Kawerau is best known for its friendly people and strong community spirit, and is steeped in history and tradition. The town takes its name from a Maori chief who lived in the district around 1200 AD. Kawerau was a grandson of Toi-te-huatahi, an ancestor from whom many of the present tribes of the Bay of Plenty claim descent.
Kawerau and his people thrived on the abundant resources of the forests, sea, wetlands and rivers of the region. Before long his descendants were occupying a large area of the Bay of Plenty under the tribal name “Te Tini o Kawerau” which means “The multitude of Kawerau”.
According to tradition, Kawerau’s mother had given birth while out gathering fruit from the kiekie plant. The flax-like leaves of the kiekie plant were used to make a kete (bundle) into which the newborn child was placed and carried back to the pa, hence his name Kawerau, meaning ”carrier of leaves” or “carried on leaves”.
The township of Kawerau was first founded in 1953 and is one of the youngest towns in New Zealand. It is well planned with wide tree lined streets resplendent in a kaleidoscope of colour during autumn. The shopping centre contains a range of products and services.
The timber processing industry is very much an integral part of Kawerau’s history. Kawerau is the newsprint and paper tissue capital of New Zealand of which the town is very proud, with the 5 mills contributing significantly to the overall New Zealand economy. There is a diversity of other commercial activity within Kawerau, including substantial engineering and commercial maintenance operations.
Kawerau began as a mill town for the new Tasman pulp and paper mill. The site for the mill was chosen because of the ready availability of geothermal energy, easy access for rail, water from the Tarawera River and the large supply of pine timber from the nearby Kaingaroa forest. The Port of Tauranga was built to service this bounty. Unlike most other towns of its size, Kawerau was carefully planned before construction. The town was built with an impressive number of facilities, to accommodate a multinational specialist workforce.
Kawerau Enterprise Agency and Kawerau District Council work with local, national and international companies and government to diversify its industries. Industrial Symbiosis Kawerau (ISK) is a collaboration of like-minded parties working together for mutual gain. Shared resources, shared values, shared benefits. Geothermal energy is a key part of this renaissance. Find out more about the new direction here: www.embracechange.co.nz.
History of Kawerau’s name
The first inhabitants were of the Te Tini O Kawe – Rau tribe and the majority of Maori people living in Kawerau in the initial days were descended from this tribe and were of the Ngati Tuwharetoa branch of Te Arawa.
The land was settled by the Maori people soon after the arrival of the first canoes of the great migration in 1350 AD possibly because of the presence of the Onepu Hot Springs.
Kawerau is also the name of an old Maori pa which is about a mile from the highway.
A true translation of Kawerau is difficult to establish in the English language. It is said the name is particularly suited for the newsprint industry because one literal translation is “countless carriers“.
Kawe in Maori means to carry, bring or take, and, rau has three meanings: a hundred, wrapped up and a leaf. The nearest meaning which can be obtained is considered to be “ carrying something enveloped “.
The Geographic Board recommended the name “Kawerau“ for the new mill town and it was provisionally accepted in May 1953, prior to being officially gazetted.