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Our People, Our Stories, Our History

Rotorua History

Rotorua was named by Ihenga a great Māori chief and ancestral explorer.  Ihenga named the lake and dedicated it to his uncle, Kahumatamomoe.  Rotorua, full name being Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe; translates to ‘the large lake of Kahumatamomoe, discovered second’.  However this is now shortened to Rotorua ‘roto means lake and rua two – thus meaning ‘Second lake’.

Rotorua is now home to the many descendants of Kahumatamomoe, Ihenga and others from Te Arawa waka.  The Te Arawa people have warmly welcomed and hosted people from all over the world for more than 170 years – a tradition we call Manaakitanga.  People would travel from the other side of the world to experience the then famous Pink and White terraces before they were covered by the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera, on June 10th 1886.  After the eruption the tribes people moved and settled in the Whakarewarewa Valley and various other location within Rotorua.  The Whakarewarewa Valley is still upholding this guiding legacy today, sharing our history and culture with the world.

Another important site in Rotorua is the living village of Ohinemutu. This village is home to the Ngāti Whakaue tribe and their link to the city of Rotorua is significant.   In 1881, after an agreement with Ngāti Whakaue to lease land between the Māori settlements of Ōhinemutu and Whakarewarewa, the government laid out the town of Rotorua. But hard times – and the 1886 Tarawera eruption, which destroyed the famous Pink and White Terraces – meant development was modest. In 1888 the land was sold to the government.

Pukeroa – (long hill) – known today as hospital hill, was occupied for generations by Ngāti Whakaue as a fortified village – pa. In 1881it too was gifted by Ngāti Whakaue as a reserve for sports and recreation and was the venue for many years for all major events.  In 1916 a military hospital was built on the hill to care for returning soldiers – later to become King George Hospital.  The hospital remains here still.

The Rotorua region is rich in history and culture and we welcome you along to share this with you.