Town at the foot of Mt Edgecumbe (Pūtauaki), 100 km south-east of Tauranga and 58 km east of Rotorua. The settlement developed from 1953, when the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company established a mill to process timber from maturing stands of radiata pine (Pinus radiata) in the state-owned Kāingaroa Forest. The site was chosen because of the availability of geothermal steam as a power source.
Kawerau was laid out with curved streets and many parks, and an impressive range of amenities for its size. Its streets were named after Pākehā governors, governors-general and parliamentarians – a feature at odds with today's predominantly Māori population.
The mill and related businesses have been the largest employers. The decline of the timber industry since the 1980s has seen the population decrease from a peak of 8,593 in 1981 to 6,363 in 2013. The unemployment rate in 2013 was 24.9% (compared with 8.6% for the Bay of Plenty as a whole). 25.8% of Kawerau’s population were under 15. 54.6% identified themselves as Māori and 45.8% as European. There is some in-migration from retired people seeking affordable and well-built houses in a pleasant environment.
Mt Edgecumbe (Pūtauaki)
821-m volcano, which forms part of the ‘line of fire’ from Mt Tongariro, through Tauhara and Tarawera mountains to Whakaari (White Island).
The mountain was named Edgecumbe by Captain James Cook, probably after George, second baron Edgecumbe, who had become an admiral in 1761. On 2 November 1769 Cook observed that ‘seemingly at no great distance from the sea is a high round mountain which I have named Mount Edgcomb … it stands in the middle of a large plane [sic] which makes it the more conspicuous’. 1
In fact the mountain is on the edge of both the Rangitāiki Plains and the Volcanic Plateau, not far from the Tarawera River where it passes Kawerau. Known to Māori as Pūtauaki, it is of particular significance to the tribes of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau. It is also an important ancestral mountain for Ngāti Apa of the Rangitīkei region in the south-west of the North Island. There is no recent eruption history.