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Huntly re-imagined – the rebirth of Rahui-Pōkeka

February 2023


In brief

  • Huntly could be re-imagined and evolve into an attractive New Zealand tourist destination and place to live; 

  • The town has an advantageous location, good transport connections, and underutilised natural assets;  

  • A new strategy and investment for Huntly could focus on four big ideas including: (1) reconnecting Huntly (2) rebranding Huntly (3) connecting the waters and (4) embracing the river;

  • Huntly’s transformation could provide an exciting future for the local community and case study for other small New Zealand towns. 


Huntly is strategically located 95 km south of Auckland and 32 km north Hamilton. It occupies an area of around 17 km2 and is positioned alongside the Waikato River.  Huntly has ready access to State Highway 1 for North/South travel. The town is approximately 48 km from the West Coast beach of Raglan and 98 km from Waihi Beach on the East Coast. 


As at 2022, the population of Huntly was estimated to be around 9,000. Individuals of European descent accounted over half the population with Māori making up around 40 %. The population has been growing at a rate of approximately +2.3%.  


Huntly has long suffered from a number of negative perceptions and realities. These include its association with lower socio-economic conditions, low employment rates, and other malaise. Key economic drivers such as the power station, its advantageous location vis a vis the railway and highway, and proximity to both Hamilton and Auckland, have diminished over time.     


In 2015, national news coverage highlighted a blog titled "Huntly. Yes, It's That Bad" and in 2019, Huntly was rated ‘New Zealand’s worst town’. It has been in the ‘top ten’ list of worst towns in the same report consistently for a number of years. 

While Huntly locals continue to staunchly defend their town, there is clearly an enduring (negative) perception of Huntly. Since the Huntly bypass was connected in 2020, little progress appears to have been made to rethink what defines the town. There is a sense that Huntly has been forgotten by both regional and central government planners. 

Optimists will point to emerging opportunities such as the move by the company Sleepyhead to shift its base of operations to Ohinewai, North of Huntly. Efforts to promote more awareness of Huntly lakes have also received some support. But is this enough to have any meaningful impact on the fundamental attractiveness of Huntly as a destination?   

What could be done to re-imagine and rejuvenate Huntlys future? Could Huntly maximise its strategic location and natural advantages? Is it possible Huntly becomes a ‘must see’ New Zealand tourist destination as well as a desirable place for people to live and run a business?  

These are not new questions. In 2015, the then head of architecture and planning at the University of Auckland, Elizabeth Aitken-Rose suggested Huntly could become New Zealand’s ‘next Parnell’. This was based on the idea that urban change inevitably occurs over time and with critical mass. Arguably, however, there is currently little evidence of this change in Huntly and it may be time for bigger strategic interventions. 

This report proposes some bold ideas that could make such transformation possible. All build upon what already exists in Huntly and advantages that could be accentuated. There is no doubt these ideas are provocative and will require strong levels of local/regional support and investment to succeed.  

 Four big ideas that could transform Huntly:





ONE: RECONNECTING HUNTLY – walkbridge over railway line/highway  

Huntly has straddled the critical central North Island North/South railway line and highway for over a century. While this infrastructure has been immensely important for New Zealand, Huntly township has undoubtedly suffered. Splitting such a small town so comprehensively has fractured the contiguity of its streets, impacted the general ambiance, and inhibited its development.     

The town now needs its West/East sides to be reconnected if it is to be rejuvenated. This will allow movement across the township and between its different attractions. It will become the connecting centre of the town.     


This will require a significant, ultra-wide walk bridge over the railway and highway. The structure will need to be considerably larger than existing pedestrian bridges, and capable of carrying walkways, cycle ways, gardens, and possibly mixed-use buildings. There are many international examples. 

Reconnecting. Reimagining. Revitalizing.

TWO: REBRANDING HUNTLY – using Rahui-Pōkeka (RP)

Huntly suffers from a perception problem and this will not change without a significant effort to ‘re-brand’. Reconnecting Huntly with its Māori name could be a positive way to re-brand Huntly. The Māori name for Huntly, Rahui-Pōkeka is taken from a traditional custom when a pōkeka was driven into the ground to signify that a rāhui had been put in place. 


The renaming of Huntly as Rahui-Pōkeka could be symbolic of the re-birth of the town. It could be representative of the town and community choosing to utilise its resources (such as its river and lake access) for the benefit of current and future generations. 

Future marketing of Huntly could use Huntly- Rahui-Pōkeka or just Rahui-Pōkeka. Local Iwi could lead efforts to celebrate the rich history of the area and connect this to an exciting vision of its future.     


THREE: CONNECTING THE WATERS – the river to the lakes


Huntly sits on the Waikato River and close to a number of lakes including Hakanoa, Puketirini, and Waahi. These waters could be better linked with interconnected walkways, gardens and general aesthetic improvement. The ‘Reconnecting Huntly’ project (idea 1) could be at the heart of this new series of connected accessways to local scenic locations.


History and storytelling could be used to guide visitors from location to location. Iwi could lead efforts to honour local Māori sites and traditions.     

FOUR: EMBRACING THE RIVER – entertainment facilities on the river

The Waikato River is a potentially significant tourist attraction that Huntly is currently extracting little value from. This is despite the natural beauty of the river and Huntlys advantageous position between the population bases of Auckland and Hamilton.


The township overwhelmingly has its back to the river. Huntly’s river frontage could be re-developed with the removal of industrial buildings and the re-zoning of areas. The river should become the focal point for the town and utilise the walkbridge to draw people towards it. The view across the river and the power station could be animated at night with bold light fixtures.


There are numerous international examples for the design and facilities Huntly could establish on the Waikato riverside. This could include restaurants, cafes, bars, entertainment areas, cultural sites, gardens, and walkways. These riverside attractions could become the ‘jewel’ in the crown in the wider re-birth of Huntly as Rahui-Pōkeka.    


Huntly deserves the opportunity to be reimagined and establish itself as an exciting destination. The town should make use of its advantageous location, good transport connections, and natural assets. 

A new strategy and investment will be required. The town could adopt the four ideas introduced in this report including: (1) reconnecting Huntly; (2) rebranding Huntly; (3) connecting the waters; and (4) embracing the river. 

Huntly’s transformation could provide an exciting future for the local community and case study for other small New Zealand towns. 

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