About Rotorua History

​​​Maori Perspectives on Founding a Town, by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

Extracted from Rotorua 1880 - 1980 ed. Don Stafford et. al. published by the Rotorua and District Historical Society.

A child's whimpering laughter threads faintly through the steam of early morning. Figures squat, bundled, warming on the stone scarps - low flat papa rock around the everboiling spring, Uru. Nearby the image of Victoria, primed by ten years of lake wind, sulpher gases, curling rain, silently stresses the hour of reckoning, of making shifts, is upon the village. Across the marae, the richness of Tametekapua, carved, pondering, immortal, awaits the day.

For many years, Ohinemutu, the principal kainga of the Ngati Whakaue tribe of Te Arawa, had been the commercial centre of the thermal regions.  Set among healing mineral springs at the lakeshore, it was accessible by land and water, and become established as a stopover point for those en route to Rotomahana, site of Te Tarata and Otukapuarangi, the fabled Pink and White Terraces. The domain of the Tuhourangi clan, Rotomahana was over twenty miles across rugged, inhosoitable, bushclad and volcanic country.  

By the year 1880 so many travellers, curiosity seekers, invalids and roaming colonels were visiting the areas that both the Maori people and the government decided this growing traffic merited greater attention.  With most Maori insurrection quashed in other parts of the country, the realms of Te Arawa assumed to be "friendly" and a seemingly favourable economic climate, negotiations began with the major subtribes of Te Arawa and government representatives.

On 22nd November Francis Dart Fenton, Chief Justice of the Maori Land Court met with the assembled leaders of Ngati Whakaue, Uenukukopako and Rangiteaorere in the meeting house of Tamatekapua.  He submitted a lengthy proposal, supporting the creation of a township and the setting aside of the thermal springs, "hei oranga mo nga iwi katoa o te Ao", for the benefit of the people of the world. He also stressed that a leasehold agreement with prospective investors was acceptable and he invited the tribal leaders to nominate representatives to assist him in planning the establishment of a town.  Four were chosen from ngati Whakaue, and one came from each of the other two tribes.

History of Rotorua City

Extract from The founding years in Rotorua: a history of events to 1900.
Author: D. M. Stafford, Page 11: Introduction

​As a government-created township Rotorua experienced a unique progression of local government. The settlement was first part of Cook County and subsequently included in Tauranga County. Under the terms of the Thermal Springs Districts Act, 1881 an initial three-member town board was appointed in March 1883 to administer the township.

Although there were changes in personnel, the board continued in its initial form until 1887, when membership was increased to five; four appointees from the crown and another by the town’s inhabitants. Though affairs remained under the control of government (administered through the Crown Lands Department), Rotorua citizens were, despite there many complaints, prepared to accept the situation, as it absolved them from the burden of local rates and taxes. 

By 1896 there was considerable dissatisfaction, ultimately resulting in the Rotorua Town Act, 1900, which allowed the creation of a seven-member council. Though qualifying residents could now elect three representatives, power remained with government through their prescribed four appointees.  It was an unsatisfactory system and by 1906 a move for total government control has gained favour in the district. This became a reality in 1907 with the Rotorua Town Bill under which the property, assets, liabilities and rights of the previous administration were vested in the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, the former town council being dissolved. The total affairs of Rotorua were thereafter conducted under the control of appointed government resident officers until February 1923, when the first elected Rotorua Borough Council came into being. Since that time there has been a progression to city status [1962] and then a district council, brought about in 1979 with an amalgamation of the city and county councils.

Page reviewed: 16 Sep 2015 4:27pm