People watching a boat race.

Tūrangawaewae Regatta

24 Mar 2016
The Waikato River at Tūrangawaewae was a hive of activity last weekend, with thousands of people turning out to watch and take part in the annual Regatta.

The Regatta, which sees a variety of Māori waka racing on the river – from primary school children, right up to the mighty waka tauā, or war canoes. This was the 121st year the Regatta has been held, and over the years recordings of radio coverage of the event have found their way into the archives of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. You can hear Sarah Johnston, our Client Services Coordinator – Radio, talking about them with RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan, or listen to the recordings below.

Hero image: Māori waka hurdle race on the Waikato River at the Ngaruawahia Regatta, c1910. (Photo by Albert Percy Godber - Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington)

People watching a boat race

Regatta on the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia, c1910. (Photo by William Archer Price - Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington)

The Ngāruawāhia Regatta, as it was originally called, began in 1895 as a St Patrick’s Day holiday event. The 1902 Cyclopedia of New Zealand says it was started by Mr Wells, the local school headmaster, and in 1900 8,000 people attended [1]. The event was organised by both Māori and Pākehā to “promote and encourage aquatic sports and the preservation of ancient Māori events and customs.” It was a hugely popular entertainment, with special trains being chartered from Auckland to bring spectators down and paddle steamers bringing others up the river. At times as many as 20,000 people turned up for the regatta, which was soon supplemented with kapa haka, Highland dancing, sideshows and wood-chopping displays.

In 1947 the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit toured Waikato and recorded oral history interviews with elderly residents, several of whom recalled the regattas of their youth. A Pākehā resident of Huntly, George Shaw, talked about working in a general store, Friar Davies and Co., which did a brisk trade supplying Regatta visitors in the 1900s. From his description we can tell it was a big social event for the whole community, which required a new wardrobe.

George Shaw discusses the history of the Huntly area - 'Mobile Unit - History of Huntly, 1947'.

George Shaw‘s recollections are of course, a Pākehā interpretation of Māori events – often the norm in broadcasting back in the 1940s.

However, there were Māori broadcasters and here is Charles Moihi Bennett of Ngāti Whakaue, who worked as a commentator for the Broadcasting Service immediately before World War II. Within a couple of years he would be a Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the Māori Battalion, but here he is providing commentary for radio coverage of a huge gathering at Tūrangawaewae in March 1938.

This year, the annual Regatta coincided with the opening of Tūrongo House – a new, carved official residence for the Māori king, King Korokī, and also the ceremony by the Governor-General who had come to present Te Puea Hērangi (or Princess Te Puea) with her C.B.E. decoration. This was a huge event in te ao Māori, and the broadcasting service was there to cover it, with Charles Bennett explaining proceedings for a largely Pākehā radio audience.

Narration, actuality, music, and speeches recorded from radio broadcasts at the opening of Tūrongo House, Tūrangawaewae Marae, Ngāruawāhia - 'Opening of Tūrongo House', 1938.

There is always a lot of music and waiata at Māori events and the 1938 Tūrangawaewae hui and regatta were no exception. Groups from all over the country attended and it was an opportunity for recording a wide variety of waiata and haka performances.

Here is the Waikato iwi anthem “E noho e Rata,” a song about the Kīngitanga. It is being performed by Te Puea’s kapa haka “Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri,” with her husband Tūmōkai Kātipa accompanying them on the banjo (or possibly the mandolin?)

E noho e Rata - 'Opening of Tūrongo House', 1938.


  1. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District] (1902), p. 715.
  2. Audio from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s Radio Collection (all rights reserved): Opening of Tūrongo House (17 March 1938) and History of Huntly (1 January 1947). To enquire about re-using these items please