During the period of provincial government (1853–76) most of the King Country was within the Auckland province. Parts of the southern and south-western areas were in Wellington and Taranaki provinces respectively.
European settlers were very few in number. There were no government officials, so provincial affiliations were nominal. The closure of the region to Europeans following the Waikato war in 1864 underlined this point.
The whole of New Zealand – even areas beyond the reach of the government, such as the King Country – was divided into counties in 1876. The King Country was covered by Kāwhia county and parts of West Taupō, Taranaki and Wanganui counties. The number of counties increased as the European population grew – Awakino county was cut out of Kāwhia county in 1904, and Waitomo county out of Kāwhia and Awakino in 1905. Ōhura county was created out of Waitomo county in 1908, and Kaitīeke county out of West Taupō county and Waimarino county (part of Wanganui) in 1910.
The counties were altered again in the early 1920s. Awakino and West Taupō counties were abolished, and Ōtorohanga and Taumarunui counties were created. Waitomo and Kāwhia were retained but altered, while Ōhura and Kaitīeke were retained unaltered.
Gone to the dogs
During Taumarunui’s period as a native township (1903–10), the council was unable to raise loans to carry out development work. In 1906 Taumarunui’s only income was from dog licences.
In 1903 the existing townships of Kāwhia, Ōtorohanga, Te Kūiti and Taumarunui were designated native townships. The intention was to speed up the rate of European settlement. This status allowed the government to proclaim new towns on Māori land and lease sections to Europeans. After pressure from settlers, the law was amended in 1910 so town sections could be sold.
Taumarunui and Te Kūiti became boroughs (self-governing towns) in 1910 after both reached the required 1,000 residents. Ōtorohanga’s smaller population meant that it did not follow them until 1952. Kāwhia, Ōhura and Manunui became town districts (at least 500 residents) with autonomy from their counties.
When Te Kūiti became a borough in 1910, the King Country Chronicle published this boosterish doggerel: ‘Ho, Te Kuiti has a Mayor / Say the word and hold your breath / From the Waipa right to Taupo / She’s the greatest and the best / From the great majestic river / That all nations flock to see / Westward to the rolling hills / Te Kuiti is the town to be.’1
In 1956 Kāwhia, Ōhura and Kaitīeke counties were abolished and their territories merged into Ōtorohanga and Waitomo (Kāwhia) and Taumarunui (Ōhura and Kaitīeke). In the late 1970s Te Kūiti borough and Waitomo county merged to form Waitomo district, and Ōtorohanga borough and county formed Ōtorohanga district. The three town districts were abolished – Kāwhia and Ōhura were absorbed into Ōtorohanga and Taumarunui counties respectively, while Manunui merged with Taumarunui borough.
After major local government reform in 1989, the region had three local councils. Waitomo and Ōtorohanga remained district councils, while Taumarunui borough and most of Taumarunui county were absorbed into the new Ruapehu District Council. Waitomo and Ōtorohanga came within the Waikato Regional Council, and most of Ruapehu was within the Manawatū–Whanganui region administered by Horizons Regional Council.
In 2004, Waitomo and Ōtorohanga voters rejected a Local Government Commission proposal to amalgamate the two districts.
Most of the King Country was covered by the Waitomo (1919–72), King Country (1972–96) and Taranaki–King Country (from 1996) electorates. These electorates have a long tradition of returning conservative candidates – the National Party has held the seats since its foundation in 1936.
The Taumarunui district has been covered by a number of different electorates. Well-known Labour politician Frank Langstone represented Taumarunui between the 1920s and the 1940s, when it was part of the Waimarino electorate. The various electorates have returned both Labour and National candidates since the Second World War. The Te Tai Hauāuru Māori electorate (previously Western Māori) covers the King Country.
The most prominent politician associated with the King Country is Jim Bolger, National MP for King Country and then Taranaki–King Country from 1972 to 1998, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997.
Health and education
In the 2000s the King Country was mainly serviced by Waikato Hospital in Hamilton. Rural hospitals with more limited services were located in Te Kūiti and Taumarunui.
In 2011 there were 49 schools in the King Country. Secondary schools were located in Ōtorohanga, Te Kūiti, Piopio and Taumarunui. Te Wharekura o Oparure in the Waitomo district was the only school in the region catering for students of all ages.