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Cloaked in cultural heritage, the Hamilton & Waikato region has been a significant area for Maori for centuries, being not only the home of the Maori King, but also the final resting place of one of the great voyaging canoes many centuries earlier.
The Tainui Waka (canoe) arrived in New Zealand about 800 years ago and made its final landfall at the Kawhia Harbour on the West Coast.
As Europeans began to settle in the region in the mid-1800s, the Kingitanga (King movement) was formed as a response to the need to unite the people and protect the land.
The first king was Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero whose descendants continue to assume the role of king or queen today.
Turangawaewae marae, on the northern bank of the Waikato River in Ngaruawahia, is the official residence of the reigning Māori monarch. Each year the Turangawaewae Regatta Day is held in mid March, which includes a public parade of traditional war canoes on the Waikato River.
Sites of the historic importance abound throughout the region, many relating to the battlefields of the 1860s land wars. The Waikato Museum in Hamilton has a number of exhibitions which pay tribute to the Maori heritage in the region.
The museum’s Te Winika Gallery displays the majestic 200-year-old carved waka tua (Maori war canoe) “Te Winika” which was gifted to the Waikato Museum by the late Maori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu in 1973.
In a unique celebration of traditional Maori food (kai) and culture, the Kawhia Kai Festival is held anually on the Kawhia coast in the first weekend of February. The Lonely Planet travel website lists the festival as a “must see” event and one of the top ten Maori experiences for visitors to New Zealand.
As well as the feast of Maori Kai freshly gathered from the land and sea, festival goers can see artists working in traditional Maori art forms, such as flax weaving, cloak making, wood carving and stone sculpting.
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