The Waikato region ( or ) is a local government region of the upper North Island of New Zealand. It covers the Waikato, Hauraki, Coromandel Peninsula, the northern King Country, much of the Taupo District, and parts of Rotorua District. It is governed by the Waikato Regional Council.
The region stretches from Coromandel Peninsula in the north, to the north-eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu in the south, and spans the North Island from the west coast, through the Waikato and Hauraki to Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast. Broadly, the extent of the region is the Waikato River catchment. Other major catchments are those of the Waihou, Piako, Awakino and Mokau rivers. The region is bounded by Auckland on the north, Bay of Plenty on the east, Hawke's Bay on the south-east, and Manawatu-Wanganui and Taranaki on the south. Waikato Region is the fourth largest region in the country in area and population: It has an area of 25,000 km² and a population of
The region encompasses all or part of eleven territorial authorities, the most of any region of New Zealand. It is centred on the Waikato which consists of Waikato District, Matamata-Piako District, Waipa District, South Waikato District and Hamilton City. In descending order of land area the eleven territorial authorities are Taupo District (part), Waitomo District (part), Waikato District, Thames-Coromandel District, Otorohanga District, South Waikato District, Matamata-Piako District, Waipa District, Hauraki District, Rotorua District (part), and Hamilton City.
The name for the region is taken from the Waikato River; waikato is a Māori word traditionally translated as "flowing water" (specifically, wai = "water" and kato = "the pull of the river current in the sea").
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Waikato contained the third most densely populated part of New Zealand, after Northland/Auckland and the Bay of Plenty. The Waikato rohe (area) was inhabited by iwi (tribes) such as those of the Tainui confederation, including Waikato and Ngāti Toa who conquered the native inhabitants about 1450 according to Tainui historians, finally destroying them at a battle at Aratiatai. Between about 1750 and 1842 the area was subject to a large number of invasions by other Māori iwi and hapu confederations and large scale population migrations took place by a number of hapu and iwi. The largest battle ever fought in New Zealand took place near Ohaupo about 1790-1805, between two competing alliances of hapu. During the latter stages of this volatile period, known as the Musket Wars (1807–1845), conflict led to a migration south to Taranaki and eventually Kapiti Island.
In 1840 44 Waikato chiefs travelled north to the Manakau Heads to sign the Treaty of Waitangi officially making the Waikato area part of New Zealand. Between 1840 and 1860 the CMS missionaries of the Anglican church assisted Waikato Maori in revolutionizing their economy in the Kihikihi area by the introduction of such crops as peaches, maize and wheat. Missionaries bought in millers and helped Maori establish eight flour mills. These flourished until 1857, as they provided flour for the growing Auckland market in the 1850s and for a brief while were exporting to Australia. The route used to travel to and from Auckland was by dray to the Puniu stream, along the Waipa River to its junction with the Waikato. Near the Waikato Heads travellers entered the small Awaroa River. During summer it was necessary to push or pull the waka through to the Manakau Harbour at Waiuku. By 1850s a small bullock track had been established to Auckland via the settlements of Mauku, Drury, Papakura and Otahuhu or waka could take the sea route across the Manakau to Ihumatao (where Auckland International Airport is now). The main tribe to use this route and the main traders were the Maniapoto tribe. They occupied an area of fertile land south of Te Awamutu at Kihikihi and Rangiaowhia. Maniapoto sold wheat, peaches, potatoes and other food to Auckland and bought back shirts, sugar, tobacco and rum. The boom time ended in 1856-1857 with the end of the Australian Gold rush, allowing importing of cheaper food, especially flour, from Australia. Even in the boom time of 1854-55, food grown by Waikato Maori, such as Ngati Maniapoto, was taken to the Auckland market in very small amounts compared to food from the Waiheke Island -Thames area. In early 1855 Ngati Maniapoto took only 3 canoes of potatoes to Auckland compared to 279 canoes containing a much wider variety of food from the Thames area.
