Ngāruawāhia and the Kīngitanga: Origins of a Monarch

Although it's one of the quieter townships in the Waikato region, Ngāruawāhia holds a special place in Māori culture.

This historic Māori settlement is the heart of the Kīngitanga (Māori king movement). The first Māori king, Te Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was crowned here and his headquarters were established between the Waikato and Waipā rivers. The main marae (meeting house) Tūrangawaewae, also located in Ngāruawāhia, was erected in 1929 by Kīngitanga supporters. To this day, the current Māori king hosts visiting dignitaries at Tūrangawaewae and the complex is occasionally opened to the public.

The Māori King movement was established in the mid 1800s, when European settlers began flooding to New Zealand, putting pressure on Māori to sell off their land. Chiefs around the country feared  they were losing control over their affairs – especially as some Māori were engaging in secret land deals without the knowledge of their own tribes.

The Kīngitanga movement was actually started in Ōtaki on the Kapiti Coast by the son of the Ngāti Toa chief, Tāmihana Te Rauparaha. After meeting Queen Victoria while spending time in England, Te Rauparaha felt it was critical to establish a Māori monarch. So began the search for a chief to lead the Maori people under the Kingitanga.

After being approached several times, the elderly chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero from Waikato decided to accept the role in 1857 after growing pressure was put on him by the Ngāti Hauā leader Wiremu Tāmihana, known as the Kingmaker. Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was crowned in Ngāruawāhia in June of 1858 and many North Island chiefs offered their service and lands the Kīngitanga. The King set boundaries for his monarchy, aiming to prevent his people selling off more land.

After Pōtatau Te Wherowhero died in 1860, his son Tāwhiao succeeded him, as did his son after him and so on. Today the current Māori king is Tūheitia Paki and is a legacy to a long line of royal leaders within New Zealand's history.

Visit Ngāruawāhia today and experience the peace and quiet of this riverside town. Stroll along the banks of the mighty Waikato River and enjoy the friendly small-town atmosphere. If you happen to visit in March you might catch the annual Turangawaewae Regatta and see waka taua (war canoes) racing along the river.

InterCity runs daily buses to Ngāruawāhia from towns and cities around the North Island. Fares start from just $1.

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