Kawerau (pop. 6,921 — 2006 census) is a town in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand. The town is situated 100 km south-east of Tauranga and 58 km east of Rotorua. It is the seat of the Kawerau District Council.
Kawerau is a small community, with the main industry being the nearby Norske Skog Tasman pulp and paper mill. There are a number of geothermal hot springs in the surrounding bush owned and operated by local families. Kawerau is located along State Highway 34, and is the terminus of the East Coast Main Trunk Railway and the commencing point of the Murupara Branch railway.
Kawerau is one of the youngest towns in New Zealand. It was founded in 1953 as a mill town for the new Tasman pulp and paper mill. The site for the mill was chosen because of the ready availability of geothermal energy, water from the Tarawera River and the large supply of pine timber from the nearby Kaingaroa forest. Unlike most other towns of its size, Kawerau was carefully planned before construction. The town was built with an impressive number of facilities, to accommodate a multinational specialist workforce. The mill continues to drive the local economy and greatly influences the fortunes of the town.
The total population of the Kawerau District was 6,921 at the time of the 2006 Census. 47.4% of people (3,144) in the Kawerau District said they belong to the European ethnic group. 61.1% of people (4,047) in the Kawerau District said they belong to the Mâori ethnic group. The population of the Kawerau District contains a smaller proportion of Pacific Island peoples (3.8%) and smaller proportion of Asian people (1.8%) compared with the whole of New Zealand.
The 820 m volcanic cone of Mount Edgecumbe/Putauaki lies 3 km to the east of Kawerau, and is easily visible from the town. The Tarawera River straddles Kawerau to the east and continues north to the Bay of Plenty.
Kawerau has access to vast geothermal resources. The Kawerau geothermal field provides steam power for the paper mill, and plans have been announced to build a 70–80 MW geothermal power station in an area of the geothermal field..
Water is supplied to the town from two natural springs. Kawerau's water was judged the best-tasting in New Zealand in 2003 and 2004.
Kawerau was also one of the worst-affected towns in the 1987 Edgecumbe earthquake.
Kawerau experiences hot summers and mild winters in New Zealand. During midsummer, the average daily maximum temperature is 28.3°C, one of the highest in New Zealand. The town owes its high temperatures to the dip in which it is situated. During winter, the average daily maximum temperature reaches 20.4°C.
Rainfall is spread throughout the year, though it is not uncommon to experience a drought during summer.
Kawerau hosts a number of events each year, including the National Woodskills Festival, 'King of the Mountain' race and the Tarawera 100 motorcycle endurance race.
National Woodskills Festival
The National Woodskills Festival is a competition that encompasses a broad spectrum of wood craftsmanship and wood art. Some of the competitors are professionals but many are amateurs. The Woodskills Festival was first held in Kawerau in 1989 as a local competition. By 1991, the event had become such a popular annual competition that it was developed into a national event, attracting exhibitors from throughout New Zealand.
The annual festival attracts hundreds of visitors from around the country making it the town's largest event and money earner. As well as the Woodskills Festival there is an Arts & Crafts Festival with displays open on Saturday and Sunday at various venues around Kawerau.