Manawatu - History
Museums, galleries and other cultural venues put you in touch with the Manawatu region's heart and soul. Explore the natural and cultural history of the Manawatu.
Manawatu History Overview
Many cultures have played a part in weaving the rich history of Manawatu. Māori were the first people to live here. Their legends tell of the shaping of the hills and plains and the journeys of the first explorers.
Early Manawatu History
The explorer who named the Manawatu River was named Hau. He was travelling down the coast from Taranaki following his wife Wairaka who had run off with her lover. By the time he reached the Manawatu Hau had crossed several rivers, but Hau was afraid he would not be able to get across this big, wide river and so he named the river Manawatu, meaning "heart standing still".
The significance to Māori of the Manawatu Gorge cannot be under-estimated. For early Māori it was the only route available for them to cross from one side of the ranges to the other and it helped them to explore the land on either side of the rocky backbone of the North Island.
While the gorge was a difficult passage upstream for canoes as they paddled, poled and pushed against the swift current, it was totally impassable for the European whaleboats.
The feasibility of constructing a road along the Manawatu riverbank was first investigated in September 1867 when JT Stewart, who was responsible for roads and surveys in the district, traveled the gorge in a canoe to report that a road could be possible.
In December 1870 Māori were employed to clear the bush for the new road while gangs of Europeans worked in the gorge itself.
Construction of the road was not easy, largely due to the solid rock bluffs that had to be blasted to make way for the new road. The road was completed in 1872.
Until a bridge at the eastern entrance was completed in May 1875, passengers were carried across the gorge in a suspended cage held 21 metres above the river by a wire rope.
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Manawatu Region Information
Key information and facts about the Manawatu region.
Major activities and attractions in the Manawatu region.