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Minor urban area
Territorial authority
Wairoa riverbank viewed from SH2 bridge over Wairoa River
Wairoa riverbank viewed from SH2 bridge over Wairoa River
Country New Zealand
Region Hawke's Bay
Territorial authority Wairoa District
 • Territorial 4,119.18 km2 (1,590.42 sq mi)
 (June 2023)
 • Territorial 9,290
 • Density 2.2553/km2 (5.8412/sq mi)
 • Urban
Website Official website:

Wairoa is a town and territorial authority district in New Zealand's North Island. The town is the northernmost in the Hawke's Bay region, and is located on the northern shore of Hawke Bay at the mouth of the Wairoa River and to the west of Māhia Peninsula. It is on State Highway 2, 118 kilometres (73 mi) northeast of Napier, and 92 kilometres (57 mi) southwest of Gisborne. Wairoa is the nearest town to the Te Urewera protected area and former national park that is accessible from Wairoa via State Highway 38. It is the largest town in the district of Wairoa, and is one of three towns in New Zealand where Māori outnumber other ethnicities, with 62.29% of the population identifying as Māori.


Early settlement in the area included a whaling station and trading post, dealing largely in flax. These establishments offered sufficient income and attraction. Its initial name was Clyde, but this was changed largely to avoid confusion with Clive near Napier and Clyde in the South Island. The north part of the town is called North Clyde. The town rose to prominence during the New Zealand Wars, during which time it was a garrison town.

Wairoa District

Wairoa is a manufacturing and farming service town. It is the seat of the Wairoa District Council. The Wairoa District covers the northern half of the bay's coast, and extends from Mahia Peninsula to Lake Waikaremoana, and south to the mouth of the Waikare River. The district's population at the June 2018 census was 4,290, and it has a land area of 4,119.18 km2 (1,590.42 sq mi).


In 2014, following the election of a new Council and the appointment of a new Chief Executive, the district embarked on an ambitious programme of attracting novel and high-tech industry to the district in an effort to arrest and reverse gradual population decline and loss of services that the community had been suffering from for the previous 20 years.

As a result of these economic development efforts, in 2016, Rocket Lab announced that it was establishing its Orbital Launch Site (known as Launch Complex 1) for its Electron Vehicle on the Mahia Peninsula. Space launches are expected to commence in late 2016 with a series of three test launches. Commercial launches are anticipated to commence in 2017. The Electron vehicle is capable of delivering satellites into Low Earth Orbit, using innovative New Zealand technology that is set to revolutionise space operations. The section of Te Wairoa coastline along which satisfactory space launch viewing experiences are likely is known as 'Space Coast New Zealand' - a more modest analogue of the Space Coast in the United States (the Florida Space Coast).

The New Zealand Space Agency has been established to manage New Zealand space treaties and activity.

Wairoa has one secondary school, Wairoa College.This offers many opportunities to those students between the years of 7 - 13 with assessments such as NCEA and WAM ( Wairoa Achievement Model). This town also offers many opportunities for education as it has a wide variety of schools specialising in Maori Culture or Catholic Beliefs along as National Curruclum subjects. Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Ngati Kahungunu O Te Wairoa is the only Maori school in this region. Wairoa Primary, Tiaho, and Frasertown are the Primary schools that offer education to students in years 1 - 6. Ohuka, Te Mahia, Nuhaka, Ruakituri, Mohaka, Waikaremoana, Tiniroto, Tutira, Kotemaori, and St Joseph's School offer education to students in the years 1 - 8. The latter is a special catholic character school.

Wairoa is situated on SH2, which gives connections to Gisborne to the north east and Napier to the south west. It is connected to the Central North Island by SH38 which goes from Wai-O-Tapu via Murupara and Frasertown to Wairoa, and which connects to Rotorua via Te Urewera, and Lake Waikaremoana. It also lies on the Palmerston North-Gisborne railway, though passenger services ceased in 1988 following Cyclone Bola.

