Waikouaiti, 45 km north of Dunedin, promotes itself as the ‘birthplace of Otago’. It was a long-standing Māori settlement. Whaler Johnny Jones established a shore station at nearby Karitāne in 1837, and a farm and homestead at Matanaka in 1840. A new road was built in 1864 and the town developed alongside it. In 1866 the settlement became the borough of Hawksbury (also the name of its river at the time). It was called Waikouaiti from 1909.

Meaning of place name
Wai: stream; koua (the poetical form of kua): to become; iti: little. At one time the river probably changed its course, causing the flow to diminish here. Another theory is that it was initially Waikawaiti. Wai: water; kawa: bitter or salty; iti: little.