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From land wars and the Tarawera eruption to successful farming units


In pre-European times, land in the Rerewhakaaitu-Rotomahana area was fought over on several occasions. At least two major battles are believed to have taken place in the 18th Century or possibly at the beginning of the 19th Century*.


Pukekaikahu was an especially big battle between the Tuhourangi people, who were the inhabitants, and the Tuhoe people.


Much of the land over which the two battles were fought ranges in an area close to Rotomahana down to the south side of Rerewhakaaitu. 


Maori settlements were mostly around the base of Mount Tarawera, around Rotomahana as it was, and the southern side of Tarawera. It is considered unlikely many people would have gone much further south than that. Cropping was difficult to any extent, and the warmth of streams in the immediate area was preferred. However, the southern area was recognised as their territory.


The arrival of Europeans changed the popularity of the area. Every tourist travelled inland from the 1850s to see the wonders abounding in the Rotorua lakes and geothermal areas.


The benefits to be gained from tourism led to increased interest in the land, and several battles took place during this period, including one lasting for 14 months.


Lake Rotomahana did not exist in the form it does today, rather there were two lakes, one warm and another cold.


The 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera greatly changed the landscape and led to the loss of the Pink and White Terraces, regarded as one of the wonders of the world and the biggest attraction of all. The Tarawera eruption was unusual in that it ripped for about 15 km across from the eastern end of Tarawera right down to Waimangu. The split occurred across the beds of the two lakes and opened the land up. Water poured down the molten magma, which became super-heated, exploding and leaving what is now Rotomahana.


Greater loss of life was only avoided, because many of the Rangitihi people living around the base of the mountain left before the eruption to go down to the coast.


The first person to attempt sheep farming in the Rerewhakaaitu area was Major William Mair in the late 19th Century. His attempts are not thought to be very successful. Major Mair was the brother of Captain Gilbert Mair, who was well known among the people of Te Arawa.



The historical material in this section is drawn from the article “Area has colourful history”. Author Simon Earle, quoting the late Rotorua historian Don Stafford. Publication details:2002, English, Book, Illustrated edition: Onuku Māori Lands Trust : history of people and operations.Earle, Simon.Published: Rotorua, NZ: Published on behalf of the Onuke Māori Lands Trust by Business Media Services Limited, 2002ISBN: 0-473-09262-X.

Rotomahana Parekarangi Onuku


In 1882, the boundaries were set and hapu came to argue their rights to different parts of the block. Judgement was made as to who owned which areas. None of the tribes were happy with the result, so a rehearing was called five years later in 1887. The result saw the court divide the block into six parts to six hapu. The division was as follows:-


Part 1: Rotomahana Parekarangi No 1 (Horo Horo) was awarded to Ngati Kea, Ngati Tuara with 200 acres to Tuhourangi.

Part 2: Tumunui was awarded to Ngati te Kahu and Ngati Tumatawera.

Part 3: Paeroa block was awarded to Ngati Paoa.

Part 4: Moerangi to Ngati Whakaue.

Part 5: Onuku was awarded to Ngati Rangitihi.

Part 6: Rotomahana Parekarangi No 6 to Tuhourangi.


Onuku (5B) totalled approximately 8,019 acres which was awarded to 421 owners of Ngati Rangitihi in 1887. This was the one block most affected by the Tarawera eruption of the previous year.


In 1904, Onuku was partitioned into six divisions. The Roto Pare 5B1 block consisted of an area of approximately 1,070 acres.


In 1911, Raureti Mokonuirangi, the chairman of the Incorporated Owners Management Committee, came before the Waiariki Maori Land Board and stated that it was the desire of the owners to sell the land to a farmer who had leased land from the owners in the area. He offered to pay 11 shillings per acre. By 1914, the transaction was completed.


Onuku was originally two blocks made up of Onuku 5B and Matarumakina 5A. Matarumakina is located on the Moura Peninsula and comprises 268 acres. It was awarded to Ngati Rangitihi in 1887.


By 1963, at least 20,127 acres of the Onuku Block had been alienated. This comprised 25 per cent of the National Land Court Award of 1887, and did not include land taken by the Crown through compulsory acquisition.


The balance of the land that remains is 5,992 acres less the compulsory acquisitions, which is Onuku Farm today.


Though the 1886 eruption caused widespread devastation, and destroyed one of the wonders of the world, it left the area with a magnificent legacy. It is the resulting Rotomahana mud that has enabled the farm to flourish and become so successful.


In the early development stage, the farm suffered major difficulties with the health of animals due to a selenium deficiency. The problem was rectified and Onuku has shown great progress to the extent that it has become one of the most successful farming units in the Bay of Plenty.

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