About our District and Council

The modern reference to the Ōtorohanga District refers to the area administered by the Ōtorohanga District Council. The current form of the District was established in 1971 when the former Ōtorohanga County and Borough Councils were amalgamated.


Our Places

The District covers 197,600 hectares (1976 square kilometres), extending 90 kilometres from the Tasman Sea in the west to the Waikato River in the east. It’s a relatively narrow district, averaging about 30 kilometres wide. The Ōtorohanga township covers an area of 507 hectares, while the Kāwhia community covers 161 hectares. 

There are 5211 properties in the district, with a combined value of $4.2 Billion[1] – that’s an average of nearly $806,000 per property.

Despite its relatively small size, the topography of the district is diverse – including productive farmland, extensive hill country, ocean beaches, native bush, river valleys and protected harbours.


Our Early History[2]

The District has a rich history and strong cultural connections, which date back to the arrival and final resting place of the Tainui waka in Kāwhia nearly 700 years ago. The Tainui people settled around Kāwhia harbour and moved inland over time.

Famous 19th-century Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha grew up at Kāwhia, but he and he people were expelled by Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto forces after he killed a Waikato chief. Te Rauparaha composed the famous haka - Ka Mate - while Ngāti Toa were still based at Kāwhia.

European traders arrived in the 1820s and were followed by Wesleyan Methodist missionaries, who established mission stations on land purchased at Kāwhia and in others area around the harbour in the 1830s. Land was also sold to European settlers. Kāwhia and the wider King Country area were closed to Europeans after the Waikato/New Zealand land wars of the 1860s.

In 1880 the government bought a block of land previously owned by an early settler. The new town of Kāwhia was laid out on the northern shores of the harbour in 1882. King Tāwhiao was not consulted, but eventually agreed to the town’s establishment, and European returned.

Kāwhia harbour was the centre of the local economy, as ships transported dairy products, flax and timber from the area to larger centres, including exports to Australia, the UK and North America. In the early 1900s the local council wanted the government to make Kāwhia a major port. However, the First World War delayed plans and coastal shipping was overtaken by road and rail transport. Despite this, Kāwhia’s picturesque setting appealed to tourists, many of whom travelled from Hamilton. The Kāwhia regatta has been held annually since 1910.

Ōtorohanga was once a large Māori settlement, with possibility up to 5000 living in multiple Pā, and dating back to around 1500AD. This settlement was the scene of an attack in 1822 by Ngā Puhi, who had recently acquired flintlock muskets.  The battle was won by Ngāti Maniapoto at the foot of the great Huiputea tree, which still stands proud today.


After the King Country was opened to European settlement in the 1880s, Ōtorohanga became the home of government services and the Native Land Court. The present town originated as a permanent camp for workers constructing the southward extension of the North Island Main Trunk railway. The railway line to the town was completed in 1887. By that stage the town had become the base for early tourists visiting the Waitomo Caves. By the early 1900s many of town’s businesses had been established by Māori, in particular John Ormsby (Hone Ōmipi).

Notable historical events across the District include:

  • Governor George Grey travelled to the Ngutunui area in 1878 to meet King Tāwhiao at Hikurangi pā. The first European settlers arrived in the Ngutunui area in 1903 and the local school opened in 1914.
  • From 1883 to 1893 Māori prophet and rebel leader Te Kooti lived at Ōtewa.
  • Land in the Te Kawa area was settled by European farmers in the 1890s and early 1900s. Returned servicemen were settled on farms in the district after the first and second world wars.
  • Waikeria prison opened in 1912 for low-level offenders, who developed the land and acquired farming skills. During the First World War, men who had committed serious crimes were sent to Waikeria. Prison escapes then became common-place, which created fear for residents in the Te Awamutu/Kihikihi area.
  • The first European settlers arrived in the Wharepuhunga area in 1896. Acclaimed international opera singer Oscar Natzke was born at Wharepuhunga in 1912.
  • Waipapa Dam, on the Waikato River, was completed in 1961.   


Our People

Based on the 2018 census, there are 10,104 of us living in the District, of which 3027 (30%) are in Ōtorohanga town. We collectively make up 0.2% of New Zealand’s population. More recent estimates indicate we have grown to around 10,500[3]. This indicates our numbers have been growing at an annual rate of around 2% since 2013.  This population growth is a positive sign, as numbers had previously been dropping since the 1990’s and were likely to stay static or only grow slightly. The population growth is relatively evenly split between rural and urban.

There are likely to be many reasons for our numbers increasing, which is predominantly associated with people moving into the District, rather than a significant increase in the birth rate. Some of our new residents have been attracted by the lifestyle and relatively cheap housing, some have come to set up new businesses or take up a new job, and others may have come to connect with family/whanau.

We are becoming more ethnically diverse, with new residents arriving from most parts of the world. More than 11% of us were born overseas. European (67%) and Maori (26%) still make up most of the population, although 33% of us have Maori ancestry.

