Dannevirke is 101 km south-west of Hastings and 55 km north-east of Palmerston North. The town was founded by Scandinavian immigrants, who were brought to New Zealand by the government in 1872 to fell the forest that covered much of southern Hawke’s Bay and to farm the cleared land. The arrival of the railway in 1884 kick-started growth and Dannevirke pulled ahead of other small towns in the district. Surrounding land was settled and dairy farms established, which also boosted the town. Dannevirke flourished well into the 20th century on the back of farming prosperity. Like other rural centres, the town was affected by the removal of government services and farming subsidies in the 1980s and 1990s.

Meaning of place name
The district, then known as Seventy Mile Bush, was settled by thirteen Danish and six Norwegian families in 1872 and 1873, who renamed it. The government financed the immigrants to Norsewood and Dannevirke, while the provincial councils of Hawke's Bay and Wellington provided the land. Dannevirke means, literally, 'Danes' Work', and the original Dannevirke was a huge defensive entrenchment built across the isthmus of Denmark in the ninth century.