During the late 1850s Maniapoto in particular become disgruntled in their dealings with Pakeha. They complained about the way they were treated in Auckland by traders but their chief compliant was that the government was underpaying them for land they were selling. The average price paid by government was 6d per acre but it was sold to settlers for 10/- per acre. The government argued that it had to pay for surveying and administration costs but to Maori it seemed unfair. Before the elevation of the first Maori king there was a wide range of opinions amongst influential Maori with some such as Wirimu Tamihana's father advocating supporting the Crown while Te heu heu of Tuwharetoa advocated all out war against the government. This view was initially unpopular as the king movement hoped to work alongside the crown. Maori were upset at the number of children that had been fathered by Pakeha who had then disappeared. The children were left to be raised by their mothers with general hapu support. John Gorst, a well educated government agent, reported significant numbers of half cast children in the Waikato in the late 1850s. However in the Ngati Maniapoto iwi at least 7 Pakeha integrated successfully with the tribe from 1842, marrying Maori women. The best known are William Searancke who became an important government agent and Frenchman Louis Hetet who became a successful trader. Their half caste children lived with the iwi and some became leading figures.
What tipped the balance was conflict and criminal activity within the Waikato region. Influential chiefs said the treaty had promised the government would help maintain peace. They asked for government magistrates and courts. The government attempted to fulfill these requests but many of the young men who put themselves forward for the positions simply saw that they had an opportunity to get wealthy at the government's expense. This upset the older chiefs who wanted the strong Maori leader Te Whero whero to return from Mangere to his lands at Tamahere ( South Hamilton) to reign in the out of control young chief magistrates.
The Waikato has a prominent history, particularly regarding relationships between Māori and European in early colonial New Zealand. The Waikato was within the defined boundaries of the colonial provinces of New Ulster (1841–1853) and Auckland (1853–1876) but was principally Māori. During the land wars of the 1860s, the Waikato was the scene of five battles in what is referred to as the Invasion of the Waikato. In retaliation for the help Waikato Māori (mainly Ngāti Maniapoto) gave Taranaki Māori in their conflict over land in the earlier First Taranaki War, and the decision by some Waikato hapu to form a separate kingdom – the King Movement or Kingitanga – in opposition to the government, the colonial government, with the help of troops brought from Britain and Queenite Māori loyal to the Crown, pushed south from the main settlement of Auckland, fighting against Waikato raiders in Auckland before venturing into the Waikato to attack the combined hapu of the King Movement. During 1863 and 1864 fighting occurred at Pukekohe East, Titi hill, Burtts Farm, Galloway Redoubt, Kiri Kiri, Martyn's Farm, Patumahoe, Rhodes Clearing, Williamson's Clearing, Otau, Camerontown, Kakaramea and Wairoa ranges (all Auckland), Meremere, Rangiriri, Ngaruawahia, Rangiaowhia (southwest of Cambridge), Hairini Ridge and Orakau (near Kihikihi), all resulting in defeat for the Kingitanga forces. Eventually the rebel King Movement forces pulled back to positions in the area to the south of the Punui River in South Waikato, still known as the King Country, after 19 defeats by the British. Rewi's Last Stand, one of New Zealand's first motion pictures, in 1925, portrayed an entertaining, fictionalized version of the Orakau siege.
After the end of the war and the withdrawal of British and Australian troops, the region experienced a long period of economic recession after 1866. Most Maori had moved to the King Country and European settlers were more attracted to the South Island with its large gold discovery in Otago and the more easily farmed Canterbury Plains. The Waikato had poor land access and was not suitable for sheep farming which dominated livestock production in New Zealand until the 1890s invention of refrigeration. Dairying and the completion of the main trunk railway line at the turn of the century lead to a small, steady increase in population. After 1900 the Waikato continued to grow as a dairying region benefiting from the flow of capital earned from the sale of butter and cheese mainly to Britain.