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The rural landscape inland from Kawhia and south of Hamilton is known as the King Country, because it was the refuge of King Tawhiao and members of the King Movement, after they were driven south during the New Zealand Wars. The area soon gained a reputation among Pakeha as a Maori stronghold renowned for difficult terrain and a welcome that meant few, if any, Europeans entered. However, the forest’s respite was short-lived: when peace was declared in 1881, loggers descended in droves.

Tourist interest focuses on Waitomo, a tiny village at the heart of a unique and dramatic landscape, honeycombed by limestone caves ethereally illuminated by glowworms, and overlaid by a geological wonderland of karst. North of Waitomo is the small dairy town of Otorohanga, with a kiwi house and Kiwiana displays. To the south of Waitomo, Te Kuiti provided sanctuary in the 1860s for Maori rebel Te Kooti, who reciprocated with a beautifully carved meeting house.

From Te Kuiti, SH4 runs south to Taumarunui, with access to the Whanganui River and the start of the Forgotten World Highway.

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