The King Country, or Rohe Potae, was originally a large tract of the western central North Island and comprised the tribal lands of Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Tama, Ngati Tuwharetoa (the portion lying west and south of Lake Taupo), the Waikato lands which escaped confiscation, and the northern fringes of Ngati Ruanui and Ngati Hau lands. The district lay principally in the Auckland Province but there were extensive portions in Wellington and Taranaki and, at one point, a contiguous boundary with Hawke's Bay. Its northern boundary was the Puniu Stream, which marked the extent of the Waikato tribal territories confiscated after the Maori Wars. In Taranaki the confiscation line (north of Waitara) was another boundary. Both of these lines were proclaimed under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863; but, beyond these proclamations, the boundaries could only be guessed.
Europeans called the area “the King Country” because it was here that Tawhiao sought refuge following the Maori Wars. It was terra incognita to the colonial Government and a place of refuge for all who refused to make peace with the Queen. Maoris knew the district as Rohe Potae (“the edge or brim of the hat”) which name arose – according to tribal tradition – because Tawhiao threw his hat on a large map of the North Island in order to demonstrate the area he claimed. Within this district the “King” ruled as an independent monarch and strangers entered his realms at their own risk.
In the 1880s the colonial Government negotiated with several influential chiefs to have the King Country boundaries delineated. On 19 December 1883, at Kihikihi, S. P. Smith, the Chief Surveyor for Auckland Provincial District, reached an agreement with Wahanui, Taonui, Rewi Maniapoto, and other chiefs “to make an accurate survey of the external boundaries of the block, in order that a Crown Grant might issue to the tribes possessing it”. The survey (triangulation) commenced on 8 January 1884 and was completed by 30 July of the same year.
As a result of this survey the boundary of the King Country was defined for the first time. It ran from the west coast at a point due west of Oporangi Lake, curved east-north-east to Pirongia Mountain; then east-south-east, to cross the Waipa River and followed a line, parallel to the Puniu Stream, to meet the Waikato River slightly east of Rotongata Lake. The boundary then followed the south bank of the Waikato River to the Waipapa Stream, where it turned south to enter Lake Taupo at Whangamata Bay. It crossed Lake Taupo to Mt. Motuopa and turned south-south-east to reach the Kaimanawa Range at the headwaters of the Whitikau Stream. It followed the mountain crests, paralleling the Rangitikei River to the headwaters of the Whangaehu River, before curving westwards to the headwaters of the Upper Waikato River, and Paretetaitonga (Ruapehu). From Te Kohatu it turned north-north-west to Panepane, and then curved westwards, skirting the Waimarino Plains, to meet the Wanganui River at the Whenuatere Stream. It then followed the southern boundary of Ngato Maniapoto tribal lands westward to meet the Taranaki confiscation line near Mt. Tatu. From there it followed the confiscation line and the boundaries of the Mohakatino, Parininihi and Mokau-Mohakatino Blocks northwards to, then westwards along the Mokau River. It turned north again to follow the eastern outline of the Awakino, Taumatamaire, and Pauroa Blocks to the Whenuikua Stream, where it turned west to meet the coast at the north of the Hiakomako Stream. All land within this boundary – about 7,000 square miles in all – formed the King Country Block.
Since the survey was made, many portions of the King Country have been opened for settlement, and much land has been sold or leased to settlers. Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, and Otorohanga, which were once Maori villages, are now thriving towns. No vestige of the Maori “King's” independent “principality” remains but, for many years, the district was subject to special provisions about the sale of liquor. This took place on 3 December 1884 when the Government of the day issued a Proclamation under section 25 of the Licensing Act of 1881. There was nothing secret about this action (for years there was talk in some quarters of a secret “pact” or “pledge”); any other Maori district, if it so desired, could be declared a no-licence area under the Act of 1881.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
(The spelling of certain place names in this article is in accordance with that on the original survey map. Ed.)
- Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives: C–1, Sess. II, 1884
- G–9, 1885; H–25, 1953, “Liquor and the King Country”, McLintock, A. H.;The New Zealand Wars, Cowan, J. (1955)
- The King Country, Kerry-Nicholls, H. (1884).