The city is the administrative centre of the Hastings District. The city of Hastings and its outlying suburbs of Flaxmere and Havelock North are the principal settlements in the Hastings District.
These main centres are surrounded by thirty-eight rural settlements, including Clive and Haumoana. Hastings District covers an area of 5,229 square kilometres (2,019 sq mi) and has 1.7 % of the population of New Zealand, ranking it fourteenth in size out of the seventy-four territorial authorities. Since the merger of the surrounding and satellite settlements, Hastings has grown to become one of the largest urban areas in Hawke’s Bay.
Hastings District is a food production region. The fertile Heretaunga Plains surrounding the city produce stone fruits, pome fruit, kiwifruit and vegetables, and the area is one of New Zealand’s major red wine producers. Associated business include food processing, agricultural services, rural finance and freight. Hastings is the major service centre for the surrounding inland pastoral communities and tourism.
Near the fourteenth century CE, Māori arrived in Heretaunga or Hawke’s Bay, settling in the river valleys and along the coast where food was plentiful. It is believed that Māori arrived at Heretaunga by canoe, travelling down the coast from the north, landing at Wairoa, Portland Island, the Ahuriri Lagoon at Westshore, and at Waimarama. Their culture flourished, along with gradual deforestation of the land, making this one of the few regions of New Zealand where sheep could be brought in without felling the bush first. In the sixteenth century, Taraia, great-grandson of the great and prolific chief Kahungunu, established the large tribe of Ngāti Kahungunu, which eventually colonised the eastern side of the North Island from Poverty Bay to Wairarapa. They were one of the first Māori tribes to come in contact with European settlers.
On 3 February 1931, at 10:47 am, most of Hastings (and nearby Napier) was levelled by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale. In Hastings, the ground subsided roughly 1 metre. The collapse of buildings and the ensuing fires killed 258 people, of which 93 were in Hastings. The centre of Hastings was destroyed in the earthquake, and was subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco and Spanish Mission styles, which were both popular at that time. Due to quick thinking by residents and the Local Fire Department, Hastings did not suffer the extent of fire damage that Napier did. Most deaths were attributed to collapsing buildings, namely Roaches‘ Department Store in Heretaunga Street where 17 people died.