Hawera is Māori 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).
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.
- 1 Elvis Presley Memorial Record Room, 51 Argyle St, ☏ . phone to make arrangements. Private museum, open by appointment. donation.
- 2 Hawera Water Tower, 105–111 Albion St. One of Taranaki’s best-known heritage landmarks. Climb the 215 steps up the tower for marvelous views of the Taranaki countryside. After falling into disrepair the tower was closed to the public in 2001, but after an extensive restoration program it reopened in 2004.
- 3 Tawhiti Museum, 401 Ohangai Rd (3 km from town), ☏ . 10am–4pm, days vary with the season. The biggest and best private museum in New Zealand. Hand-crafted life-sized wax sculptures depicting scenes of local heritage and history, and scale models of local Māori pā. Includes Traders & Whalers, a boat ride through Taranaki history of 1820–40.
- 4 Turuturu Mokai Pa, Turuturu Rd. Perhaps Hawera's most famous example of a nineteenth century Māori pa is the Turuturu-Mokai complex.
For the more adventurous there is an abundance of activities including tramping, climbing, surfing and dam dropping.
- Wheatly Downs Backpackers/Farmstay, 484 Ararata Rd (6 km from town), ☏ . Pick-up from town can be arranged in advance. Friendly manager. Single $75, dorm bed $30, tent $20 pp.
- 1 Hawera Holiday Park, 70 Waihi Rd, ☏ . Check-out: 10 am. Friendly, helpful manager. Next door to Aquatic centre & King Edward Park. 5 min walk into town. Sites from $17, cabins from $40.