Urewera Country is the high, forested and remote region of the North Island, extending from the eastern edge of the Whakatane district in the eastern Bay of Plenty down into Hawke's Bay and including Lake Waikaremoana. It was the home of the Nga Potiki, or Tuhoe people, also known as 'The Children of the Mist'. It gains its name from a tradition that a Nga Potiki chief, old and feeble, lay down beside a fire and was fatally burnt in the genitals. A literal translation of Urewera is 'burnt penis'.
The Tuhoe are traditionally regarded as one of the Toi tribes, who were forced into the mountainous country following pressure of population in the Bay of Plenty coastal area. In their mountain fastness, they built up a reputation as savage and tough warriors, and they were called upon to fight many times to retain control over Lake Waikaremoana, particularly against the Ngati Kahungunu.
Because of the remoteness and difficulty of access, many Maori rebels sought refuge in the Ureweras right through until the 1880s. It was the base of Te Kooti's guerrilla campaigns for several years from 1868. After the wars, just like the King Country, the Urewera Country was closed to Europeans, and in 1896 the area was officially defined in the Urewera Native Reserve Act.
When surveyors went in to work during the 1890s, the local Maori were so aroused that it was only the intervention of Sir James Carroll that prevented the outbreak of civil war. The main town in the Urewera is Ruatahuna.
The people of the region were the subjects of a long investigation by ethnologist Elsdon Best, the result of which was the monumental work, Tuhoe, the Children of the Mist (1925).
Urewera National Park was established in 1954, and has been expanded until today it covers 212,675 ha. It is the biggest national park in the North Island and the third biggest in NZ (behind Fiordland and Mt Aspiring). The region is rich in Maori folklore and the park is a protected home for many species of native birds.