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History & context

Significance to Maaori

The Maaori Landmarks on Riverside Reserves Management Plan (2003) outlines the 17 significant riverside Maaori landmarks that are located on Council reserves within the boundaries of Hamilton. It recommends a series of commemorative displays for how each site should be acknowledged. It is crucial that these sites are recognised and respected and not compromised by any future development proposals in this River Plan.

It is important to note that under Waikato-Tainui’s 1995 Treaty of Waitangi settlement Council-owned land that has an underlying Crown interest is subject to ‘right of first refusal’ by Waikato-Tainui.

The Waikato River: A remarkable history

The Waikato River region has been inhabited for at least 800 years. Maaori from the Tainui waka have been in the area now known as Hamilton for over 400 years. In the area between London Street and Bryce Street a Pa was built known as ‘Kirikiriroa’, which is the Maaori name for the area now called Hamilton. The Waikato River is the tupuna (ancestor) of the Waikato-Tainui tribe from which they receive their name. Waikato-Tainui has a unique and special relationship with the River. For Waikato-Tainui, cultural identity, health and strength are drawn from the Waikato River.

In the mid-1800s the main settlement of Kirikiriroa (translated as long stretch of gravel), was situated between what is now Hamilton’s main street of Victoria Street, and the River. Maaori cultivated the rich gravel soils of the natural river terraces to grow traditional crops such as kumara and rauruhe (fern root). At the time, Hamilton’s banks of the Waikato River were filled with golden kowhai blooms, and ancestors of local iwi adorned themselves in kowhai to celebrate the onset of spring and signify the time to plant new crops. Fortified Pa were built on strategic headlands, particularly on bends of the river.

The Waikato River was of military importance during the New Zealand Wars and the invasion of the Waikato (1863-64). The Waikato Flotilla was New Zealand’s first “navy”.

150 years ago this year, on 24 August 1864, the 4th Waikato militia landed and established a settlement called Hamilton named after Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, a British Officer killed at Gate Pa near Tauranga that same year. From this period Hamilton developed as two towns, Hamilton East and Hamilton West at Ferry Bank. The River was crossed by punts and boat services were the major form of communication and transport for supplies.

In 1877 the two settlements joined together to become a Borough for the purpose of obtaining a government loan to fund building the Union Bridge, now known as the Victoria Bridge.