Story: King Country places

Page 1. West coast

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Township on the north-western shore on Kāwhia Harbour, 50 kilometres north-west of Ōtorohanga, with a 2013 population of 339. Kāwhia has great significance for Māori because it was the final landing place of the ancestral waka Tainui. The people of Tainui settled around Kāwhia Harbour.

Famous 19th-century Ngāti Toa chief Te Raupahara grew up at Kāwhia, but he and his people were expelled by Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto forces after he killed a Waikato chief.

European traders arrived in the 1820s and were followed by Wesleyan Methodist missionaries, who established mission stations on land purchased at Kāwhia, Waiharakeke and Ahuahu (Te Waitere) in the 1830s. Land was also sold to European settlers. Kāwhia was closed to Europeans after the Waikato war of the 1860s.

In 1880 the government bought a block of land previously owned by an early settler. The new town of Kāwhia was laid out at Pouewe on the northern shores of the harbour in 1882. King Tāwhiao was not consulted, but eventually agreed to the town’s establishment, and Europeans returned.

The harbour was the centre of Kāwhia’s economy. Ships transported dairy products, flax and timber from Kāwhia to larger centres. In the early 20th century the local council wanted the government to make Kāwhia a major port. The First World War intervened before plans could mature and coastal shipping was overtaken by road and rail transport, to the town’s detriment. However, its picturesque harbourside location appealed to tourists, many of whom travelled there from Hamilton. The Kāwhia Regatta has been held annually since 1910, and the Kāwhia Kai Festival is an annual Māori food festival.

Te Māika

Coastal settlement on Urawhitiki Point at the entrance to Kāwhia Harbour. Only accessible by sea, Te Māika is 6 kilometres south-west of Kāwhia by boat. The land belongs to the Māori king and is administered by a trust. A cluster of baches (holiday houses) are used by holidaymakers. There were no permanent residents in the 2000s.

Long-lived lemon tree?

A lemon tree at Te Waitere that was still producing juicy fruit in the early 2000s is reputed to have been part of John Whiteley’s orchard in the 1840s. It is located near the wharf and surrounded by a wooden fence.

Te Waitere

Settlement on a southern inlet of the Kāwhia Harbour, 9 kilometres by boat from Kāwhia and 50 kilometres south of Kāwhia by road. Te Waitere was the site of a Wesleyan Methodist mission station in the mid-19th century. Early settlers referred to Te Waitere as ‘Lemon Point’ in recognition of the lemon trees planted there by missionary John Whiteley. The original name was Ahuahu.

European settlers arrived in the early 20th century. A boat club has operated at Te Waitere since about 1910.


Settlement and site of an ironsand mine, 14 kilometres south-west of Kāwhia. Taharoa was a traditional Māori settlement and the location of a great battle between the Ngāti Toa, Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto tribes in the 1820s. Māori continued to live at Taharoa after European settlement.

In the 1960s large sand-dunes were encroaching on Taharoa and surrounding farmland and many residents left the area. However, the sand was rich in iron ore, which provided a new focus for the settlement. Ironsand mining started in 1972 and a new settlement was built on leased Māori land by the New Zealand Steel Mining Company to house mine employees. Mining continued in the 2000s.


Rural settlement on the southern shores of Kāwhia Harbour, 37 kilometres south of Kāwhia by road and 11 kilometres by boat. The first European settlers arrived in 1902. Kinohaku School opened in 1907.


Rural settlement 45 kilometres south-west of Ōtorohanga. Piripiri was settled by Europeans in the early 1900s. A sawmill operated there between 1942 and 1961. Piripiri School opened in 1927.

Natural attractions nearby include the Piripiri Caves, the 35-metre Marokopa Falls (which were made a reserve for scenic purposes in 1925) and the Mangapōhue Natural Bridge, a 17-metre limestone arch.

Hole in the wall

Waikawau Beach, south of Marokopa on the west coast, is reached via a tunnel through the sandstone cliffs. The tunnel was built in 1911 so cattle could be driven to and from Nukuhakare station on the hills above – it was far easier to drive them along the beach than the hilly terrain further inland. The tunnel was made by three men using picks and shovels.


Coastal settlement on the bank of the Marokopa River, 65 kilometres west of Te Kūiti. Before European settlement, Māori villages and were located around Marokopa. Early European settlers farmed cows, and dairy products were shipped from Marokopa up the west coast to Auckland. Flax and sawmilling were also important industries in the district. In the 2000s Marokopa consisted of both permanent and holiday homes.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'King Country places - West coast', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 13 Dec 2011, updated 1 Mar 2015