Story: Bay of Plenty region

Page 10. Population: 1840 onwards

All images & media in this story

From 1840 to the 1920s

In 1840 the Bay of Plenty had a population of not more than 10,000, virtually all Māori. Through the rest of the 19th century the Māori population declined, and the number of Pākehā (non-Māori) grew only very slowly. The biggest increase in Pākehā numbers came in the 1900s and 1910s as the dairy industry thrived:

  • 1874: 1,425 Pākehā and approximately 8,000 Māori (including Rotorua and Taupō)
  • 1901: 4,882 Pākehā and 5,772 Māori (excluding Rotorua and Taupō)
  • 1921: 15,708 Pākehā and 6,274 Māori (excluding Rotorua and Taupō).

From the 1930s to the 1960s

In 1936 the total population of the region was 31,764, of whom 9,751 were Māori.

After 1945, forestry and farming opened up the interior, and farming continued on the coast. The rapidly growing population was typically young and male, particularly in new towns like Kawerau. The Māori population grew with the rest, and many younger Māori moved to towns and cities. In 1945 Māori numbered 11,311 (out of a total population of 37,867). By 1961 they numbered 17,857 (out of 81,290).

Bay of Plenty people today

In 2013 the total population was 205,971. The region had the third-highest proportion of people who identified themselves as Māori (24.4%), after East Coast and Northland.

As in most North Island regions outside the main centres of Auckland and Wellington, numbers of Asian and Pacific peoples were small – Asian people were 4.8% of the population and Pacific Island people 2.5%. This was under half the New Zealand averages of 7.4% (Pacific) and 11.8% (Asian). Moreover, the percentage of New Zealand-born people in Bay of Plenty (82.5%) was higher than for the country as a whole (74.8%).


In 2013 the Bay was a region of Māori and Pākehā. There were more Pākehā in the west, partly because other North Islanders had migrated to Tauranga. The east had a higher proportion of Māori.

The region was also divided economically. In 2013 median incomes were higher in the west, while unemployment rates were lower. The Kawerau district stood out – its unemployment rate was 24.7% (compared to 7–11% for the rest of the region), while its median income was $18,800 (compared to $20,000–$27,000 for other areas). Kawerau was badly affected by the downsizing of the timber and paper milling industries in the 2000s.

  1. A regional profile: Bay of Plenty. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand, 1996, p. 10. › Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Bay of Plenty region - Population: 1840 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 October 2021)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 5 Dec 2005, updated 1 Aug 2016