Brightwater, on the banks of the Wairoa River, was named after a water-powered flour mill there, and was one of the early villages serving surrounding farms. A railway station was built in the 1870s. Spring Grove, just south of Brightwater, was the birthplace of New Zealand’s best-known scientist, Ernest Rutherford. A memorial to Rutherford stands where Lord Rutherford Road meets State Highway 6. Spring Grove is also where brothers Tom and Harry Newman began their coach service.

Meaning of place name
The town was named after a water-powered flour mill there. The name was given by mill owner, Alfred Saunders, because of the appearance of the Wairoa River.