Long before the European settlers came to Aotearoa, the beautiful surroundings of the Waikato River were a very popular place to live for New Zealand’s native people, the Maori. The thermal activity made the ground nice and toasty and wildlife and fish were abundant.
In times gone by, the river was an important access route for both Maori and early European settlers. It was a network for trade, travel and communications Many battles between Maori tribes were fought here and it was the scene of many skirmishes between the British and Waikato tribes in 1863-65. During the Waikato Wars several Maori pa (settlements) fell victim to small armoured gunboats.
The Waikato River still holds a great deal of spiritual significance to the Maori. Today the tribes of the Waikato River seek the healing powers of the water and the blessings from their tupuna (ancestors). At times of trouble Maori people gather to rejuvenate their spirit by patting the river surface to call upon their ancestors and sprinkling themselves with the water facing the rising sun.