Manawatu-Wanganui is a
region in the lower half of the North Island of New
Zealand, around the city of Palmerston North and the town of Wanganui.
The region covers all or part of ten Districts
. Parts of
five of these are covered by five other regions of New Zealand
, the most of
any region. In descending order of land area the
Districts are Ruapehu, Tararua (part), Rangitikei (part), Manawatu, Wanganui, Horowhenua, Stratford (part), Palmerston North, Waitomo (part) and
is dominated and defined by two significant river catchments, the
Whanganui and the Manawatu.
The Whanganui River is the longest
navigable river in New Zealand. The river was extremely important
to early Māori
as it was the southern
link in a chain of waterways that spanned almost two-thirds of the
North Island. It was one of the chief areas of Māori settlement
with its easily fortified cliffs and ample food supplies. Legends
emphasise the importance of the river and it remains sacred to
. Māori along the coast and lowland
plains grew kumara
Much of the Manawatu-Wanganui Region was fertile and bush
-covered when Europeans arrived and developed the
area as a source of timber
. Saw milling
and flax milling
dominated the 19th century, followed
by an influx of sheep
farmers who exploited
the newly-cleared ground. Deforestation
, burn-offs of timber and scrub
and large scale drainage combined with overgrazing
, resulted in considerable
environmental degradation. In the early 1900s authorities realised
that careful management was needed to maintain this important
open Manawatu Plains became more
densely settled by Europeans, inland Ruapehu, Rangitikei and Wanganui remained more Māori-dominated, remote and
As late as the 1950s the Whanganui River
remained a river of mystery. Since then exploitation of the river's
commercial potential has opened up the area, often causing friction
with local Māori, who have long-standing grievances. The region is one of
the most important pastoral areas in New Zealand, its status
recognised when the government opened the Massey
Agricultural College in the 1920s.
The Manawatu-Wanganui Region takes up a large proportion of the
lower half of the North Island. It is the second-largest region in
the North Island and the sixth-largest in New Zealand, totalling
(8.1% of New Zealand's land area). The
region stretches from north of Taumarunui to south of Levin on the
west coast, and across to the east coast from Cape Turnagain
to Owhanga. It borders the
Waikato, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Wellington Regions and includes river catchment areas that run
from the volcanic plateau to the
sea. The Pacific Ocean is the eastern boundary and the Ruahine Ranges form a natural boundary between the region and
The area includes a variety of landscape formations. Districts close to the
Plateau are higher and more rugged, often subject to harsh
temperatures in winter.
The Manawatu District
has a much gentler
topography, consisting mainly of the flat, tree-studded Manawatu Plains
that run between the ranges
and the sea. The land was under the sea till about 500,000 years
ago and still has a very thick layer of marine sediment, which is
about five or six million years old. A block
system underneath the thick sediment has raised a
series of domes and gentle depressions. These structures can
provide natural storage areas for oil and some of the Manawatu
domes have been drilled. The domes have shaped the course of the
Manawatu River, giving it a meandering path which, uniquely among
New Zealand rivers, begins close to the east coast and exits on the
west coast. The Manawatu River begins just inside the
Hawke's Bay Region, then flows through a deep gorge to the Manawatu Plains before exiting in the
Sea. The Wanganui
District is more rugged, with canyon-like valleys and gorges carved out of the soft
rock by rivers and ocean waves.
region includes a series of mountain ranges, notably the Tararua and the Ruahine Ranges and the three major active volcanoes of the North Island. Mount Ruapehu at 2,797 m is the tallest mountain in the North
Island, Ngauruhoe 2,291 m and Tongariro 1,968 m.
During the last 100 years Ruapehu
has experienced six significant eruptions, and last erupted in 1995
major rivers divide the region: the Whanganui (290 km),
Manawatu (182 km) and Rangitikei (241 km). The Whanganui is the
second-longest river and has the second-largest catchment in the
North Island, draining most of the inland region west of Lake Taupo.
