Ngaruawahia is situated at the junction of the Waikato and Waipa rivers in the central Waikato basin. To the west, the town is hilly, rising to the Hakarimata (Whawhapunga) Range. Elsewhere the district consists of an alluvial plain. The North Island Main Trunk railway passes through the township and recent significant roading projects has seen the main State Highway shift to the east of town. Because of its geographical location at the junction of two important canoe waterways, Ngaruawahia was an important Maori settlement in early times. Intensive exploration of the Waikato district by pioneer missionaries commenced in 1830-31 and most of these passed through Ngaruawahia. Earlier, several Europeans had visited the area and some had settled. Captain Rodolphus Kent, a trader, established permanent headquarters at Ngaruawahia in 1831, having been wrecked at Kawhia Harbour in 1828. In 1858, Potatau Te Wherowhero was invested as Maori King with the title Potatau.
During the Waikato War, the village was fortified with extensive earthworks to repel the advance of the force commanded under General Duncan Cameron. Under Tawhiao, the village was abandoned when it was realised that it could not be defended against armoured gunboats. The village was occupied by British and colonial troops on 8 December 1863 and became General Cameron’s headquarters until after the Waikato War. The town was surveyed in 1864 and in October the sale of sections commenced. The town expanded under the name of Newcastle and chief centre of the Waikato. In 1867, a military road from Auckland was completed and in 1877 the railway from Auckland reached the town. River transport consequently declined in importance. For many years, coal was mined at Glen Massey (6 miles west). The branch railway linking the collieries with Ngaruawahia was closed in 1958 when mining declined. In 1867 Ngaruawahia was made a highway district; in 1871 it became a town district, and in 1920 it was constituted a borough.
The name Ngaruawahia means “break open the food pits”. Currently, Ngaruawahia is a servicing and distributing centre for the pre- dominantly dairy farming district. Sheep raising is practised in the hilly country to the west, and lambs are fattened on flats. Pig raising, dairy farming, and poultry farming are also important. There are several dairy factories producing butter, cheese and casein. At Horotiu (8 kilometres to the south) there is a large meat-freezing works, a sausage-casing works, a pumice-stand plant and joinery and saw milling establishments.
NGARUAWAHIA – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/ngaruawahia