The peninsula is 13.5 miles (21.7 km) long and 7 miles (11.3 km) wide rising to its highest point at Rahuimokairoa reaching about 1,302 feet (397 m) above sea level. Mahia was initially an island which over time, has had a sand bar join it to the North Island. Whales often strand on the shallow sand build up.
Early whalers had a whaling station on the farm 'Kini Kini", sheltered by 'Long Point' on the west coast of the peninsula. Portland Island ('Waikawa') was named by Kahungunu when he visited there to look for fresh drinking water and only found salt water. Waikawa means 'sour water'. Waikawa is a small island off the southern tip of Mahia Peninsula with an unmanned lighthouse. The name Mahia means 'indistinct sound'.
The area is a popular seaside resort and contains a holiday park dating back to the 60s. The remaining settlement consists mostly of holiday houses and baches. Sheep and cattle farms are still an important part for the local community, however the most important activity of the area is tourism. Mahia's population swells greatly during the warmer months and in particular during school holidays. Mahia is famous for its surf, scuba diving, hiking, and fishing. Many tourists stay in Napier, Hastings or Wairoa and travel to Mahia Peninsula for the day. Morere Hot Springs is located at the northern end of Mahia Peninsula.
In Maori legend, Whatonga who came to New Zealand in search of his grandfather Toi, settled at Mahia. The community these days is still generally a mix of Maori and European. The local Maori people are known as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine.
More recently Mahia has become famous for the presence of Moko the Dolphin.
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