There are few roads in this area, which
contains some of the largest surviving areas of native bush in the
Soil and climate
Soils in the region are productive with the addition of fertiliser
. In the Manawatu and Horowhenua
Districts there are sandy soils and
swampy hollows around the coast with loess
-covered terraces and river flats inland. These
river flats and swamp areas contain fertile alluvial
and organic soils. On the drier terraces
inland yellow-grey earths predominate. The flatter more fertile
soils suit intensive sheep farming and cropping while the hill
country of Rangitikei favours semi-intensive sheep
close to the volcanic plateau consist largely of pumice
soils which lack some essential trace elements
but within the region much of this land is occupied by national
The region has a comparatively mild climate with greater climatic
extremes inland. Chateau Tongariro experienced the lowest temperature recorded in the
North Island, falling to -13.6 °C on 7 July
In summer the region is warm, with
a maximum mid-summer daily average of between 20.1 and 22.9 °C.
Sunshine hours approximate the national average for much of the
region (1,800-2,000 hours per annum) but Palmerston North is
defined as cloudy with an average of 1,725 sunshine hours. In the
winter the minimum mid-winter daily average for coastal areas is
4.0 to 7.9 °C, while inland areas are considerably colder.
Waiouru has a minimum mid-winter daily average of 0.1
Rainfall on the plains is slightly below average, with Palmerston
North receiving 960 mm, while the rest of the region receives
the New Zealand average rainfall of 1,000-2,000 mm.
Conservation and parks
The region contains areas of great ecological significance,
reflected in the designation of approximately a seventh of its land
area as part of the nation's conservation estate. Tongariro
National Park is the largest park in the region
(795.98 km2) and is the oldest national park in the
country, established in 1887.
The volcanoes Tongariro,
Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are sacred to Māori and were gifted to the
nation by Te Heuheu Tukino IV
paramount chief of Ngati
. They form the nucleus of the park, which is
designated a world heritage
National Park is slightly smaller (742.31 km2)
and was established 99 years later when a series of reserves were
incorporated into one area and given national park status.
There are two state forest parks in the rugged, bush-clad Ruahine
and Tararua Ranges. The four parks offer skiing
and white-water rafting
and the opportunity to appreciate the
The regional council, responsible for managing natural and physical
resources, provides flood protection and monitors environmental
problems such as pest infestation and pollution. Invasive plant
pests such as African
, goats rue
pose a threat to pastureland
in this heavily agricultural-dependent region, and the regional
council has instituted control campaigns. The regional council has
also instituted animal pest control programmes. Possums
are perceived as the major animal pest since
they damage native forests and endanger cattle production through
the spread of bovine tuberculosis
Eradication programmes also concentrate on rabbits
, while other exotic species such as Parma
Wallaby (Macropus parma) wallaby
are a source
Population density in the
Manawatu-Wanganui Region at the 2006 census.
The region had a usually resident population of 222,423 people at
the 2006 Census, the fifth-largest population in New Zealand. The
region has a lower than average population density, 10.3 people per
square kilometre, compared with 13.1 for New Zealand. Between the
2001 and 2006 censuses the population rose by 1.6%, or 3,477
There are two major urban areas in the region. Palmerston
North, with an estimated resident population of ,
expanded as an educational centre and a supply centre for the
surrounding rural hinterland.
It became a city in 1930.
major urban area is Wanganui, with an estimated resident population of Other
urban centres include Levin, Feilding, Dannevirke, Taumarunui, Foxton, and Marton.
City life does not dominate the region, as half the population live
outside a large urban area, over a third in small towns or rural
areas. While manufacturing
an important part of the region's economy, most businesses are
agriculturally based and agriculture remains the regional linchpin.
dominance of agriculture, combined with the relatively small scale
of most urban areas, gives a rural quality to the region, quite
distinct from neighbouring Wellington.
The region's rugged interior has also
become one of the main training areas for New Zealand's defence force
, which maintain three
bases in the region.
- Pre-1769 Approximately 3% of Māori lived in
the Wanganui Basin and 8% on the Taranaki coast. Coastal Māori garden and gather food
but life for Māori further inland is more difficult, relying on
hunting and gathering.
- 1820-1840 Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa iwi displace local
iwi from their lands.
