Foxton is situated on the northern bank of the Manawatu River in the lower basin on the Manawatu Plain and about 3 miles inland from the sea. The surrounding country is flat alluvial plain. The Levin-Wanganui section of main highway passes near the eastern boundary of the town. By road Foxton is 24 miles south-west of Palmerston North, 12 miles north of Levin, and 10 miles northwest of Shannon.
The main farming activities of the district are dairying and sheep raising. Market gardening and poultry farming are carried on near the town. At Oroua Downs (7 miles north-east) cheese is manufactured, and there are sawmills in the vicinity. A large area near Whirokino (about 3 miles south) is being developed for farming by the Department of Lands and Survey. In a nearby area, known as Moutoa Swamp, extensive land-reclamation work is in progress. A large radio-transmitting station is maintained by the New Zealand Post Office at Himatangi (6 miles north-east). Foxton is a commercial and market centre. The most important industrial activities of the town are milling, the processing of flax fibre, and the manufacturing of woolpacks, matting, and floor coverings. Other industrial activities include the manufacture of clothing and underfelt; sawmilling; and general engineering. Foxton Beach (3 miles west), on the north bank at the mouth of the Manawatu River, is a popular marine resort.
The Foxton area was known in pre-colonisation times as Te Awahou and consisted of bush and flax swamp. There were numerous settlements along the Manawatu River, an important canoe route. The main overland route passed along the coast. Early in 1842 several Europeans settled in the lower Manawatu. Captain Francis Robinson, who later acquired land on the north bank of the Manawatu for a cattle station, was the first European to take up residence on the fringe of what is now Foxton. In 1843 the Rev. James Duncan arrived at Matakarapa, a Maori village on the Manawatu River opposite present Foxton; afterwards he transferred to the northern bank to establish his mission station on 100 acres of land presented to him by Ihakara Tukumaru, the local paramount chief. In 1855, apparently because of the damage and destruction caused to their plant by the severe earthquake of that year, the settlers at and near Paiaka (near present Shannon) moved to localities near the mouth of the Manawatu River. Thomas Upperdine Cook, who obtained much property, built a store and residence and wharf on the present town site and is regarded as the founder of Foxton. In 1858 a regular coach service commenced between Wellington and Wanganui, and Foxton became a stop-over point and ferry station. Until the completion of the railways the port remained the chief outlet for the products of the Manawatu district. These included timber and flax fibre. The port of Manawatu was defined in 1868 and in 1877 when the first harbour board was established, the name was changed to Foxton. In 1873 the Government constructed a wooden tramway from Palmerston North to Foxton and a wharf at the river-bank terminus. The tramway was later converted to a railway and opened on 27 April 1876. Shipping traffic began to decline about 1930 and, by 1951, Foxton had ceased to be a commercial port. By May 1878 Foxton was linked by rail to Wanganui via Palmerston North and, in 1886, to Wellington via Longburn. The Foxton-Longburn section was closed on 19 July 1959. Foxton was constituted a borough in 1883. The town was named after Sir William Fox, a prominent settler of the district. The land on which the borough is situated formerly bore the name of Awahou, which means “new river”.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,226; 1956 census, 2,525; 1961 census, 2,627.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.