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Manawatu Wanganui Region Map - New Zealand
Manawatu Wanganui Region Map.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Manawatu-Wanganui is a region situated in the lower half of the North Island of New Zealand.



The region is dominated and defined by two significant river catchments, Whanganui and Manawatu. The Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. The river was extremely important to early Maori 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 Maori settlement with its easily fortified cliffs and ample food supplies. Legends emphasise the importance of the river and it remains sacred to Wanganui iwi. Maori along the coast and lowland plains grew kumara and other crops.

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 agricultural area.

While the open Manawatu Plains became more densely settled by Europeans, inland Ruapehu, Rangitikei and Wanganui remained more Maori-dominated, remote and independent. As late as the 1950s the Whanganui River remained a river of mystery. More recently, however, exploitation of the river's commercial potential has opened up the area, often causing friction with local Maori who have longstanding grievances. The region has remained 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 region in New Zealand, totalling 22,215 Km2 (8.1% of New Zealand's total 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 marks the eastern border and the Ruahine Ranges form a natural boundary between the region and Hawke's Bay. There are 10 territorial authorities within the region but five of these straddle the boundary with other regions.

This extensive area includes a variety of landscape formations. Districts close to the Volcanic 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 faulting 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 Tasman Sea. The Wanganui District is more rugged, with canyon-like valleys and gorges carved out of the soft rock by rivers and ocean waves.

The region includes a series of mountain ranges - notably the Tararua and the Ruahine Ranges - as well as the three major active volcanoes of the North Island. This triumvirate towers above the Volcanic Plateau. Mount Ruapehu, at 2,797 metres, is the tallest mountain in the North Island, Ngauruhoe reaches 2,291 metres and Tongariro 1,968 metres. During the last 100 years, Ruapehu has experienced six significant eruptions and has erupted as recently as 1995 and 1996.

Three major rivers divide the region: the Whanganui (290 kilometres), Manawatu (182 kilometres) and Rangitikei (241 kilometres). The Whanganui is the second-longest river and has the second-largest catchment in the North Island and drains 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 North Island.

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 and beef farming. Areas 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 parks.

The Manawatu-Wanganui Region has a comparatively mild climate although there are greater climatic extremes inland. Chateau Tongariro experienced the lowest temperature ever recorded in the North Island, falling to -13.6 C on 7 July 1937. 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 (between 1,800 and 2,000 hours per annum) but Palmerston North is defined as cloudy with an average of 1,725 sunshine hours a year. In the winter the minimum mid-winter daily average for coastal areas is a cool 4.0 to 7.9 C, while inland areas are considerably colder. Waiouru averages a minimum mid-winter daily average of 0.1 C.

Rainfall on the plains is slightly below average, with Palmerston North receiving an annual average of 960 millimetres, while the rest of the region receives the New Zealand average rainfall of between 1,000 and 2,000 millimetres per annum.

Conservation and parks

The Manawatu-Wanganui Region contains areas of great ecological significance, which is 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 Maori and were gifted to the nation by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa. They form the nucleus of the park, which is now designated a world heritage area.

The Whanganui 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 also two state forest parks situated in the rugged, bush-clad Ruahine and Tararua Ranges. The four parks offer skiing, tramping, jetboating and white-water rafting as well as the opportunity to appreciate the environment.

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 feathergrass, goats rue and nodding thistle 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, rooks and feral goats, while other exotic species such as dama wallaby, wasps, ferrets, stoats and weasels are a source of concern.


Manawatu-Wanganui had a usually resident population of 220,089 people at the time of the 2001 Census, giving it the fifth-largest population in New Zealand. Despite its substantial population, the region has a lower than average population density, with an average of 10.3 people per square kilometre, compared with 13.1 for New Zealand. During the period from 1996 to 2001, the population fell by 3.8%, or 8700 people.

There are two major urban areas in the region. Palmerston North, with a usually-resident population of 72,033 (2001 census), expanded as an educational centre as well as a supply centre for the surrounding rural hinterland. It became a city in 1930. The other major urban area is Wanganui, with a usually resident population of 39,423 as at 5 March 2001. Other urban centres include Levin, Feilding, Dannevirke, Taumarunui, Foxton, and Marton.

City life does not dominate the region, as half of the region's population live outside a large urban area. Over a third of the population live in small towns or rural areas. While manufacturing has become an important part of the region's economy, most businesses are agriculturally based and agriculture remains the regional linchpin. The 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 forces, which maintain three bases in the region.


