Waitara is a town in the northern part of the Taranaki region of the North Island of New Zealand. Waitara is located just off State Highway 3, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) northeast of New Plymouth.Its population was 6312 in the 2013 census, an increase of 24 from 2006.
Waitara was the site of the outbreak of the Taranaki Wars in 1860 following the attempted purchase of land for English settlers from its Māori owners. Disputes over land that was subsequently confiscated by the Government continue to this day.
The commonly accepted meaning of the name Waitara is "mountain stream", though Maori legend also states that it was originally Whai-tara" path of the dart". In 1867 the settlement was named Raleigh, after Sir Walter Raleigh. It reverted to its former name with the establishment of the borough of Waitara in 1904.
Prior to European colonisation, Waitara lay on the main overland route between the Waikato and Taranaki districts. Vestiges of numerous pā on all strategic heights in the district indicate close settlement and closely contested possession, just before and in early European times, by various tribes.
Whalers and sealers, who had come from the northern hemisphere, gained help from and formed relationships with local Māori in the early 19th-century, but the area was largely vacated in the 1820s and 1830s following warfare between the resident Te Atiawa iwi (tribe) and those of iwi from north Auckland down to the Waikato. Some Te Atiawa were taken to Waikato as prisoners and slaves, but most migrated to the Cook Strait area in pursuit of guns and goods from whalers and traders.
Pākehā settlers who came to New Plymouth (founded in 1841) in the 1840s and 1850s viewed nearby Waitara as the most valuable of Taranaki's coastal lands because of its fertile soil and superior harbour. The New Zealand Company drew up plans for settlement from New Plymouth to beyond Waitara, and sold blocks to immigrants despite a lack of proof that the company’s initial purchase of the land had been legitimate. The company claimed that Te Atiawa had either abandoned the land or lost possession of it, owing to conquest by Waikato Māori.
(The Land Claims Commission later upheld this view, but subsequently Governor Robert FitzRoy (in office 1843-1845) rejected it, as did the Waitangi Tribunal in 1996.)
Tensions between settlers and local Māori began as early as July 1842, when settlers who had taken up land north of the Waitara River were driven from their farms. A year later 100 men, women and children sat in a surveyors' path to disrupt the surveying of land for sale.
Between March and November 1848 Wiremu Kīngi, a Te Atiawa chief who staunchly opposed the sale of land in the Waitara area, returned to the district from Waikanae with almost 600 men, women and children and some livestock to retake possession of the land. They established substantial cultivations of wheat, oats, maize and potatoes, selling it to settlers and also for export; his followers also laboured on settler farms.
The Waitangi Tribunal noted that the group allegedly eventually owned 150 horses and up to 300 head of cattle.
Despite Kingi's opposition however, payments were made by government agents secretly to Maori individuals for prospective sales of land in the Waitara area, prompting spates of violence between those supporting and opposing land sales.
In 1857 the issue came to a head with the offer for sale of land at Waitara and at Turangi, further to the north, by two individuals, Ihaia Te Kirikumara and a minor chief, Pokikake Te Teira.
Teira's 600-acre (240 hectare) Waitara block, located on the west side of the Waitara River and known as the Pekapeka block, became the focal point of a dispute between the colonial government (chiefly representing settlers) and Māori over the right of individuals to sell land that Māori custom regarded as owned by the community.
The dispute ultimately led to the outbreak of war in Waitara on 17 March 1860, when 500 troops began a bombardment of Kingi's Te Kohia pā. The war, in which 2300 Imperial troops fought about 1400 Māori, ran for 12 months before a ceasefire was negotiated.
Later campaigns during the war included the major British defeat in the Battle of Puketakauere, close to Te Kohia pā, on 27 June 1860 which cost the lives of 32 Imperial troops and of five Māori.
A major British sapping operation at the strongly defended Te Arei pā up the Waitara River began in February 1861, but was abandoned when a ceasefire was effected the following month. As a result of this operation, Colour Sergeant John Lucas was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In May 1863 war resumed in Taranaki. The government immediately renounced the earlier Waitara purchase, abandoning all claims to it, and instead created a plan for the confiscation of greater tracts of land under new laws, supposedly as a reprisal for the Oakura killings.
In 1865 the Pekapeka block that had been at the heart of the initial dispute with Kingi was confiscated–therefore finding its way back into government control–on the basis that Kingi was at war, though the Waitangi Tribunal concluded there was no evidence he had engaged in hostilities after 1861.
In 1884 the Government returned as "Native reserves" 103,000 hectares of the 526,000 hectares of Taranaki land it had confiscated, although the land remained in government control. By 1990 half of the "reserves" had been sold to Pakeha settlers by the Native Trustee without reference to Maori.
The remainder was leased to settlers with Maori receiving only a "peppercorn" rental return.