Riverton lies 38 km west of Invercargill, close to the sea on both sides of the estuary of the Aparima River (also known as the Jacobs River). It is the oldest Pākehā settlement in Southland and Otago. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was home to a substantial Māori pā called Aparima, the inhabitants attracted by the harbour and ample seafood. In the mid-1830s, Captain John Howell established a whaling station there. He took a Māori woman of high rank as his wife and thereby acquired a lot of land. Farming has been the most important economic activity in the district, but there has also been timber and flax milling, gold mining and fishing. Chinese miners worked at Round Hill – about 300 were there in 1888. The port was active for commerce until a railway opened to Invercargill in 1879.

Meaning of place name
It was named Riverton in March 1858 because of the situation of the town on the junction of the estuary of the Aparima River and its confluence with the Pourakino.