As well as being within easy driving distance from the fabulous Lake Waikaremoana (one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks), the Morere Hot Springs, the world-renowned trout-fishing Ruakituri River, and the breathtakingly beautiful Mahia Peninsula can all be found in Te Wairoa.

In 1990 Wairoa won the last New Zealand Top Town Final in the original Top Town series and were the reigning champs until the series started again in 2009. Unfortunately due to some confusion with a claim by Greymouth to be the last champions, Wairoa was not eligible for the new top town series and unable to defend their title.

Since 2005, Wairoa has been host to the annual Wairoa Māori Film Festival, New Zealand's premiere Maori and indigenous film festival, which has hosted film makers from across the nation and around the world. In 2015, the festival began to be hosted in part at the newly revitalised Gaiety Theatre, which had recently been fitted out with one of the world's most advanced theatre sound systems (9.1).

A $5M investment by central government in improved medical facilities, and, commencing July 2014, an increased emphasis by the Wairoa District Council on economic development (particularly aimed at encouragement of diversification of agribusiness, ecotourism, digital creative industry attraction, and attraction of new and returning residents) has led to an increasingly positive community view of the district's future.

Mayor Craig Little JP was elected as Mayor in the 2013 District Elections.


Meat processing

The meat processing plant in Wairoa was first established in 1916. Originally owned by the Wairoa Co-operative Meat Company, the building was destroyed by a fire on 5 February 1931. The AFFCO group bought it in 1990. The meat processing plant employs around 650 people in their peak season. They process mutton, lamb, goat and beef and export much of the product. There is also a rendering plant onsite producing bone meal and tallow. In 2015 the Employment Court deemed a lockout of 170 workers at the plant illegal. Management had locked workers out for five months who refused to sign individual contracts. In 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that those workers locked out should be paid lost wages. In February 2020, a worker at the plant was killed on the job, crushed by pallets. Worksafe closed the plant briefly and investigated the incident.


Forestry is playing an increasing role in the economy of Wairoa. Many farms are being converted to forests which earn carbon credits. There are concerns that the loss of farming will shrink the size of the town's economy and lead to depopulation.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
2006 4,314 —    
2013 4,089 −0.76%
2018 4,527 +2.06%

Wairoa had a population of 3348 people in 1951, which increased to 3796 people in 1956; 4301 in 1961 and 4314 at the 2006 census. The population decreased to 4089 in the 2013 census. It rebounded to 4,527 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 438 people (10.7%) since the 2013 census.

There were 1,548 households in 2018. There were 2,223 males and 2,304 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.96 males per female. The median age was 36.4 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 1,116 people (24.7%) aged under 15 years, 861 (19.0%) aged 15 to 29, 1,782 (39.4%) aged 30 to 64, and 768 (17.0%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 43.0% European/Pākehā, 69.5% Māori, 4.4% Pacific peoples, 3.5% Asian, and 1.1% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

The proportion of people born overseas was 8.3%, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 34.7% had no religion, 39.4% were Christian, 0.2% were Hindu, 0.9% were Muslim, 0.5% were Buddhist and 15.8% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 285 (8.4%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 1,002 (29.4%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $21,500, compared with $31,800 nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 1,341 (39.3%) people were employed full-time, 459 (13.5%) were part-time, and 273 (8.0%) were unemployed.

A 2019 review of community outcomes in New Zealand has shown that the Wairoa District scores poorly on indicators of well-being. One of the key measures of disadvantage in the review was the proportion of people aged between 15 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training (the NEET rate). In 2019, the NEET rate in Wairoa was the highest in New Zealand at 33.5% (increased from 29.8% in 2013). The same study reported that the unemployment rate in Wairoa was the second highest in the country, at 9.4%.

In 2021, the Te Rangihaeata Trust, a problem gambling support organisation, claimed that Wairoa had the highest expenditure on pokies per capita in New Zealand.


Wairoa College is a Year 7–13 co-educational state high school. It is a decile 1 school with a roll of 371 as of February 2024.