  • Pre-1769 Approximately 3 percent of Maori lived in the Wanganui Basin and 8 percent on the Taranaki Coast. Coastal Maori garden and gather food but life for Maori further inland is more difficult, and often relies on hunting and gathering

  • 1820-1840 Ng ti Toa and Te Atiawa iwi displace local iwi from their lands
  • 1830 Te Rauparaha (Ngati Toa) lay siege to Putiki Pa in retaliation for an attack on Kapiti Island, sacking the pa and killing its inhabitants
  • 1831 European traders arrive in Wanganui, led by Joe Rowe, supposedly a dealer in preserved heads (moko mokai). A dispute with local Maori 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 40,000 acres (160 km2) 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 Maori clash with an equal force of British Regulars
  • 1848 The Crown purchases Wanganui, 80,000 acres (320 km2), 8,000 acres (32 km2) of which are supposed to be set aside as a reserve
  • 1855 Paiaka settlers move closer to the coast at "Foxton", which becomes a port handling flax, timber and agricultural produce
  • 1856 The Wanganui Chronicle is first published
  • 1860s 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 Maori), who want to expel the Pakeha at Wanganui, and the Maori of the lower river
  • 1866 Palmerston North (Te Papa-i-oaea0) 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 link is established between Foxton and Palmerston North
  • 1877 Palmerston North becomes a borough
  • 1885 Mother Mary Joseph Aubert starts her community of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion at Jerusalem founding a home for Maori orphans, the elderly and infirm
  • 1886 Wellington-Palmerston North railway is opened, superseding the Foxton link and ensuring Palmerston North's growth
  • 1889 Levin is founded because of the construction of Wellington-Palmerston North railway
  • 1903 The Main Trunk Line reaches Taumarunui, opening up the inland districts for development
  • 1906 Levin becomes a borough
  • 1930 Palmerston North becomes a city
  • 1939 Ohakea Air Force Station commences operations
  • 1953 New Zealand's worst rail disaster occurs at Tangiwai, as the rail 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
  • 1960s Famous New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter, sets up a commune at Jerusalem
  • 1963 Massey University is formed by a merger of a branch of Victoria University (at Palmerston North) with Massey Agricultural College
  • 1991 In formal recognition of the river's 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 River
  • 1995-1996 A series of small eruptions occurs on Mt Ruapehu, throwing ash over a wide area.

The economy


Agriculture dominates the economy in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. A higher than average proportion of businesses were engaged in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, 6.3 percent compared with 4.4 percent nationally. Businesses engaged in retail trade were the most dominant numerically. In 1997 there were 2,300 businesses in the region, employing a total of 10,380 full-time equivalents (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).


Unlike its neighbour Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui is not a major producer of energy or minerals. There are some small power schemes operating within the region of which the largest is the Mangahao hydroelectric station, with a capacity of 19 megawatts.


Manawatu-Wanganui is renowned 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 and the Perendale, 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 percent of land in the region, which was much higher than the national average of 60.1 percent. Approximately 80 percent 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 percent of total land.

The Manawatu-Wanganui 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. The region also produces a significant proportion of vegetables in the North Island and is particularly noted for its abundant potato crop. Barley, which is used for the manufacture of stock feed and for malting, is grown in the region. Manawatu-Wanganui produces the largest quantities of barley in the North Island, providing 10 percent of the national refined crop of 302,804 tonnes in 1995.


Manawatu-Wanganui 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 exotic plantings.


For the eight quarters between September 1996 and June 1998 the region averaged 4.1 percent of total guest nights in New Zealand. 22 This was close behind Wellington at 6.7 percent but greater than Hawke's Bay which averaged 3.1 percent of total guest nights. Occupancy rates at 20.1 percent were the fourth-lowest in the country for the June 1998 quarter. However, occupancy rates for the city of Palmerston North were significantly higher than the national average (39.5 percent compared with 25.8 percent nationally) whereas districts such as Ruapehu are far more seasonal with fairly low occupancy rates except in the peak ski season.


The Manawatu-Wanganui Region includes the main state highway and main railway line that link the north and south of the North Island. A railway line follows the Manawatu Gorge, linking the region with Hawke's Bay. Although there is no seaport in the region, road and rail transport give the region's exporters easy access to ports.

The region has approximately 16 percent of the North Island's total road length. There are 8,732 kilometres of road, of which two-thirds is sealed. 23 Approximately 12 percent 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 kilometres of state highways the region has the second-highest proportion of state highways in the North Island, after Waikato.

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