The land of the Tūhoe people, occupying most of the Huiarau, Kahikatea and Ikawhenua ranges and adjacent rugged country in the main dividing range. In 2013 the total population (including Rūātoki) was 2,133.
Te Urewera was penetrated by government forces in 1869–72 in the quest for the resistance leader Te Kooti (who eventually took refuge in the King Country).
For a number of years the district, which was rugged and inaccessible and had only a small Māori population, was left alone. The Urewera District Native Reserve Act 1896 made provision for ‘the Ownership and Local Government of the Native Lands in the Urewera District’. But it also facilitated extensive land sales to the government.
A national park
Crown-acquired lands had proved unrewarding for either farming or mining, and those lands, consolidated by 1925, formed the basis of Te Urewera National Park, which was established in 1954. It was enlarged in 1957, 1962, 1975 and 1979 to a total land area of 212,673 ha. In 2014 administration of the area passed from the Department of Conservation to the Te Urewera Board, made up of Tūhoe and Crown representatives, as part of a Waitangi Tribunal settlement in which Te Urewera was granted legal personhood.
Rich in bird life, it holds the largest remaining population of kōkako, as well as kiwi, kākā, yellow-crowned parakeets and blue ducks. The area is popular with hunters and trampers. Besides Ruatāhuna and Maungapōhatu, present-day Tūhoe settlements and meeting houses are found particularly along the course of the Tauranga River (Waimana in its lower reaches).
Principal Tūhoe settlement in the heart of Urewera, on State Highway 38, 116 km south of Rotorua.
The settlement is famous for its association with the spiritual leaders Te Kooti and Rua Kēnana. The meeting house Te Whai-a-te-Motu (the pursuit through the island) was built there in 1888 by the Tūhoe people to honour the leadership of Te Kooti. A dray road from Rotorua reached Ruatāhuna in 1901. This brought the first vehicle from the outside world. The Presbyterian Church established a mission in 1917, and Sister Annie Henry and her assistants taught Tūhoe children and adults at a school for several decades.
Mountain (1,366 m) and locality in the heart of Te Urewera. It is situated on the upper reaches of the Waiakare, a tributary of the Whakatāne River, and 125 km south-east of Rotorua.
The settlement was built at the base of the mountain by the prophet Rua Kēnana from 1907, with support from both Tūhoe and Te Whakatōhea, as a ‘city of God’. The government was uncomfortable with Rua’s claim to exercise independent authority.
On the grounds of a breach of the liquor laws an armed expedition was sent in 1916, in the course of which two Tūhoe were killed. Rua was tried, found guilty of resisting arrest and imprisoned. From his release in 1918 until his death in 1937 Rua remained an important figure among Tūhoe, engaged in largely unsuccessful efforts to provide for their economic security.
Presbyterian missionary John Laughton moved to Maungapōhatu in 1918, and established a close relationship with Rua despite their religious differences. The two men collaborated on the establishment of a school that year.