike trails for all skill levels
Tarewa Bridge on Tukituki Trail at Tukituki River near Waipukurau, Hawkes Bay
Tarewa Bridge on Tukituki Trail at Tukituki River near Waipukurau, Hawke’s Bay on North Island of New Zealand

Who turned up and settled in the place Waipukurau?

  • Waipukurau is named after a Māori pā, which was located nearby. The town of Waipukurau was founded by pastoral runholder Henry Russell as a model village in the 1860s. He envisaged a town containing a few well-to-do families, a group of tradesmen and artisans, and a minister.
  • Waipukurau is said to mean the water of pukerau, wai being water and pukerau being a type of fungus. Apparently pukurau grew abundantly beside the Tukituki or some nearby lesser stream.The pa was near the old Māori trail from the Manawatu Gorge and Hawkes Bay.
Storm sky with dramatic lighting in Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Waipawa, Hawkes Bay


  • Several meanings can be applied, the most popular being Smoky water: wai: water; pawa (or paoa): smoky. Originally known as Abbotsford, there was a town of the same name near Dunedin, so a name change was necessary NZHistory online

What makes the place work?

  • The town is less than 45 minutes from Napier creating a number of employment options. As well as being an agricultural service center the town is home to Medallion Pet Food Company and Hatuma Lime supplying agricultural lime supplement fertilisers.  Tourism is a very small component of the local economy.  Primary production sector provides a steady reliable income source with only 5% of the population supporting 20% of Hawkes Bay exports.
  • Waipawa’s closure of the iconic agricultural service centre, Williams & Kettle reflected the economic difficulty of competing with its larger neighbour, Waipukurau. The town is home to the splendid Central Hawkes Bay (CHB) Settlers Museum.  The town continues to support a regional Hawkes Bay library.
Waipawa CHB Museum outdoor exhibits, New Zealand
Waipawa CHB Museum outdoor exhibits

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Waipukurau Weather Forecast and Observations

Best time to go

Year round

  • Winter, with cafes, brisk walks along Tukituki trail, museums and local shops to explore
  • Summer with nearby beaches, trails and the sense of expansive spaces where the only crowd is your companion.


  • Waipukurau 4,610 (2020)
  • Waipawa 2,250 (2019)
  • Smaller towns in Central Hawkes Bay include smaller townships include Ōtāne, Takapau, Tikokino and Ongaonga.

Be careful

  • Beaches are not patrolled
  • State Highway traffic is high speed, care taking crossing the road
  • Check side roads as they could be gravel before departing


  • Central Hawkes Bay should not be a pit stop on the way to Napier. Take a few days to explore the area and, for wine trail buffs there are our local single origin vineyards to sample the wares.

Every town adds to the richness of things to do and see. For more details about the region check Napier & Hawkes Bay Region nearby attractions and events.


  • The area has witnessed several significant changes in land ownership from the 1500’s onwards. The earliest permanent occupants of Heretaunga were Ngati Whatumamoa and Ngati Awa to the North of the Ngaruroro River and Te Aitanga a Whatonga to the South. The key to occupation at Waipukurau in ancient times was the prized eeling lake of Whatumā. Significant stands of native timber surrounded Whatumā Lake in those days and Kereru (native wood pigeons) were snared in abundance: From About Central Hawke’s Bay.  Henry Russell, Pres founded a model village in 1867 with the purchase of Pa Flat native reserve. The CHB Museum Waipawa has detailed accounts, memorabilia and artefacts relating to this period.
  • A rural Central Hawke’s Bay town is about to get millions of dollars to enhance its pā sites, attracting more tourism to the region. The Ngā Ara Tipuna – Waipukurau Pā Site Interpretation project is receiving $2.798 million from the Provincial Growth Fund. The project will begin in March this year, focusing on the development of the largest pā site, Pukekaihau. Hunter Memorial Park is the site of Pukekaihau. The remaining five pā sites, Te Waipukurau, Kaimanawa, Kaitoroa, Ruatangaroa, and Moana-i-rokia, will be completed in 2020.

The journey is worth it.

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