Story: Volcanic Plateau region

Page 5. War and peace – the 19th century

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The Volcanic Plateau tribes frequently visited coastal regions to gain access to food resources, and, from the 1820s, to trade with Europeans.

Te Arawa in conflict

Ngāpuhi war parties, armed with muskets and led by Hongi Hika, made destructive forays into the Rotorua district in the 1820s, partly for utu (revenge). The tribe did not conquer Te Arawa, but took many captives back to the north.

Te Arawa considered migrating, but decided to stay. They fought the neighbouring tribes of Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Hauā for control of coastal Maketū, including Phillip Tapsell’s trading post. The warring ended in 1844, with Te Arawa keeping Maketū. The tribe also made an unsuccessful raid into Te Urewera.

Ngāti Tūwharetoa looks east and south

In the 1820s and 1830s war parties from Waikato probed the Taupō area. Around the same time, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and others, under the paramount chief Mananui Te Heuheu, made expeditions into Hawke’s Bay. Ngāti Kahungunu retaliated.

Tūwharetoa also joined Ngāti Raukawa in southern expeditions. Some stayed in the south. There is a saying, ‘Ko te tomokanga o te iwi ki te tonga, ki Tokorangi’ – the southern gateway to Tūwharetoa is at Tokorangi (on the Rangitīkei River).


In the 1830s, missionaries were the first Europeans to see the Volcanic Plateau, including remote Taupō and the volcanoes.

Te Arawa welcomed missionaries in the 1830s and 1840s as a way of gaining Pākehā knowledge and goods, and Ngāti Tūwharetoa did the same in the 1840s and 1850s. Missionaries encouraged tribes to turn from war to peace.

Commemorating the king

Pūkawa, on the shores of Lake Taupō, is seen as the birthplace of the Māori King movement. In November 2006, 150 years after the meeting which confirmed Pōtatau Te Wherowhero as the first king, tribal leaders met again at the new Pūkawa marae.

King movement

But conflict was looming between Māori and Pākehā. In 1856, the Tūwharetoa chief Iwikau Te Heuheu convened a pan-tribal hui (meeting) at Pūkawa, on the western side of Lake Taupō, to discuss the new Māori King movement. The hui agreed to offer the kingship to Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero.

War and resistance

In the 1860s, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa acted to preserve their autonomy. In 1864 Tūwharetoa fought for the King movement against government forces at the battle of Ōrākau in the Waikato.

Te Arawa aligned themselves with the government against their old enemies from Waikato and the East Coast, and repulsed East Coast war parties travelling across their territory to support the King movement. In 1867 Te Arawa fought alongside government forces against supporters of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) religious movement.

In 1869 the war leader and prophet Te Kooti traversed the Taupō district looking for support. Some Tūwharetoa leaders allied themselves with Te Kooti, but his forces were defeated at Te Pōrere (below Tongariro) in October and he retreated into the King Country (Rohe Pōtae).

In 1870 Te Kooti returned to the east via Rotorua. There were skirmishes with Te Arawa at Ōhinemutu, on Lake Rotorua’s shore, and Ōkaro, near Lake Rotomahana. Captain Gilbert Mair organised a 100-strong Arawa Flying Column, which took part in the pursuit of Te Kooti through Te Urewera over the next two years.

European arrivals

Queen Victoria’s son, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited the Rotorua lakes in 1870. With the return of peace and improved communications, more Europeans began travelling to the area. The first race meeting was held in 1872, and the first cricket match in 1875, in Rotorua.

The Armed Constabulary occupied redoubts along the Napier–Taupō road and near Rotorua. Roads and telegraph lines crossed the Volcanic Plateau, hotels opened at Ōhinemutu and Taupō, and a few Europeans settled at both places. In 1880 Te Arawa and the Crown agreed to set up a government tourist town on the Pukeroa–Oruawhata block, 1,200 hectares of land near Ōhinemutu.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Volcanic Plateau region - War and peace – the 19th century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 May 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 1 Nov 2007, updated 1 May 2015