History of Manawatu
People of many cultures have played a part in weaving the rich history of Manawatu. The first people to live here were Maori. Their traditional stories tell of the shaping of the hills and plains and the journeys of the first explorers who named the land they found.
Hau was the explorer who named the Manawatu River as he was travelling down the coast from Taranaki. He was following his wife Wairaka who had run off with her lover. Hau had crossed several rivers when he reached the Manawatu. Hau was afraid he would not be able to get across this big, wide river and so he named it Manawatu, meaning “heart standing still”.
Click here to read the legend of Hau.
Another famous explorer called Matangi named many places in Manawatu. Himatangi is named after him — it means “the place where Matangi went fishing”. It was here that Matangi heroically caught and killed a great monster taniwha with a cleverly made rope snare.
Click here to read more about Matangi.
The Manawatu River has its own legend. Okatia was a spirit who caused a giant totara tree in the Puketoi Ranges of Southern Hawkes Bay to uproot. As the restless tree moved towards the Tararua Ranges it gouged out a channel and when it found its way blocked by the high hills it tumbled about in frenzy until a hole was bored through the rock. So Te Apiti — the Manawatu Gorge — was formed.
Click here to read the rest of the story.
Early European Settlement
From 1840 traders and missionaries were the first Europeans to arrive in Manawatu. They settled near the Manawatu river mouth and inland along the riverbank. As the first large blocks of land were bought from their Maori owners the port town of Foxton was established — on the site of a small Maori village called Te Awahou. As more blocks of land were purchased up river, Foxton became the gateway to European Manawatu.
In 1874 there were just 1429 people of European origin living in Manawatu. By 1900 there were 13,874 people of European extraction in the region, and the largest town — Palmerston North — had a population of 6,534. In 2003 the city of Palmerston North has a population of around 75,000 while the surrounding Manawatu district has just over 28, 000 residents with people of Maori descent comprising between 13% and 14% of the region’s population.
History of the Region — Checklist
- Who were the first sheep farmers in Manawatu?
- What was the Emigrant and Colonists’ Aid Corporation?
- Why are the world’s largest townships in Manawatu?
- Why was this Manawatu town nicknamed “The Holy City”?
- Who planted the first English trees in Manawatu?
- Which town in Manawatu once had a newspaper published in Danish?
- Is there gold in the hills of Manawatu?
- Scandinavian immigration to Manawatu
- Flax and timber, the first moneymakers for Manawatu
- Glaxo, the multinational manufacturer that began in Manawatu
- The railways of Manawatu
- Manawatu — fertile ground for agricultural science
- Building the road and railway through the Manawatu Gorge
- Palmerston North, a centre of early commercial air travel in New Zealand
- Manawatu – the home of rugby in New Zealand
- How rivers rule our region