Waikato History

Māori of the Waikato region trace their ancestry back 800 years to the arrival of the Tainui and Te Arawa waka (canoe). The Waikato rohe (area) has a rich and confronting, shared history, which spans many generations and many places of significance in this awe-inspiring and beautiful region. 

Waikato history

Māori of the Waikato region trace their ancestry back 800 years to the arrival of the Tainui and Te Arawa waka (canoe). The area was well populated with pā (fortified villages) and kāinga (settlements).

In 1863 British soldiers invaded the Waikato basin, and although tribes fought fiercely, they could not stop troops pushing south. The final battle was at Ōrākau, south of Te Awamutu, in 1864. Māori defenders were forced into exile in what became known as the King Country. Confiscation of Waikato lands (raupatu) followed in 1865.


From the time of the raupatu, the Crown assumed control of, and exercised jurisdiction over, Māori land and resources, including the Waikato River. Following raupatu and the cessation of hostilities, new settlers occupied the confiscated lands, and farms and towns were developed along the Waikato River.

By the late 19th century Māori had suffered a devastating drop in numbers and the loss of much of their land and other resources. Until the 1980s there were limited avenues for redress of these Treaty breaches. Since then, negotiations, settlements and Crown apologies have occurred in an attempt to right past wrongs. These Treaty settlements bring with them obligations on central and local government.

Ngā tāngata o Waikato | Waikato people

The Waikato region is home to approximately 439,100 people. Its population is forecast to grow between 500–600,000 by 2040.

Hamilton City has a population of 156,800, and increased its share of the regional population from 29 per cent in 1986 to 36 per cent in 2015. Major Waikato towns are Tokoroa, Te Awamutu, Cambridge and Taupō with respective populations of 13,600, 16,450, 17,300 and 23,700.


The region includes the smaller towns of Huntly, Matamata, Morrinsville, Ngāruawaahia, Ōtorohanga, Paeroa, Pōkeno, Pūtaruru, Whaingaroa / Raglan, Te Aroha, Te Kauwhata, Te Kūiti, Thames, Tīrau, Tūākau, Tūrangi, Whangamatā and Whitianga.


Waikato rohe (area)

The Waikato covers approximately 2.5 million hectares and has 1,200 kilometres of coastline. It encompasses one city and 10 districts, three of which (Rotorua, Waitomo and Taupō) lie across regional council boundaries.

It has the widest variety of landscapes of any region in New Zealand: extensive coastlines, rich agricultural landscapes, forests, gorges, plains, waterways, mountain ranges, deserts and geothermal features.


It is a fertile region of gentle plains, pastoral scenes and rolling hills that sometimes conceal vast underground networks of limestone caves. Flanking the Waikato River, this prosperous farming region is also a growing tourism destination.


Waikato economy

The Waikato region is noted for its dairy, meat and forestry activities, and its agri-based technology. It has strengths in manufacturing and is supported by strong science and research capabilities and a thriving professional services sector. It has a prime geographical position in the upper central North Island.


Auckland’s inability to meet its own housing needs is impacting the Waikato. Aucklanders will continue to seek cheaper land and housing options, creating a demand for land and housing in Waikato towns. North Waikato is already feeling this pressure. Proactive growth management planning is occurring in towns like Tūākau, Pōkeno, Te Kauwhata and Huntly. Hamilton and the Waipā District (especially Cambridge) are also experiencing growth pressures.


Tourism contributes significantly to Waikato’s GDP. The Waikato region has a region has a $1.23 billion visitor economy, $230 million from international visitors and $1 billion from domestic visitors.