The Waipā district has a rich history and nationally, has played a prominent role in Aotearoa New Zealand's journey to nationhood.

The people of Tainui first settled in the Waikato and Waipā areas around the 13th century. The Waikato and Waipā Rivers, wetlands and the fertile lands strongly influenced their way of life. Like the Waikato, the Waipā River was an important waterway for travel and trade. It boasted productive fisheries and many pā were established on its banks and river flats. 

Over the following 600 years throughout the Waipā district, the descendants of the Tainui crew established settlements, extensive gardens, productive fisheries and built fortifications to protect their homelands from raids, skirmishes and invasion. The greatest inter-tribal war occurred in 1780, the Battle of Hingakākā at Ngāroto, with up to 10,000 warriors involved. There were other prominent inter-tribal battles; the 1830 Battle of Taumatawīwī on the northern slopes of Mount Maungatautari, and the 1822 Battle of Mātakitaki named after the pā at the northern end of Pirongia. The impact of these battles would pale in comparison to that of the later New Zealand Land Wars.

The greatest of inter-tribal wars occurred in 1780, the Battle of Hingakākā at Ngāroto,

Waipā’s fertile soils meant Iwi developed an economic stronghold, investing in food, gardens, and fisheries. Heading into the 1800s, Europeans were settling in small numbers bringing new farming technologies. Local hapū quickly mastered the new technologies and by the early 1800s, farming was well developed in the Te Awamutu area. This included the establishment of flour mills and over time the Waipā district developed a reputation for producing excellent flour. By the 1860s, the Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Raukawa tribes were enjoying a new sense of self-sufficiency and flourishing local, national and international trade and food production.

The first Waipā churches were established in the 1840s-50s, including the Ōtāwhao Mission Station, St John’s Church in Te Awamutu (1854) and St Paul’s Church in Rangiaowhia (1856). An earlier mission was established in 1834 at the confluence of the Pūniu and Waipā River but the Mangapōuri Mission Station, as it was known, closed soon after in 1836.

In 1856, Māori leaders from across Aotearoa New Zealand and iwi of the Waipā and Waikato regions assembled 
to offer Te Wherowhero the title of Te Arikinui – Chief of Chiefs. Te Wherowhero eventually accepted this honour and responsibility and in 1858, he was crowned King Pōtatau, the first Māori King. King Pōtatau established his own system of internal self The Kīngitanga. 

This Māori drive for the establishment of a Māori King and the unification of the tribes of Aotearoa New Zealand arose in response to growing conflicts and tensions as European settlers’ and the colonial Government’s hunger for Māori land and resources grew. 

Today’s Māori King, King Tūheitia, is a direct descendent of King Pōtatau. King Tūheitia continues an unbroken line of leadership as the head of The Kīngitanga.

The Waipā district was a focal point of the New Zealand Land Wars; a history we continue to commemorate today. In 1863, Waikato and Waipā iwi were invaded by the military forces of the colonial Government. The invasion gave rise to many significant battles in the Waipā district, including the three-day long battle at Ōrākau. The New Zealand Land Wars ended with the retreat of Waikato and Maniapoto tribes into the rugged interior of the North Island, Te Rohe Pōtae (known today as the King Country) and the Raupatu.


Today's Māori King, King Tūheitia is a direct descendent of King Pōtatau.

In 1864 military headquarters were established at Camp Cambridge, named after Queen Victoria’s first cousin, the Duke of Cambridge. The town of Cambridge has retained the name ever since.

A frontier post, first named Alexandra (now Pirongia) was surveyed in 1864 and settled by soldiers of the 2nd Waikato Militia Regiment. The Alexandra Redoubt, built in 1868, remains the best preserved fortification of this type in New Zealand. Provocatively, the Alexandra Redoubt was built close to Whatiwhatihoe, the residence of the second Māori King, King Tāwhiao and his people. 

Rail links were established between Auckland and Ōhaupō in 1878 and between Te Awamutu and Taumarunui in 1903, opening up the Waipā district and the King Country and leading to a rapid increase in European population and wealth. The chiefs of Ngāti Maniapoto negotiated the terms with the colonial Government for the railway to be established. This included the pardoning of the renowned Te Kooti who was officially pardoned in 1883.

The impact of our tumultuous past is still young and fresh. 

The New Zealand Land Wars and the annexation of Māori land, the development of towns, and the mass conversion of land to farming, the milling of native forest, the draining of productive wetlands, establishment of schools, and many other aspects of the past and our present will continue to shape our future just as the land has been shaped by generations of hands - seeking to make a life and home here. 

Today, Waipā is one of the most prosperous and sought-after places to live in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

The impact of our tumultuous past is still young and fresh.


Waipa District Council
Private Bag 2402,
Te Awamutu, 3840
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