The median age of residents (2018) is 36.3 years, which younger than the New Zealand population at 37.4 years. Our Maori population is younger still, at 27.8 years. The proportion of us aged 65+ is growing fastest, which is in line with the rest of New Zealand.

The 2018 Census tells us there are more than 4300 homes in the District, which is around 230 more than in 2013. Home ownership[4] rates in the District are 63.4%, which is only slightly lower than the New Zealand level of 64.6%. The cost of renting a house continues to be significantly lower in our District than the average for New Zealand. The average house value (2019) in the district was $280,850 (NZ $687,099). However, the growth rate in local house values has exceeded that of New Zealand since 2016/17.

Our average income (per person) in 2018 was $30,200 (NZ $31,800), while our average household income for 2019 was $101,101 (NZ $111,472). For those of us in employment, our average earnings in 2019 was $56,189 – which is significantly lower than the New Zealand average at $62,774.


Figure 1 – Ōtorohanga District Population: Census Numbers and Projection Scenarios

 Figure 1



Figure 2 – Ōtorohanga District Population Age Structure: Census Numbers and Projection


Figure 2    

      * Compares the 2018 projected age structure (based on 2013 Census) with the 2018 Census age structure. Updated population projections (based on the 2018 Census) are expected to be available late 2020.


Our Economy

In 2019, there were 1,935 businesses operating in the District, with 4,684 employees. Business unit growth was led by financial/insurance services, real estate and manufacturing, with 90 new businesses established.

Ōtorohanga’s GDP[5] was $582 million in 2019, compared to $559 million in 2017. This represents 0.2% of NZ’s GDP. In 2019 GDP growth in the district was 4.35%, compared to 3% for New Zealand.

The top 4 industries by GDP in the District are:

  • Dairying $160.6M (27.6%)
  • Central Government $52.8 (9.1%)
  • Sheep, Beef and Grain $32.2M (5.5%)
  • Property/Real Estate $24.9M (4.3%)

Tourism contributed to 2.7% of the District’s GDP in 2019.

The biggest contributors to economic growth between 2018 and 2019 were:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing $223M (+9.2%)
  • Wholesale Trade $14M (+13.8%)
  • Professional, Scientific & Technical Services $22M (+8.1%)
  • Retail Trade $18M (+9.5%)
  • Education and Learning $18M (+8.4%)

According to the 2018 Census, only 78.4% of us have access to the internet, which is significantly less than the New Zealand figure of 86.1%. Increasing internet coverage is an opportunity to increase economic productivity. 


Our Council

The Ōtorohanga District Council has been in place since 1971 when the former Ōtorohanga County and Borough Councils were amalgamated. However, there has been a locally-based council governing the area since 1922, when the Otorohanga County was formed from the amalgamation of the former Wharepapa and Mangaorongo Roads Board and part of the Waitomo County. The northern half of the former Kawhia County was amalgamated into the District in 1956. In 1971, the County of Otorohanga and the Borough of Otorohanga were united to form the new Ōtorohanga District.

The Council is made up of two parts, each with different roles/responsibilities, but working together:

  1. The elected members (The Elected Council), being the Mayor and 7 councillors; and,
  2. The staff, led by the Chief Executive.

Elections for the Mayor and councillors occur every 3 years, with the next election being in October 2022. The 7 councillors are elected across 5 wards: Kāwhia-Tihiroa; Kio Kio-Korakonui; Ōtorohanga, Waipa and Wharepuhunga.

The elected council appoints the Chief Executive, who in turn employs the staff. There are currently just over 50 staff working for the Council in full and part-time roles.

In addition to the elected council, there are two community boards – one serving Ōtorohanga and the other serving Kāwhia. Members of the community boards are elected by their respective communities, and an elected councillor from the respective ward is appointed to each Board. Community Boards are separate entities, although the Council does provide administrative support and a small operating budget.


Your Local Service Provider

The Council’s main purpose is to promote local democratic decision making for and on behalf of our communities, and to promote the social cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing of those communities. In doing so, the Council has many roles – service provider, facilitator, enabler, advocate, regulator and policy maker.

While the Council undertakes a multitude of activities, its primary role is as a service provider, and the organisation is structured accordingly. The main services provided by your Council are:

  • Drinking water supplies
  • Civil Defence
  • Rural water schemes
  • Dog control
  • Roads, footpaths and street-lighting
  • Stock control
  • Wastewater collection and disposal
  • Food safety
  • Flood protection
  • Noise control
  • Stormwater management
  • Bylaw compliance
  • Parks, reserves and playgrounds
  • Economic development
  • Libraries
  • Community grants
  • Public toilets
  • Security patrol
  • Swimming pools
  • Community Board support
  • Pensioner housing
  • Liquor licensing
  • Community halls
  • Planning & Development
  • Cemeteries
  • Building control
  • Rubbish and recycling collection


Many of the services we provide are a Government requirement. Those that aren’t a requirement, are provided because our community wants us to. Every three years the Council reviews its services and levels of service, and the public has an opportunity to be part of that process. 

