Hawera is Maori for burnt place, from fighting between two local sub-tribes, which culminated in the setting ablaze of the sleeping whare (house) of the tribe under attack. Because of differing oral traditions, translations such as "breath of fire" and "burning plains" have also been offered. The name became apt when the town suffered extensive blazes in 1884, 1888, and 1912. For this reason a large water tower was built in the centre of town to increase water pressure; and this became one of Taranaki's best-known landmarks (appearing, for example, on the cover of the 1974 telephone directory). After falling into disrepair the tower was closed to the public in 2001, but after an extensive restoration program it opened again in 2004.
State Highway 3 passes through Hawera. Hawera is near the coast of the South Taranaki Bight, 75 kilometres south of New Plymouth on State Highway 3 and 20 minutes' drive from Mount Taranaki/Egmont. It is on State Highway 45, known as Surf Highway 45 for its numerous surf beaches. State Highway 45 passes through Manaia, Opunake and Oakura en route to New Plymouth. Kaponga is a 20-minute drive to the north-west. The Marton - New Plymouth Line railway passes through Hawera and has served the town since 1 August 1881, though it has been freight-only since the cancellation of the last railcar passenger service between Wellington and New Plymouth on 30 July 1977.
Take your time and stroll through the main street with an array of interesting shops.
- Hawera Water Tower, one of Taranaki’s best-known heritage landmarks. Climb the 215 steps up the Hawera Water Tower for marvelous views of the Taranaki countryside.
- Elvis Presley Memorial Record Room, 51 Argyle St, Hawera.
- Whareroa Dairy Factory Visitor Centre, Hawera is home to the largest dairy factory complex in the world, "Whareroa", which has its own gas-fired powerplant. The complex is owned by Fonterra, having been built by the former Kiwi Co-operative Dairies Limited (whose original plant opened on that site in 1975).
- Tawhiti Museum, well-known for its hand-crafted life-sized wax sculptures depicting scenes of local heritage and history, and its scale models of local Maori pa.
- Turuturu Mokai Pa, perhaps Hawera's most famous example of a nineteenth century Maori pa is the Turuturu-Mokai complex, on Turuturu Road.
For the more adventurous there is an abundance of activities including tramping, climbing, surfing and dam dropping.