Otaki is one of New Zealand's oldest urban settlements and the pre-eminent historic place in the Kapiti district. It has been, is and always will be a celebration of Maoritanga.
Otaki was an important refreshment and overnight stop on the early stagecoach runs between Wellington and Foxton, which used the beaches as roads. A pause at Otaki was necessary to negotiate the river (the biggest one south of the Manawatu) by ferry.
It was where one of the early Anglican missionaries Octavius Hadfield established his mission station. He and the warrior chief Te Rauparaha are believed to have been responsible for the building of Rangiatea Church adjacent to the mission, in the early 1844 and 1851. Built entirely with local timber by tribal labour, this was the country's most impressive church and it became a major visitor attraction until it was destroyed by fire in October 1995. There are plans to rebuild the structure.
Organised horse racing began in the 1850s, when every Maori pa had its own track. The Otaki Maori Racing Club was formed in 1886 and is still going strong.
The Raukawa tribe boasts an impressive and highly active marae; the whare runanga (meeting house) was rebuilt and opened in March 1936.
Otaki was already a substantial Maori settlement, when it split from Horowhenua County in 1914 and remained an independently governed town until being amalgamated into the Kapiti District in 1989.
In 1852 a block of 580 acres of land was given by the Crown to support the school run by the Church Missionary Society. This property later came to be administered by the Otaki and Porirua Trusts Board, for the benefit of the education of young people from the area's three tribes: Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa, and Te Ati Awa.
Today some of this land is the site of a unique university campus, Te Wananga O Raukawa (TWOR), established in 1981 by a confederation of the three tribes. It now (2000) boasts 900 students and is growing steadily. The main entrance is pictured above.
In 1999 Te Wananga became the first tertiary institution in NZ, and possibly in the world, to supply a personal computer to every student. The cost is built into their student fees. TWOR is committed to equipping young Maori for success in a challenging world.