|While the mountains of the Waikato are significant physical landmarks, most of the region's human history has gone on around them, along the rivers and on the fertile plains.
MAORI HISTORY AND TRADITION
The waka Tainui, commanded by Hoturoa, landed on the east coast of the North Island after a long, hazardous voyage from the Pacific. They followed the coast up to the Waitemata Harbour where sea birds were seen to the west. Hoturoa instructed that the waka be carried across the land and so they reached the Manukau Harbour. From there they sailed south towards Mount Karioi and landed at Aotea Harbour. After a further journey to Mokau they returned to Kawhia.
The earliest settlements of the Waikato centred on the harbours of Kawhia, Aotea and Raglan with their rich supplies of seafood. As the populations grew, people moved eastward over and around Pirongia and into the Waipa. Here settlement focused around wetlands, rich in resources: foods like freshwater mussels, eels and waterfowl; and building materials like raupo and manuka. Food was also taken from Pirongia, mainly forest birds, berries and edible plants.
Both Karioi and Pirongia are said to have gained their names from Raka-taura, the Tainui tohunga (high priest). The traditional name for Pirongia was 'Pirongia te aroaro 0 Kahu' meaning 'the fragrant presence of Kahu' his wife. The full name of Karioi is Maunga-O-Karioi meaning to linger or loiter.
The Tainui people living close to Pirongia did not always live peaceful lives. In 1822, Nga Puhi warriors from Northland, armed with European muskets, journeyed south on a warpath. Without access to such weapons, the occupants of Matakitaki Pa (located at the northern end of what is now Pirongia township) were forced to flee and almost 2000 lost their lives.
In 1770, Captain James Cook was the first European to record Pirongia. It did not take long before settlers arrived from the northern hemishere, eager to make a new life for themselves in this land of plenty. Conflicts with the original inhabitants were inevitable as each strove for dominance.
In the middle of the 18th century the Puniu River, south of Pirongia, represented a boundary between the lands to the north where Europeans were well established and Te Rohe Potae to the south, under Maori domain. The garrison town of Alexandra was established to protect nervous settlers along this frontier. The town grew rapidly until the 1860s when the garrison was withdrawn and the promised railway was routed through Te Awamutu. In 1896, the town's name was changed to Pirongia to prevent confusion with the newly prosperous gold-mining town of Alexandra in the South Island.
Farming soon became Pirongia's economic foundation. Land represented wealth and attention rapidly turned towards the potential of the mountain slopes. Some forest was milled but much was simply felled and burned to clear the land as quickly as possible for farming.