The Northern Wairoa River



New Zealand's longest Wairoa River runs for 150 kilometres through the northern part of the North Auckland Peninsula. In the upper reaches, the river is formed from two separate rivers, the Manganui River and - confusingly - the Wairua River. The two streams meet to the northeast of Dargaville, becoming the Wairoa. It is the longest river in the Northland Region.

The river flows from here firstly southwest (as far as Dargaville) and then southeast for 40 kilometres in a wide navigable estuary which flows into the northern end of the Kaipara Harbour.

The river is sometimes referred to as "The Northern Wairoa River"

The Northern Wairoa’s greatest asset in the late 1800s and early 1900s was undoubtedly the river. It is the longest navigable river in the country being accessible for ships ranging from 100 to 4000 tons. In its time the river and the Kaipara Harbour to the south were once the country’s busiest waterways. However, with the closing of the Kaipara Heads for commercial use the harbour and river are now only used for scenic cruises and recreational boating.

This river has its source at the junction of the Wairua and Mangakahia Rivers in the central part of the North Auckland Peninsula. The river is navigable as far as Tangiteroria and with its major tributaries represents a drowned valley. Its major tributaries from the north are the Kirikopuni, Tangowahine, Awakino, and the Kaihu and, from the south, the Manganui. For some distance from the Kaipara Heads the river is flanked to the east by extensive swamps, many of which are now reclaimed and provide highly productive dairy land. Chief of these is the old Tokatoka Swamp, now the Ruawai Flats. To the west is a series of dunes, both fixed and moving. Among them is a series of lakes and long the shore are drained swamps fringed with mangroves. This coastal sand belt was called The Desert Coast by Captain James Cook who arrived off there in January, 1770. At Dargaville, which was named after an early settler, where the river swings west, the country is alternating sandstone and shale of Upper Cretaceous age. East of Tokatoka are several prominent peaks, representing old volcanic necks. The bar at the Kaipara Heads is dangerous to shipping and several vessels have been lost there. The Wesleyan Church established a mission among the Maori people at Tangiteroria in 1836; in 1853 it was moved to Mount Wesley, near Dargaville.

Early development of the Wairoa River was associated with the kauri pine. Lumbermen followed in the wake of the missionaries and early adventurers and pit sawed the kauri for building material from about 1840. About 1850 there developed a trade in the provision of spars for sailing vessels.


Sawmills grew up along the river, at Aratapu in 1865, Mititai in 1866 and Te Kopuru in 1871. The kauri-gum industry was a large and thriving one, the principal area being Babylon (Scottys Camp), Tokatoka, and Aranga (Maunganui Bluff Swamp). Export of flax began from the Wairoa as early as 1840. The first ship was built at Oparau and, later, yards were constructed at Omara about 1840, Aratapu about 1880, and Te Kopuru in 1901. With the virtual extinction of the kauri these industries either ceased or greatly diminished. Communication with Auckland was, in the early days, by river to the Kaipara then by sea to Kaukapakapa, overland to Riverhead, and by sea down the Waitemata. Later, mail, passengers, and freight were landed at Helensville, which had been connected by rail to Riverhead. The Kaipara Steam Ship Company’s ships called at the many jetties on each side of the long waterway. Last of its ships were the Wairua and the Ruawai. Today there is little sawmilling, but two companies crush lime for agricultural purposes. The real wealth of the district lies in its agriculture, and so important is dairy farming that the Wairoa can support two large dairy factories, one at Mangawhare and one at Ruawai.

The name Wairoa means Longwater. (wai; water, roa; long)