Wairoa Primary School is a Year 1-6 co-educational state primary school. It is a decile 2 school with a roll of 262.

Tiaho Primary School is a Year 1–6 co-educational state primary school. It is a decile 2 school with a roll of 104.

TKKM o Ngati Kahungunu o Te Wairoa is a Year 1-13 co-educational Māori immersion school. It is a decile 1 school with a roll of 191.

St Joseph's School is a Year 1–8 is co-educated state integrated Catholic primary school. It is a decile 3 school with a roll of 65.


Re-investment in central business district

In January 2020, the Government announced funding of $6.1 million to support rebuilding in the central business district. The funding will support a Wairoa Integrated Business and Tourism Facility, a Wairoa Digital Employment Programme and a Wairoa Regional Digital Hub.

The three waters

In 2020, the Wairoa District Council applied to the Regional Council for resource consents for the Wairoa town wastewater scheme. Wastewater is discharged to an estuary in the lower reaches of the Wairoa River, through an outfall about 100 metres from the shore. A panel of independent commissioners reviewing the application noted that the discharge to water is not culturally acceptable to the community, but that land-based discharge is currently unaffordable and the council has not secured suitable land. The review concluded that the town "had a very significant problem" and urged the council to get help from central government.

During 2021, the Government consulted with regional and district councils about proposed major reforms for the three waters sector nationwide, involving the proposed transfer of assets from 67 local authorities to four new large entities. The mayor of Wairoa, Craig Little criticised the proposed reforms and expressed concerns about the loss of local representation and control.


Wairoa Hospital (Te Hauora o te Wairoa / Wairoa Health) is a 12-bed hospital that provides both maternity and acute medical inpatient beds. It is run by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board. Also located at Te Hauora o te Wairoa / Wairoa Health is a general practice, an emergency department (level 2), radiology and laboratory services, mental health and addiction services and a number of outpatient clinics. it is located at 36 Kitchener Street, Wairoa.


The Wairoa airport is located on Airport Road on the northern side of Wairoa. The runway is 914 metres long. The airport is home to the Wairoa Aero Club.


Wairoa is connected south west to Napier and north east to Gisborne by State Highway 2. Connecting Wairoa to the northwest is State Highway 38 which travels past Lake Waikaremoana where it joins State Highway 5.


The Napier to Gisborne section of the Palmerston North-Gisborne railway line was mothballed in 2012 after being damaged by a storm. It was repaired and reopened between Napier and Wairoa in January 2020 with funding of $6.2 million from the Provincial Growth Fund. Freight services ran to transport logs to Napier Port. The service was suspended after six return trips as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on the forestry sector. It reopened in November 2020.

Notable buildings

St Andrews

St Andrew's Church (Presbyterian-Methodist) is located at 98 Queen Street. It is a category two historic place. it was most likely built between 1932 and 1935.

St Peters

St Peter's Catholic Church is located at 64 Queen Street. It is a category two historic place. One of the oldest buildings in Wairoa, it was completed in 1882. Built out of timber, it is an important example of New Zealand Gothic Revival church architecture.

Wairoa Meat Company

The Wairoa Meat Company building, located on Marine Parade, is a category two Historic Place. Built between 1915 and 1920, highlights the long association between Wairoa and the meat processing industry. It survived the 1931 Napier earthquake and in 2020 received a $200,000 grant for seismic strengthening.

Wairoa County Chambers

The Wairoa County Chambers, located on Queen Street, is a category two Historic Place.

Gaiety Cinema and Theatre

The Gaiety Cinema and Theatre, located at 252 Marine Parade was built in 1925. It was destroyed in the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake. It was subsequently rebuilt in 1932 in an Art Deco style. It has hosted many events including screenings of movies, concerts, political rallies and boxing matches. It closed in 1960 and was used for a variety of purposes including as a super market and basketball court. In 1998, work was completed to restore it to its former use as a cinema and theatre and it was reopened in 2000. Finances forced it to close in 2009. It reopened in 2015 with support from the Wairoa District Council. It has a capacity of 250 patrons.

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