Te Rauparaha (Ngati Toa) lay siege to
Putiki Pā in retaliation for an
attack on Kapiti
Island, sacking the pā and killing its
- 1831 European traders arrive in Wanganui, led by Joe Rowe, supposedly a dealer in preserved heads
(moko mokai). A dispute with local Māori
leads to the death of three of his party and his own head is cut
off and preserved.
- 1840 Edward Jerningham
Wakefield (Edward Gibbon
Wakefield's son) purchases of land under dubious circumstances,
for the New Zealand Company,
including the Wanganui town site. The first European settlers start
arriving in Wanganui.
- 1842 The first organised European settlers in Horowhenua arrive at Paiaka.
- 1847 In July the "Battle of St John's Wood" occurs when 400
Māori clash with an equal force of British Regulars.
- 1848 The Crown purchases Wanganui, , of which are supposed to
be set aside as a reserve.
Paiaka settlers move closer to the coast at "Foxton", which becomes a port handling flax, timber and
- 1856 The Wanganui
Chronicle is first published.
Scandinavians settle in the Tararua District, later
founding Eketahuna, Dannevirke, and Norsewood.
- 1865 A battle ensues between the Hau
Hau adherents (who were largely upper Whanganui Māori), who
want to expel the Pākehā at
Wanganui, and the Māori of the lower river.
North (Te Papai-oea) is founded. It is surrounded
by forests with the Manawatu River serving as its only link with
the port of Foxton and the outside world.
- 1870s The bush is gradually felled and the Manawatu opened up
for European farms and settlement. Former Danish Prime
Minister, Bishop Ditlev Gothard
Monrad, organises a settlement of Danes near Awapuni.
- 1871 The first sawmill is established at Palmerston North.
- 1872 Wanganui becomes a borough.
- 1875 The Manawatu Times
is published for the first time at Palmerston North.
- 1876 A railway opens between Foxton and Palmerston North via
Longburn, later named the Foxton
Branch. Wellington Province
- 1877 Palmerston North becomes a borough.
- 1878 A railway line opens between Palmerston North and
Wanganui. The first portion later became part of the North Island Main Trunk
Railway, between Aramoho and Wanganui
Branch, and the rest part of the Marton - New Plymouth Line.
The Sanson Tramway, built and
operated by the Manawatu County Council, opens to Sanson, New
Zealand from the Foxton Branch at Himatangi.
Mother Mary Joseph Aubert starts
her community of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion at
Jerusalem, founding a home for Māori orphans, the elderly and
infirm. The private Castleciff Railway opens
between Wanganui and Castlecliff.
The Wellington and
Manawatu Railway opens between Wellington and Longburn railway (later the North Island Main Trunk),
superseding the Foxton link and ensuring Palmerston North's
Levin is founded because of the construction of
Wellington & Manawatu Railway
The North Island Main Trunk reaches Taumarunui and thence Auckland, opening up the inland districts for
- 1906 Levin becomes a borough.
- 1930 Palmerston North becomes a city.
Ohakea Air Force Station commences
- 1945 The Sanson Tramway closes.
New Zealand's worst rail disaster occurs at Tangiwai on the North Island Main Trunk, as the railway
bridge collapses because of a lahar flow from
the crater lake on Mount
Ruapehu. A train with Christmas holiday-makers
plunges into the flood, killing 151 people.
- 1956 The private railway between Wanganui and Castlecliff is
purchased by the government and incorporated into the national railway network as
the Castlecliff Branch.
- 1959 The Foxton Branch railway closes.
- 1960s Famous New Zealand poet James
K. Baxter sets up a commune at
University is formed by a merger of a branch of Victoria
University (at Palmerston North) with Massey Agricultural
- 1991 In formal recognition of its original name the government
renames the Wanganui River the Whanganui River.
- 1995 Occupation of Moutoa Gardens (Wanganui) in protest at the
slowness of the Waitangi Tribunal
claim settlement process and loss of control of the Whanganui
- 1995-1996 A series of small eruptions occurs on Mt Ruapehu,
throwing ash over a wide area.
