The first unofficial regatta was held in Ngaruawahia in 1892 and involved both Maori and Pakeha (European) festivities. Many of the original Pakeha settlers were from the militia and had fought against Maori in the land wars. Ngaruawahia was at the time, the centre of the Waikato region, and by choosing to live here, these early residents would "rub shoulders" with the Maori. The regatta provided a focal point to bring the two peoples together, socially and culturally. Perhaps it is thus fitting that symbolically Ngaruawahia has been built where two rivers, the Waikato and Waipa, come together.
The early Ngaruawahia settlers may not have realised these early regattas were sowing seeds for what would become one of New Zealand’s the largest aquatic festivals. The first official regatta was held in 1896.
New Zealand is a great sailing nation, with both Maori and Pakeha having a deep-rooted maritime history. Our Polynesian forebears sailed down through the central Pacific in large waka (Maori canoes) to discover Aotearoa, "Land of the Long White Cloud". Today, Maori people still trace their whakapapa (family history or genealogy) back to the waka in which their family came to New Zealand.
Replicas of these waka appear at the Ngaruawahia regatta each year and make for an impressive sight with the rowers in native dress and when the men row down the Waikato river chanting the Maori haka they look and sound majestic.
The regatta not only celebrates but also helps to preserve New Zealand's history and Maori culture.
Images: Courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. No known Copyright.