A little History of Waipawa

Waipawa is (reputedly) one of New Zealand’s oldest inland towns.

History can be a fairly involved thing and could take up pages and pages, and so not to bore you, I am skimming over the history very, VERY briefly…

Waipawa was not always known as Waipawa, in about 1850 a man named Frederick Abbott applied for a leasehold of 9,600 acres. On this he planned to graze 2,000 sheep, 20 head of cattle, and two horses. Whenever Abbott traveled south he always crossed the Waipawa River at the same place. This place was referred to as Abbott’s Ford.

Sometime later Abbott cut his property into smaller sections which he sold to enterprising settlers and the township of ‘Abbottsford’ began to grow and develop with a few houses, two pubs, a blacksmith, and other small businesses.

Later Waipawa returned to its original Maori name meaning ‘dark water’.

Although I am not born and bred a Waipawa-ian, a few of my ancestors were… and since this is my personal view of Waipawa I feel compelled to mention them.

Edward and Mary Ann Bibby (my great, great grandparents) were some of the early settlers in Waipawa and they established one of the first stores situated very conveniently next to ‘Abbott’s Ford’. Their business was very successful, and they had to upscale the size of their shops three times to accommodate their business and their growing family. They even started up one of New Zealand’s first mail-order schemes where isolated settlers could write an order to Mary at the Bibby Store and she would have it made up and posted back.

As with all small towns Waipawa has been through boom times and depressions with businesses coming and going.

I remember as a child traveling through Waipawa and thinking it was quite a large town (even though I came from the city which was much bigger), but when I shifted here to live sixteen years ago my perception of it had changed.

Nearly all the shops on the eastern side of the main road had been demolished (apparently because the shops there had not been maintained), and only the ones on the west survive, so it gives the main road a sort of ‘lopsided’ view.

The population of Waipawa is only about 1,872 which I suppose is quite small, but you are still sometimes able to walk down the main street without knowing every face that passes you (although sometimes it can take a long time to get a small job done if you bump into someone you do know who is feeling chatty)

The people in Waipawa are friendly bunch and they will still smile at you when you walk down the street even if they don’t know you (which is something that I miss when I do go to the big city where the glazed expression seems the norm.)

Small towns can have a slow, quiet, nothing-much-happening reputation, but I disagree… I like the quiet sometimes, but other times small towns can have their own vitality which perhaps this modern, instant age can’t really appreciate.

I mean – ‘Life is what you make it’ wherever you are.