- 2004 Sustained heavy rain in February caused the region's worst
flooding in over 100 years.
Agriculture dominates the economy in the region. A higher than
average proportion of businesses were engaged in the agriculture
industries, 6.3% compared with
4.4% nationally. Businesses engaged in retail trade were dominant
numerically. In 1997 there were 2,300 businesses in the region,
employing a total of 10,380 full-timeequivalents (FTEs). The
percentage of businesses engaged in manufacturing was slightly
higher than the national average and manufacturing employed the
greatest number of people (12,830 FTEs).
its neighbour Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui has not been a major producer of
energy or minerals.
There are some new power schemes
operating within the region including the southern hemisphere's
largest collection of wind farms
, with 194
installed turbines and more planned.
The region is known for its strong agricultural base, which
prompted the establishment of an agricultural college there in the
1920s. The government wanted to promote scientific
farming and established colleges in two of the most important
farming areas, Canterbury and the Manawatu.
Research by members of the
college into animal genetics in the 1930s led to the development of
new breeds of sheep, the Drysdale
, which became commercially
significant after World War II.
Agriculture dominates land use in the region although there are
areas of forestry and horticulture
Soils and climate favour pastoral farming. There were 6,344 farm
holdings in the region on 30 June 1996
, which was almost a tenth of all farm holdings in
New Zealand. Farming occupied 72.5% of land in the region, which
was much higher than the national average of 60.1%. Approximately
80% of this land was used for agricultural purposes (grazing,
arable, fodder and fallow land). In the Manawatu, Rangitikei and
Tararua Districts this percentage rose to over 90% of total
The region is one of the most important areas of pastoral farming
in New Zealand. The region had 7,216,177 sheep (at 30 June 1996), the largest
number of sheep in the North Island and the fourth-highest figure
in the country behind Canterbury, Southland and Otago.
also produces a significant proportion of vegetables in the North
Island and is particularly noted for its abundant potato
, which is
used for the manufacture of stock feed and for malting, is grown in
the region. The region produces the largest quantities of barley in
the North Island, providing 10% of the national refined crop of
302,804 tonnes in 1995.
The region is one of the most significant forestry areas in the
southern North Island. The predominant soil type in the region,
yellow-brown earths, when enhanced by the use of fertilisers, is
very suitable for forestry. Forestry has a long history in the
Manawatu since Palmerston North developed as a saw-milling town and
the region's initial prosperity depended on heavy exploitation of
native timbers. But land use practices inhibited the long term
viability of this indigenous forestry industry. Severe burn-offs
destroyed large areas of native forest and subsequent overgrazing
affected the region's soils. Forestry largely disappeared until the
early twentieth century. In an attempt to combat erosion problems
in sandy soils the government planted forests in the Foxton/Levin
area in the early twentieth century. Inland forests were planted
later. Some private native forest in the region has been set aside
for sustainable logging but most forestry in the region depends on
For the eight quarters between September 1996 and June 1998 the
region averaged 4.1% of total guest nights in New Zealand. This was
close behind Wellington at 6.7% and greater than Hawke's Bay, which
averaged 3.1%. Occupancy rates, at 20.1%, were the fourth-lowest in
the country for the June 1998 quarter. Rates for the city of
Palmerston North were significantly higher than the national
average (39.5% compared with 25.8%) whereas districts such as
Ruapehu are far more seasonal with fairly low occupancy rates
except in the peak ski season.
region includes State
Highway 1, the main state highway, and the North Island Main Trunk
Railway, the main railway line, which link Auckland and Wellington.
The Palmerston North - Gisborne
and State Highway 3
the Manawatu Gorge
, linking the
region with Hawke's Bay. The Marton - New Plymouth Line
provides a railway link with Taranaki, and from this line a short
to Wanganui. Road and rail transport give the region's exporters
easy access to ports.
The region has approximately 16% of the North Island's road length.
There are 8,732 km of road, of which two-thirds are sealed.
Approximately 12% of roads in the region are classified as urban
and three-quarters as rural, with almost half of the rural roads
being unsealed. With 945.9 km the region has the
second-highest length of State Highways in the North Island, after