Kawerau is situated on the flat land in the central valley of the Tarawera River and immediately northwest of the 2,697 ft cone of Putauaki (Mount Edgecumbe). By road the town is 36 miles northeast of Rotorua and 20 miles south-west of Whakatane. Kawerau is linked to the Bay of Plenty railway line by a branch line from Hawkens, 8 miles north, to Murupara, 36 miles south. The branch railway, carrying goods traffic only, gives access to Mount Maunganui, 53 miles north-west, the nearest deep-water port. The principal farming activities of the district are sheep, cattle, and mixed farming. The major primary industry is forestry. Extensive exotic forests, chiefly of Pinus radlata (q.v.), cover the Kaingaroa Plain extending southward from Kawerau. The town of Kawerau came into existence in 1954 as a centre for the processing of forest products, and is the most industrialised town in New Zealand. The large pulp and paper mills dominate its life.
In pre-colonial times the Kawerau district probably supported a considerable Maori population. Evidence of former occupation is still seen in vestiges of pa earthworks and village sites. Prior to 1953 there was only a small farming population in the district. The sites of the town and mill were suggested by the Department of Lands and Survey. The town site was located on land under development by the Department, and the mill site, separated from the town site by the Tarawera River, was bought from its Maori owners. A factor influencing the choice of the mill site was the presence of geothermal power. The construction of the mill and the building of a model town began in 1953. The shops were planned on the shopping court principle with rear vehicular access and are separate from the service industrial area (garages, bakeries, etc.). In 1953 the Kawerau and Murupara branch railway was commenced and it was operating fully by 1957. Kawerau, the original name of the town locality, commemorates Te Kawerau, a grandson of Toi. The Borough of Kawerau was constituted on 1 April 1954.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 49; 1956 census, 2,740; 1961 census, 4,413.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.