For essential services, the Council operates on a 24/7 basis.


Your Asset Guardian

The services provided by your Council are reliant on an extensive range of facilities and infrastructure, a lot of which isn’t visible because of its location. All of these assets require regular maintenance and periodic replacement. There are asset management plans that direct the maintenance, replacement and upgrade programmes. When the demand for services increases, such as a new housing development, then an extension of our infrastructure and service delivery arrangements is programmed accordingly.

For the 10 years to 2028, the Council is projected spend $346 million to deliver its services. Of this, $84 million is dedicated to capital projects (renewing or replacing existing assets).

All of the equipment, vehicles, buildings, facilities and infrastructure are owned by the Council on behalf of our residents and ratepayers. The current value of those assets exceeds $300 million – that equates to a value of nearly $30,000 per resident.

The Council’s major assets are:

Roads and Footpaths – 807 kilometres of roads, of which 514 kilometres are sealed. We have almost 22 kilometres of footpaths, 154 bridges, 28 stock underpasses, more than 5600 culverts and nearly 2200 signs. This activity accounts for more than 80% of the total value of Council’s assets.

Water Supplies – 6 water schemes (2 urban/4 rural) comprising intake structures, treatment plants, storage reservoirs and a total of 217 kilometres of pipes.

Wastewater Treatment – 1 treatment plant (3.6 hectare aerated oxidation pond and 2 hectare wetland) with 32 kilometres of pipes and 12 pump stations.

Stormwater Disposal – 12.5 kilometres of pipes and 4 kilometres of open drains.

Public toilets – 5 facilities (Ōtorohanga, Kāwhia and Aotea).

Rubbish & Recycling – 2 facilities (Ōtorohanga and Kāwhia).

Cemeteries – 2 sites (Ōtorohanga and Kāwhia), with a combined area of 7.8 hectares.


Your Rates

No one chooses to pay rates, but to have the services, facilities and other amenities available in our district someone has to pay. To do this, Council uses a variety of funding sources – such rates, fees, charges and external subsidies/grants. The exact nature of the funding source(s) used depends on the nature of the activity/service, who benefits and to what degree, and whether there are any Government requirements as to how particular services are to be paid for.

Generally, those services where there is an exclusive benefit pay directly through fees, charges or targeted rates. Examples of these services include consents, licences, permits and water supplies. For those services where there is a widespread or general benefit, rates is likely to be the primary funding source. Examples of these services include roads, footpaths and public toilets. Services such as roads and footpaths attract a significant Government subsidy. In reality, most services are funded through a variety of sources, although the mix of those varies according to the service and benefits.

If the costs of Council services increase – because contractor prices or the cost of materials, such as pipes, have increased – then rates may have to be increased to cover those. If a new service is introduced or the level of an existing service is increased, then those additional costs will also have to be met, and rates may increase as a result. However, before increasing rates, the Council looks for other ways to fund its costs. This could be done by reducing costs elsewhere, including reducing or stopping an activity, or getting revenue from another source – such as a Government grant or subsidy, or recovering the cost through a direct charge to the service user.  

Some of the rates levied by the Council are based on property values. These are referred to as ‘capital value’ rates, and are essentially a tax because higher value properties pay a higher dollar amount – this is similar to the way GST and income tax bands work.

The property values Council uses are set independently every 3 years by a company called QV, who are required to undertake this work for all councils in New Zealand. Property owners are notified directly by QV when these revaluations are being done. It is important to understand that these are rating valuations - not market values, but they will reflect relativity between properties and property types, and usually follow general trends in the property market.

Any change in property rating values may affect the amount of rates to be paid. For example, if there’s an addition to a house or a new garage is built on a property, then the value of that property will increase relative to other properties, so there may well be an increase in the general (capital value) rates to be paid. Similarly, if the agricultural sector is doing particularly well the valuations on farm properties may reflect a higher increase in rating values relative to residential and commercial properties. The same will apply if the residential property market is strong relative to other property types. 

For the 2019/20 year, rates covered about 65% of Council’s activity and service costs – this a total of $13.1 million in rates collected for the year.  This equates to an average rates bill of $2515 per property – that’s $6.89 per day.

The average annual rate increase over the last 5 years was 2.34%. The average projected for the next 8 years is 1.9% per annum.


[1] 2019 QV valuation

[2] This is not a complete or extensive history of the District, but what is presented is drawn from  the National Library archive, and Kerryn Pollock, 'King Country places’ and ‘Otorohanga’, edited by A H Flintock, from Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

[3] University of Waikato, March 2020

[4] Private and family trust ownership

[5] Gross Domestic Product – a measure of economic activity