Evolution of slab geometry beneath the North Island, New Zealand, has been investigated using a combination of published arc-type volcanic ages and earthquake locations in the subducting Pacific plate. Arc-front volcanoes migrated SE by 150 km in the last 8 myr subparallel to the present active arc. Migration of the arc is interpreted to mainly reflect slab rollback along the Tonga–Kermadec subduction system changing to fixed hinge slab steepening beneath the central North Island. The strike of the Pacific plate beneath the North Island, imaged by Benioff zone seismicity (50–200 km) and positive mantle velocity anomalies (200–600 km), is parallel to the NE–SW trend of arc-front volcanism. Arc parallelism since 16 Ma indicates that the strike of the subducting plate beneath the North Island was constant over this time interval, in contrast to clockwise vertical-axis rotations of ≥50° of the overriding plate over the same period along the eastern and southern Hikurangi margin. Acceleration of arc-front migration rates (from c. 4 to c. 18 mm a−1), eruption of high-Mg# andesites, increasing eruption frequency and size, and uplift of the overriding plate indicate an increase in the hydration, temperature and size of the mantle wedge beneath the central North Island from c. 7 Ma.

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