The King Country (Māori:Te Rohe Pōtae) is a region of the western North Island of New Zealand. It extends approximately from the Kawhia Harbour and the town of Otorohanga in the north to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in the south, and from the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges in the east to near the Tasman Sea in the west. It comprises hill country, large parts of which are forested.
The term "King Country" dates from the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, when colonial forces invaded the Waikato and forces of the Māori King Movement withdrew south of what was called the aukati, or boundary, a line of pa alongside the Puniu River near Kihikihi. Land behind the aukati remained native territory, with Europeans warned they crossed it under threat of death.
The King Country per se is not an entity in local government. It forms part of two local government Regions, Waikato and Manawatu-Wanganui, and all or part of four districts: Otorohanga, Ruapehu, Taupo and Waitomo.
The King Country (a.k.a. Western Uplands) is largely made up of rolling hill country, including the Rangitoto and Hauhungaroa Ranges. It includes extensive karst regions, producing such features as the Waitomo Caves.
The greater part of the region's economy is involved in farming (especially pastoral farming) and forestry, with some supporting services. There are some areas of tourist significance, such as Waitomo Caves. The King Country also contains areas of conservation estate, especially Pureora Forest Park.
In July 1863, Governor Sir George Grey ordered the invasion of Waikato by British troops, with supported from small numbers of loyal Māori. The invasion was aimed at crushing Kingite power that was seen as a threat to British authority, and also at driving Waikato Māori from their territory in readiness for occupation and settlement by Europeans.
Heavily outnumbered and disadvantaged by superior firepower, the Kingite forces retreated southwards from the Waikato after the battle at Orakau in April 1864, eventually being forced to flee to Maniatoto land, later called the King Country.
At this time, the region received a Māori name, Rohe pōtae. This name translates as "Area of the Hat", and is said to have originated when the second Māori King Tāwhiao put his white top hat on a large map of the North Island and declared that all land covered by the hat would be under his mana (or authority). This was later the cause of bitter dispute with the resident tribes, especially Maniapoto, who still considered they had mana(authority) over their own land. The white hat, with a wide black band, was originally owned by Te Heuheu of Tuwharetoa who was asked to be the Māori king. Te Heuheu,of Tuwharetoa,who was the dominant leader in the central North Island, passed the hat to various other chiefs, who all refused the position of king. After long debate, the hat was taken to Te Wherowhero, the great Waikato chief, and placed on his head. He was reluctant to accept the position as he was old but was eventually persuaded by Wiremu Tamihana (the king maker), who was a clever orator, and others to take the hat which had come to symbolize the Maori monarchy. The hat was a white Bell topper.
Heavy British losses at the battle of Gate Pā at Tauranga in April 1864 prompted General Duncan Cameron to abandon plans for further military campaigns in the Waikato area, and Grey and the colonial government were forced to accept this decision. The King Country, mountainous, poor and isolated, was not an attractive conquest. King Tāwhiao and his followers were able to maintain a rebel Māori monarchy in exile and a refuge for rebel Māori opposed to the government for more than a decade although living conditions were very poor. This may be partly due to the large influx of about 3,500 Waikato people who swamped the resources of the approximately 800 Maniapoto living in the rohe.
During his rampage through the North Island in the late 1860s, Te Kooti, whose guerrilla gang had killed at least 100 settlers and loyal Māori, including women and children, twice went to the Māori king to seek his support. The king initially refused, but later when Te Kooti was on the run and many of his Tuhoe supporters had either deserted him or had died in battles, Rewi Maniapoto agreed to give him sanctuary. The king helped the pro-government Māori troops locate Te Kooti by giving them free passage through his rohe (territory). In the mid-1870s, Tawhiao reluctantly agreed to give Te Kooti formal protection provided Te Kooti kept the peace, after Te Kooti had tried to get involved in an armed conflict with a North Taranaki tribe Ngati Mutunga, over gold prospecting in the Mokau valley.
The king was never entirely at peace with Te Kooti's far more aggressive attitude. Te Kooti preached the Ringatu faith around the North Island, watched closely by the government. When Te Kooti left the King Country to try to restart his rebellion in Poverty Bay in the 1880s the government was quickly able to locate him at Waioeka Pa and sent an artillery unit arrest him with information provided by more friendly Māori leaders.
In 1881, as a result of ongoing friction with his hosts over the question of land sales, and a general amnesty being granted to the rebels, Tāwhiao emerged and laid down the King Movement's arms and by 1883, after successful negotiations between the government and Wahanui, Rewi and Taonui, the King Country was made accessible to Europeans and opened to road surveying, but with a prohibition on the sale of alcohol throughout the district. The alcohol ban lasted until 1953; as a young man, John A. Lee was jailed for smuggling alcohol into the area around 1910.
When the Native Land Court was legislate individual Maori could, for the first time, gain legal title to land. In 1883 King Tawhiao set up the kingitanga bank to deposit the capital from all the land sold by individuals. Prior to this capital had been deposited in the various commercial banks of New Zealand. At the same time the king decided he would go to England with a group of supporters to visit Queen Victoria. He withdrew all the capital from the bank to pay for the trip without consulting the depositors. On his return the depositors stormed the bank, ransacked it looking for their money and finding none, burnt the bank down.
About that time, the colonial government began considering plans for a railway from Auckland to Wellington, and began to send surveyors into the King Country to look for a favourable route. Construction of the railway line began in 1885 and finished in 1908. The completion of the railway greatly improved transport and communications in the King Country and promoted settlement and farming in the area, as well as assisting in the growth of rural service towns such as Taumarunui. Behind the scenes Pakeha[who?]who supported a policy of assimilation, encouraged employment of young Māori men on the railway scheme. As a process of reducing Maori dependence on hapu and iwi traditional economies, this would further dislocate Maori from their culture and promote the assimilationist policies of the New Zealand state. When the rail industry declined towards the middle of the twentieth century, this would result in vast unemployment for many now impoverished and landless Maori. With support from King Country Maori the main trunk railway line was completed in 1901 with Taumarunui becoming an important railway depot during the steam age, which lasted until the 1950s.
- Belgrave, Michael (2005). Historical Frictions. Auckland: Auckland University Press. pp. 250–251. ISBN 1-86940-320-7.
- Dalton, B.J. (1967). War and Politics in New Zealand 1855-1870. Sydney: Sydney University Press. p. 260.
- Belich, James (1986). The New Zealand Wars. Auckland: Penguin. p. 175. ISBN 0-14-027504-5.
- Michael King (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin Books. p. 214. ISBN 0-14-301867-1.
- Dalton, B.J. (1967). War and Politics in New Zealand 1855-1870. Sydney: Sydney University Press. pp. 178–179.
- King, Michaerl (1977). Te Puea: A Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 26. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
- Belich, James (1986). The New Zealand Wars. Auckland: Penguin. p. 199. ISBN 0-14-027504-5.
- Stories Without End, J. Binney, Bridget Williams, 2010.
- The Māori King movement. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 4 March 2009.
- King Country from New Zealand alliance
- Text of Petition (in Māor)
- Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand map of King Country
- The Alienation of Maori Land in the Rohe Potae (Aotea block), 1840–1920, by Cathy Marr - includes a map of the King Country's boundaries.