55,000-ha forest 100 km south-east of Rotorua, abutting the Kāingaroa exotic forest plantations. It forms part of the main dividing range, and includes the river of the same name. The area is the home principally of Ngāti Whare, a sub-tribe of Ngāi Tūhoe, and includes the settlements of Te Whāiti and Minginui.
In 1978–79 there was bitter conflict over Whirinaki. Conservation activists opposed the logging of the native timber in the forest, while the Forest Service and locals working in Minginui sawmill supported it.
All logging of native forests ended in 1985. Since then Whirinaki has become the Whirinaki Forest Park (administered by the Department of Conservation). Ngāti Whare exercise kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over the park.
Whirinaki is now a centre for eco-tourism, where visitors can see the magnificent stands of podocarps, in particular tōtara, rimu, kahikatea, mataī and miro. It is also an important area for many forest birds that have disappeared from other places.
In 1907 the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield travelled through the Urewera district with friends. She wrote of her journey between Tarapounamu and Umuroa in the Ruatāhuna Valley:
‘From this saddle we look across river upon river of green bush then burnt bush russet colour – blue distance – and a wide cloud flecked sky … at the head of the great valley the blazing sun uplifts itself … it is all so gigantic and tragic – and even in the bright sunlight it is so passionately secret.’ 1
Settlement 84 km south-east of Rotorua on State Highway 38, which links Rotorua and Wairoa. It is the largest settlement in the Whirinaki area.
The longer name is Te Whāitinui a Toi (the big canyon of Toi), referring to the ancestral explorer Toitehuatahi. Umurakau, one of the settlement’s two marae, is on an old pā site. The first European to visit was William Colenso of the Church Missionary Society in 1842. From 1847 to 1853 fellow missionary James Preece was based at the nearby Ahikereru pā.
The ethnographer Elsdon Best, who ran a store at Te Whāiti from the early 1890s, wrote extensively about Te Urewera.
Settlement about 8 km south-west of Te Whāiti in the Whirinaki Forest. It was established in the 1930s to provide housing for workers in the Whirinaki native timber sawmills. The three mills were amalgamated in 1975 and closed some years later.