The main industries are forestry and tourism. The population is 4,887 (2013 census), which makes it second largest town in the Far North District, after Kerikeri.
The name Kaitaia means ample food, kai being the Māori word for food.
The Muriwhenua are a group of six northern Māori iwi occupying the northernmost part of the North Island surrounding Kaitaia.
The Kaitaia Mission Station was established between 1833 and 1834 after a series of visits by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) representatives including Samuel Marsden, and at different times, Joseph Matthews and William Gilbert Puckey. Puckey and Matthews had married two sisters, Matilda, and Mary Ann Davis respectively, (daughters of Richard Davis, a lay missioner based at Waimate). They formed a tight band, initially living together in raupo huts, and then in houses they built. As Puckey and the sisters were fluent in Maori, (Puckey having arrived in New Zealand in 1819 with his father, William Puckey, and the Davis family in 1823), they spoke Maori when together, to help Joseph pick up the language. Both families grew, and intermarried, forming the basis of the early Pakeha settler community. At one point, the Church Missionary Society decided that one of the two of Puckey and Matthews should move to a new location to the south to facilitate the spread of the word, but Nōpera Panakareao wrote a heartfelt letter to the CMS committee, pleading not to take away 'one of the two candlesticks'. In February 1841 about 500 Maori were present at a CMS service. In 1852 arguments developed between one chief and his tribe, however the impact of the missionaries meant that the old ways of settling disputes had passed.
Richard Matthews, the brother of Rev. Joseph Matthews, arrived in the Bay of Islands in December 1835 and for a time, joined his brother in Kaitaia. Richard Matthews had been a lay missionary on the second voyage of HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin. Richard Matthews served the CMS as a lay catechist at Kaitaia. In 1838 he married Johanna Blomfield, the sister of Mrs Martha Blomfield Clarke, whose husband George was a CMS missionary at Te Waimate mission. In 1840 Richard and Johanna Matthews helped set up a missionary station at Whanganui.
There were plans to extend the Okaihau Branch railway to Kaitaia and construction was started in the 1920s, but with the line nearly complete to Rangiahua, a review in 1936 determined that the line would not be viable and construction was abandoned. The line terminated in Okaihau until it was closed on 1 November 1987. D 221, a steam tank locomotive, has been on static display at Centennial Park since 1967.
Kaitaia has a humid subtropical climate (Cfbl) according to the Trewartha climate classification system or an oceanic climate (Cfb) according to Köppen system.
InterCity operates a daily bus service to and from Auckland via Kerikeri. Community Business & Environment Centre (CBEC) runs a service called Busabout to Ahipara, Mangonui and Pukenui.
Kaitaia Airport has services from Auckland and is the only airport in the upper Far North District. Air New Zealand discontinued their services in April 2015. Barrier Air has since taken over services to Auckland.
The avocado industry flourishes, with orchards dispersed throughout the immediate area. Wine is a growing commodity. One of the largest vineyards is the Karikari Estate.
Kaitaia Primary School, Kaitaia Intermediate and Kaitaia College are the main primary, intermediate and secondary schools. The primary school has a decile rating of 1, the others 2. The rolls are 277, 253, and 862 respectively.
Pompallier School is a Catholic full primary (years 1-8) school with a decile rating of 3 and a roll of 126.
Kaitaia Abundant Life School is a Christian composite school (years 1-13) with a decile rating of 2 and a roll of 211. It was established in 1988 as a private primary school, and extended to secondary students in 1992. It became a state integrated school in 1996.
Oturu School is a primary school to the north east serving years 1-8, with a decile rating of 1 and a roll of 63.
Pukepoto School and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Pukemiro are in Pukepoto, to the south-west.
All these schools are co-educational.
NorthTec polytechnic also has a campus in Kaitaia.
Notable people who have lived in KaitaiaNopera Pana-kareao (?–1856) tribal leader, evangelist and assessor
Margaret MacPherson née Kendall (1895–1974), journalist
Sophia Taylor née Davis (1847–1930), hostess, suffragist and landowner in Mount Albert, Auckland
Donald Rutledge O.B.E, J.P. (1891–1956), small business owner, founding members of Kaitaia RSA, member of Kaitaia Town Board. Invested with the OBE for services to the community