Before the Waikato invasion, Rangiaowhia (5km east of Te Awamutu on Rangiaowhia Rd; ask at the i-SITE for directions) was a thriving Māori farming town, exporting wheat, maize, potatoes and fruit to as far afield as Australia. It was home to thousands of inhabitants, two churches, a flour mill and a racecourse, and was the perfect model of what NZ under the Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi had desired – two sovereign peoples interacting to mutual advantage.
Sadly, all that remains of the town is the cute 1854 Anglican St Paul’s Church and the Catholic mission’s cemetery, standing in the midst of rich farming land – confiscated from the Māori and distributed to colonial soldiers.
In February 1864 the settlement was left undefended while King Tawhiao’s warriors held fortified positions further north. In a key tactical move, General Cameron outflanked them and took the town, killing women, children and the elderly. This was a turning point in the campaign, demoralising the Māori and drawing the warriors out of their near impregnable pā fortifications.
The war ended further south at Orakau, where a roadside obelisk marks the site where 300 Māori, led by Rewi Maniapoto, repulsed three days of attacks against an unfinished pā by 1500 troops, before breaking out and retreating to what is now known as the King Country (losing 70 warriors).